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Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2015-16

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Annex C: Understanding the statistics in this bulletin

C.1 Individual offenders may be proceeded against on more than one occasion; on each occasion they may be proceeded against for more than one charge. The units of measurement used in this bulletin, which may be different to those in other criminal justice statistics publications, are:

(a) the person or company proceeded against or convicted
People are counted once for each occasion they are proceeded against. If a person is proceeded against more than once on the same day, each proceeding will be counted separately. References to 'people' include companies.

Where a person is proceeded against for more than one crime or offence in a single proceeding, only the main charge is counted. The main charge is the one receiving the most severe penalty (or disposal) if one or more charges are proved, and is identified using a look-up table which ranks the disposal types in order of importance. For example, custody is ranked higher than a monetary fine, so for a proceeding where there was a mixture of these two types of disposal, the main charge counted for this record would be the charge associated with the custody disposal rather than the charge related to the monetary disposal.

A person convicted is defined to be one who had a plea of 'guilty' accepted, or who was proved guilty of at least one charge as a result of a trial. Throughout this bulletin, the terms 'people convicted' and 'convictions' are used interchangeably. If the case does not reach the courts then the main charge within the case that reaches the furthest stage in the criminal justice system e.g. if the case is disposed of via a non-court disposal by the police or the COPFS.

(b) individual offender
In the period covered by this bulletin, each offender convicted of a crime or offence will have been assigned a unique reference number by Police Scotland. This enables all convictions relating to an individual offender to be linked together, so that analysis of the number of convictions per offender in any given year, or the number of their previous convictions, can be derived. The Scottish Government also publishes information on reconvictions in the publication Reconviction rates in Scotland.

(c) individual offences
In addition to analysing people convicted by the main charge involved, data in relation to individual offences which are proved are also available. Tables 4a and 4b show aggregate figures for offences by crime type.

C.2 Generally only the initial outcome is included in the court proceedings statistics so that, for example, a person fined is regarded as fined even if he or she subsequently goes to prison in default of payment. Similarly, no account is taken of the outcome of appeals; the exception to this is for those crimes where an appeal is determined prior to publication and the conviction is quashed or the sentence is substituted.

C.3 The number of prosecutions and sentences given could be influenced by operational practices within the justice system. For example there may be times when the police report a particular offence to the procurator fiscal but, when the facts and circumstances are examined, the procurator fiscal decides to proceed with an alternative charge. There are rare occasions when such decisions are made but unfortunately, the charge is not then updated on the computerised records. There is nothing to suggest that the scale of this issue is large enough to alter the overall trends reported.

C.4 A court can impose more than one penalty in appropriate cases. For example, a fine can be imposed in addition to a more severe penalty, such as custody. The main additional punishments are generally disqualification from holding or obtaining a driving licence and the endorsement of a driving licence. Please note that although statistics on driving licence disqualifications are not published in this output they are available on request.

C.5 In the court proceedings statistics, the reference year used is the year in which the person is sentenced. For example if a person pleads to, or is convicted for, a charge in 2008-09, but is not sentenced until 2009-10, all events are recorded as occurring in 2009-10. The age of each person is calculated as at the date of sentence or acquittal.

C.6 Figures for sentence lengths imposed include any element imposed for bail aggravation under section 27(1)(b) of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, and under section 16 of the Prisoners and Criminal Proceedings (Scotland) Act 1993 (where the offender committed an offence following release from custody on licence prior to the end of a previous sentence period imposed).

C.7 Aggravators can be recorded to provide additional information relating to the nature of a charge. For example, someone who commits an assault which is motivated by malice towards the victim as a result of their religion might have their offence recorded under "common assault" with an aggravator code of "religious" hatred.

C.8 The set of aggravator codes that are used on the CHS include statutory aggravators which are those introduced through legislation, such as the religious or racial aggravators, and a "domestic" abuse aggravator code, which is used to highlight particular cases to the police, COPFS or SCTS. Examples of statutory aggravators are:

C.9 Statistics on offences with a bail aggravator recorded , which identify offences that were committed while the offender was on bail, are available in the "Additional data" page.

Comparisons with other sources

C.10 Care should be taken when comparing different data sources relating to the criminal justice system. For example recorded crime statistics count crimes and offences at the time that they came to the attention of Police Scotland while criminal proceedings statistics report on cases which have concluded in court. This means that a crime may be recorded by the police in one year and court proceedings concluded in a subsequent year. In addition, a person may be proceeded against for more than one crime involving more than one victim and there is the possibility that the crime recorded by the police may be altered in the course of judicial proceedings.

C.11 COPFS publish a number of outputs, including annual figures relating to the number of cases reported to procurators fiscal each year, and the number of cases disposed of each year, by type of disposal. Some of these figures are presented in table 1 clearly marked as cases. Each COPFS case includes at least one charge, similar to criminal proceedings, but may involve more than one offender. The criminal proceedings statistics count individual people disposed of. It is not currently possible to extract information on some of the other COPFS non-court disposals from the CHS e.g. warnings and no actions.

C.12 The COPFS also publish charge level statistics in publications such as Hate Crime in Scotland and Domestic Abuse Charges reported to the COPFS. The counting base for these statistics are at individual charge level rather than case level. As Criminal Proceedings statistics only measure the main charge in a case it would be expected that the COPFS figures would be higher. There will also be timing differences since the COPFS figures are based on the year of the report to COPFS, while the Criminal Proceedings figures are based on year of disposal.

C.13 Custodial disposals are counted differently from the direct sentenced prison receptions (excluding fine default receptions) published in the Scottish Government Prison Statistics publications. Most of this difference is because a person given custodial sentences for separate sets of charges on the same day is counted as two custodial sentences in the criminal proceedings statistics, but only one direct sentence reception in the prison statistics.

C.14 Community sentence disposals are also counted on a slightly different basis from the statistics in Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) publications. The differences between the two sources include:

  • Where two or more identical orders have been issued to run concurrently, the CJSW information only counts one order, whereas the criminal proceedings statistics will count more than one.
  • Criminal proceedings data counts the penalty of first disposal whereas CJSW data includes orders given subsequent to the initial disposal (e.g. as a result of fine default, following an appeal etc.)
  • The date on which the order is deemed to be given can vary between the two collections, particularly where the penalty is given on a different date from the plea/verdict.

C.15 Please note that statistics on Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLOs) will not match statistics published by G4S, the Scottish Government's contractor for electronic monitoring. This is because statistics in this publication are representative of the main charge in a set of proceedings and will mask RLOs issued for secondary charges. In the case of RLOs, it is common for Community Payment Orders (CPOs) to be issued in combination where there is more than one conviction within a proceeding but only the CPO will be counted. By contrast the G4S figures count all RLOs issued by the courts relating to all charges.

Comparisons with statistics from other countries

C.16 Direct comparisons with statistics from other countries should be taken with care as legal frameworks and legislation for criminal offences differ. In addition, data collection techniques and recording definitions will vary considerably. For example, the Ministry of Justice court statistics are based on information directly captured from the court's operational databases and are typically published by calendar year. By contrast these statistics for Scotland are from the CHS, a police database that collates information from the COPFS and the SCTS, and are published on a financial year basis.

C.17 Despite international differences, Criminal Proceedings statistics are included in international reports collated by the United Nations and Eurostat such as: