Almost 400 drug driving cases have been abandoned due to delays in processing forensic tests since 2021, according to the Scottish Police Authority (SPA).
Legislation making drug driving an offence was brought about in October 2019, and over 5,600 drug driving blood samples have been tested since.
Police have been able to swab test drivers’ mouths, and request blood samples for testing since the legislation came into play – with plans to process 1,000 blood tests a year estimated by a working group involving Forensic Services, Police Scotland, Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Scottish Government.
However, demand for the tests has been double that figure.
The Forensic Services Laboratory established to support this demand has reported high levels of demand since 2020, to the point where 386 cases had to be abandoned as of May 20, due to forensic testing and analysis delays.
Martyn Evans, the authority’s chair, said: “This pressure has now risen to the level where the justice system has seen an impact on the ability to prosecute around 7% of cases.
“We are deeply concerned that 386 drug driving cases cannot be progressed to prosecution due to testing and analysis not being processed within an adequate timeframe. It is a serious failure.”
Efforts to address the continued demand have included a £1m investment from the Scottish Government to support outsourcing 30% of cases to commercial forensic service providers; enhancing instrumentation and processes which led to an increase of in-house capacity by 50%; and an extension of the statutory reporting period from 6 to 12 months to account for delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite this, the 386 cases that could not be pursued by prosecutors had reached the current statutory 12-month time limit.
The cases were primarily low risk with no fatalities, however three of them involved an injury.
Police Scotland and the authority’s forensic service have been working together since May 2022 to find solutions to prevent further delays.
Assistant chief constable Mark Williams said: “We are committed to detecting and taking action against those who take drugs and drive.
“Being able to use roadside drug wipes has significantly enhanced our ability to detect those responsible and keep the public safe. Despite the current challenges around testing capacity, Police Scotland’s commitment remains unchanged.”
The SPA is due to discuss how to address the challenges at a meeting on Thursday.