More than a third of trials ‘were domestic abuse cases’

New figures have shown that 34% of sheriff summary trials in the past year were classed as domestic abuse.

More than a third of trials ‘were domestic abuse cases’ Getty Images

More than a third of trials heard by a sheriff sitting alone in the past year were domestic abuse cases, new figures show.

Some 34% of sheriff summary trials called in 2020-21 were classed as domestic abuse, which typically involves violence, mistreatment, or coercive or threatening behaviour in the home, according to statistics released by the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS).

Overall, 95% of domestic abuse court cases are heard at the sheriff summary court, where a judge sitting alone decides a case that is deemed less serious and for which juries are not required.

The maximum punishments for summary offences are fines of up to £10,000 and up to one year in jail.

In total, just 46,159 criminal cases were concluded across all Scotland’s criminal courts in 2020-21, fewer than half the number of the previous year, when 93,903 finished.

However, just 76,660 cases were registered in 2020-21, compared to 105,548 the previous year.

The SCTS bulletin, which provides figures for the final quarter of 2020-21, running from March 4 to June 3, breaks down the issue of domestic abuse for the first time, which the SCTS says shows its “commitment to openness and transparency around data”.

The figures also show that remote jury centres, allowing jurors to watch proceedings virtually from cinemas, allowed 197 more serious sheriff court cases to go ahead in the latter part of the year, a return to pre-pandemic rates, said the SCTS.

Moreover, the number of trials in the High Court jumped by 28% from the third quarter of 2020-21, rising from 106 to 136 in the final months of the year.

SCTS executive director of court operations, David Fraser, said: “When lockdown restrictions were in place, the criminal courts focused on the most serious trials, with the majority of summary trials in the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court being adjourned.

“The High Court continues to operate at pre-Covid levels and with the rollout of remote jury centres now complete, we can see sheriff courts making strong progress.

“The excellent collaboration across the judiciary, justice organisations, the legal profession and the third sector has helped get court business back on track and this will remain crucial in planning for the recovery programme commencing in September.

“I am also pleased to be able to include, in this bulletin, the new information on domestic abuse court activity which will be of wide public interest and further demonstrates our commitment to openness and transparency around data.”

The figures also show that of all criminal appeals registered, just 13% relate to appeals solely against conviction.

Some 73% appealed just against their sentence and 14% were joint appeals against conviction and sentence.

Appeals against sentence accounted for 84% of all successful appeals in 2020/21, said the SCTS.

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