Scotland’s top prosecutor has said he will not apologise for taking a rigorous approach to domestic abuse, warning that such offences can cause “significant and enduring harm” to victims.
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC spoke out after claims that abuse cases were being pursued through the courts with insufficient evidence.
While tackling domestic abuse has been a priority for the authorities, Calum Steel of the Scottish Police Federation told MSPs cases could be brought “because someone happened to phone the police over hearing raised voices”.
But in a speech setting out his vision for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), the new Lord Advocate said: “I make no apology for taking a rigorous approach to domestic abuse.
“This is a form of criminal behaviour which for far too long was not taken sufficiently seriously by the criminal justice system and which can cause significant and enduring harm to direct and indirect victims – including children.
“Domestic abuse covers a wide spectrum of offending – from one-off incidents of violence to cases involving sinister, insidious abuse persisting over many years.”
But he also insisted offenders would only be prosecuted “where there is sufficient evidence that a crime has been committed”.
Mr Wolffe, speaking at the North Strathclyde Justices of the Peace conference in Clydebank, added: “The police have been instructed not to report cases where there is a patent insufficiency of evidence, and prosecutors cannot and will not bring proceedings where there is insufficient evidence.
“Any suggestion that prosecutions will be initiated where there is insufficient evidence in law is inaccurate and represents a misunderstanding of the position.”
Despite difficulties in prosecuting domestic abuse cases, Mr Wolffe said the Crown had secured a conviction in 80 per cent of such trials.
MSPs on the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee also heard concerns from unions about trainee solicitors being used as “court fodder” because of a lack of staff in the COPFS.
But Mr Wolffe said the ability to gain courtroom experience and conduct trials “is one of the features which attracts the highly motivated young lawyers” who join the Crown Office traineeship programme.
In his speech the Lord Advocate accepted he had taken on the role “at a time of very significant financial constraint” with constant pressure on the public purse. He said: “I acknowledge the challenge which that presents. I do not underestimate the nature of that challenge, but I relish and embrace it.”