5. Further reporting
Coronavirus related SSIs
5.1. Section 14 of the second Scottish Act requires Scottish Ministers to report on SSIs made by Scottish Ministers where the main purpose relates to coronavirus. This provision does not apply to SSIs made by Scottish Ministers under the first or second Scottish Acts or the UK Act. Information on SSIs, to which section 14 of the second Scottish Act applies, is included at section eight of this report. In this report we have included information on a total of 49 SSIs which are in scope for reporting under section 14 of the second Scottish Act.
Information about domestic abuse
5.2. Section 15A of the first Scottish Act and section 13 of the second Scottish Act require Scottish Ministers to take account of any information about the nature and number of incidents of domestic abuse occurring during the reporting period to which the review relates, given to them, or published by the Scottish Police Authority, or the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland. Further, Scottish Ministers are required to explain in the report on that review, prepared under section 15 of the first Scottish Act and section 12 of the second Scottish Act, how the information was taken account of. The legislation does not require this information to be taken into account in the review of the powers under the UK Act, however we have made a decision to do so in order to ensure consistency in our approach and ensure the fullest possible consideration is given to this information.
5.3. In terms of our requirements under the legislation, consideration has been given to the provisions in the Scottish and UK Acts where domestic abuse may be deemed relevant. An example of a provision which this information is most relevant to is section 3, schedule 2 and Part 1 of the second Scottish Act on the expiry of undertakings under section 25(2)(a) of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016. Data on incidents of domestic abuse for April-July 2020 highlights the continued importance of the provisions relating to the expiry of undertakings in order to preserve victim safety, particularly in sensitive cases of domestic abuse while self-isolation guidance for people infected with, or living with people infected with coronavirus, remains in place.
5.4. Where information on the nature and number of incidents of domestic abuse may be deemed of relevance to a provision, this has been considered as part of the assessment of whether the provision remains necessary. The view remains that whilst this information has not impacted on the outcome of the assessment of whether those provisions remain necessary, it remains a valued and necessary part of this process.
5.5. The latest information from Police Scotland to support the review was published on 24 September 2020, as part of the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services data report on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the justice system. The number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police in August 2020 was above the level seen in August 2019. Looking cumulatively across April to August 2020, incidents were 8% higher than the equivalent period in 2019.
5.6. The Scottish Government response throughout the coronavirus emergency situation continues to ensure that the health, wellbeing and safety needs of women and children are met and we are working closely with partners to ensure this happens. Available information on domestic abuse incidents, reinforces the need to ensure that our response to domestic abuse is effective and that those at risk are being supported. In addition to the available information from Police Scotland on incidents of domestic abuse, research published by Justice Analytical Services over phases one to three of the Route Map, provides us with further insight on the particular impact coronavirus has had on those experiencing domestic abuse. We continue to review the Scottish Government guidance relating to domestic abuse which was initially published in May 2020 and accompanied the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020. The guidance clearly sets out that none of the restrictions, including those relating to Local Authority areas should prevent anyone from seeking help.
5.7. As our understanding of the impact of coronavirus on those experiencing domestic abuse evolves, so must our approach to tackling these issues and refreshed guidance for Local Authorities on tackling violence against women and girls during COVID-19 was published in conjunction with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) in September.
5.8. The Scottish Government is aware that front line services have also moved rapidly to support victims and survivors in a different and uncertain environment. The Scottish Government announced earlier this month that women and children experiencing, or at risk of violence and domestic abuse, will have increased access to support, with £4.25 million of additional funding for charities and projects across Scotland. The additional investment will help respond to an increase in demand from victims of abuse for support services during the coronavirus pandemic. More staff, increased hours for centres and helplines, improvements to IT and new digital resources and training will all allow services to be up-scaled so that more people can quickly and easily access help.
5.9. Beyond the immediate coronavirus response, the Scottish Government is committed to improving protections for women and children at risk of or experiencing domestic abuse. To support this, we announced in the Programme for Government 2020-21, a Bill to provide new powers to impose restrictions on a suspected perpetrator of domestic abuse, including removing them from a home they share with a person at risk and prohibiting them from contacting or otherwise abusing the person at risk while the order is in effect. The Bill will also facilitate processes for changes to be made to social housing tenancy agreements to help victims stay in their own home by giving powers to remove perpetrators from tenancy agreements.
5.10. These measures are intended to provide protection for the person at risk and enable them to take steps to address their longer term safety and housing situation, without having to make themselves homeless in order to protect themselves from abuse, removing a barrier to them to stay in their home in the longer term.
Additional reporting requirements
5.11. Schedule 1 paragraph 24(3) of the second Scottish Act requires the Scottish Ministers to prepare a report on the steps taken during the reporting period to ensure that marriages and civil partnerships can take place during the emergency period, and the number of marriages solemnised and civil partnerships registered during the reporting period. The first 'Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020: Report on Marriage and Civil Partnership' was laid in Parliament and published on 17 August 2020. This will continue to be reported on separately and is not included within this report.
5.12. Schedule 4, paragraph 12 of the second Scottish Act requires the Scottish Ministers to lay a report before Parliament on their responses to requests for information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2020. The first 'Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020: report on the Scottish Ministers' responses to requests for information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2020' was laid in Parliament and published on 7 August 2020. This will continue to be reported on separately and is not included within this report.