'Every delay adds to the danger that women and children suffer'

Abuse survivor says she doesn't feel safe to leave her home after court backlogs saw her ex-partner's trial abandoned.

A domestic abuse survivor says she doesn’t feel safe to leave her home after a catalogue of delays resulted in her ex-partner’s trial being deserted.  

The woman – who asked us to protect her identity because of safety fears – said court adjournments compounded her stress.

After alleged incidents of stalking and harassment, she fled her home to be housed in a Women’s Aid refuge.

The case eventually went to court in Edinburgh, but it was adjourned five times over two years for a variety of reasons including Coronavirus and requests for more evidence. 

Earlier this year, a sheriff dismissed the case “simpliciter”, bringing proceedings to a close.

While the case was ongoing, the accused was under strict bail conditions to stay away from his alleged victim and her children.

His former partner told STV News: “Having those taken away, I just now don’t feel able to leave my home. 

“Unless someone comes with me, I do not feel able to go out. My children are scared to even go into the garden.”

Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said that cases like this show that a “trauma-informed” approach to justice has a long way to go.

She told STV News: “I find it extraordinary that a system that constantly asserts that domestic abuse is a high priority – the Crown Office says it, the court service says it, and yet we see so many examples of these kinds of cases where the correct evidence wasn’t collected by police, the Crown Office is missing evidence and doesn’t pick it up in time for the case, the case is delayed over and over and over again, so that courts are concerned about bail conditions that go on for months and years. 

“Every bit of delay adds to the danger that women and children suffer – and is it any wonder that people think twice about calling police?”

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) has partially upheld the woman’s complaints about how her case was handled.

It said delays in requesting a cybercrime report were caused by an administrative error due to “acute staffing pressures”.

It also accepted that staff had failed to request additional CCTV footage from police – and said further training had been provided.

A COPFS spokeswoman told STV News: “We recognise the devastating impact domestic abuse can have on those affected, and we continue to work with partners across the criminal justice sector to improve experiences system-wide.

“We have been in communication with the complainer in this case, have apologised accordingly and taken their views on board.

“We are already undertaking a comprehensive programme of work to deliver an improved service to victims, witnesses and next of kin, and to support the effective preparation and prosecution of casework.”

The woman has submitted a separate complaint to Police Scotland about its handling of the case, which it says is being reviewed by its Professional Standards Department.

Detective Superintendent Gillian Faulds of Police Scotland said: “Officers respond to a domestic abuse incident every nine minutes in Scotland, with a crime recorded in over 50 per cent of these calls. The victims of this horrendous offending are at the centre of our approach in every case.

“Preventing domestic abuse and bringing offenders to justice is a core duty of Police Scotland and, as His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland recognised in their report from January this year, an area where our single national service has enabled high levels of operational competence.

“Everyone should have confidence to come forward with assurance they will be treated with respect and their report investigated professionally. Our approach to tackling domestic abuse ensures that victims across Scotland receive a police response tailored to the particular circumstances of their case.

 “While we do not always get everything right, we listen carefully to a range of voices, including victims’ groups, and take action. We are resolute in our commitment to continually improve our response to domestic abuse, especially from that crucial first point of contact.”

The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) said that at its peak, there were 7,685 outstanding domestic abuse trials across Scotland – as of March this year, there were 4,120. 

A spokesman said: “We remain conscious that, in addition to the time period from an incident being investigated by the police and the prosecution registering the case in court, victims, witnesses and the accused are still experiencing delays in the trial taking place…

“Latest figures also show that domestic abuse cases account for over a third of all evidence led trials called in summary courts, as we continue to prioritise them.”

The Judicial Office for Scotland said it was also working to provide education and training for the Judiciary in Scotland, including specialist domestic abuse training.  

The training is now included in an induction course which all new sheriffs have to complete.

The spokesman added: “In September 2022, it provided a new Trauma Informed Judging Resource Kit to judges and sheriffs, which gives further guidance relevant to domestic abuse work.

“A new course in Trauma Informed Judging commenced in 2022 and will continue to be rolled out in current and future course programmes.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Domestic abuse remains a high priority for this government and we are committed to proactively targeting perpetrators and to protecting victims and their families from the harms of domestic abuse.

“Research on our ground-breaking Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 has found that it better reflects victims experiences – however it is clear that more needs to be done to support survivors of abuse.

“The Scottish Government is committed to working with our partners across the justice system to do so, including through legislative reform and the roll out of trauma informed practice. We encourage anyone experiencing domestic abuse to seek help, advice or support – and where appropriate, report incidents to the police.”

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