Coronavirus Acts: fifth report to Scottish Parliament (February 2021)

Information on the status and operation of the provisions under Part 1 of the first and second Scottish Coronavirus Acts in this reporting period (1 December – 31 January) and the relevant provision of the UK Act.

This document is part of a collection

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 79 SSIs – 18 of which are new to this reporting period - 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 into account. 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. 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.

5.4. The latest information from Police Scotland to support the review was published on 28 January 2021[22], as part of the Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services data report on how the coronavirus pandemic has affected the justice system. The data from Police Scotland highlights that looking cumulatively across April to December 2020, incidents were 4% higher than the equivalent period in 2019. (49,353 incidents recorded in 2020 and 47,363 incidents in 2019). The proportion of April to December 2020 incidents that include the recording of at least one crime or offence was 39.0%. Police Scotland’s Management Information Report suggests an equivalent figure of 43.9% for 2019-20.

5.5. Separate figures on crimes recorded under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 are available from the Recorded Crime in Scotland monthly Official Statistics. There were 1,167 such crimes recorded by the police in April to December 2020, compared to 1,300 during the equivalent period in 2019 (down 10%).

5.6. The requirement to consider this information on domestic abuse continues to be a valued part of the reporting process and brings into sharp focus the need to ensure that our response to domestic abuse is effective and that those at risk are supported. We know, however, that domestic abuse is an under reported crime and data on reported incidences of domestic abuse alone does not provide the full picture of the impact of the pandemic on those experiencing domestic abuse. The Scottish Government remains committed to ensuring a regular exchange of information about domestic abuse and are working with our partners, including Violence Against Women and Girls organisations to further inform our understanding on the impact that COVID-19 is having on victims of domestic abuse.

5.7. The particular circumstances of domestic abuse continue to inform the consideration of relevant provisions in the Acts and of particular note during the reporting period has been the consideration relevant to the provisions in the first Scottish Coronavirus Act at Schedule 4, part 6 – Community orders. Draft regulations[23] allowing for Scottish Ministers to vary unpaid work or other activity requirements in Community Payback Orders (CPOs) were laid on 29 January 2021 and will be subject to Parliamentary scrutiny and approval. The draft regulations provide for a reduction in the overall volume of hours to be delivered, with the exception of those imposed for domestic abuse, sexual offences or stalking. The exclusion of domestic abuse, sexual offences, and stalking is intended to mitigate risks arising from the particular barriers that exist in relation to the reporting of those offences (and which are not found to the same extent with other offence types), and which the Scottish Government and other justice organisations have taken steps to reduce in recent years. These include action under Equally Safe, our national strategy to take action against all forms of violence against women and girls, ground-breaking domestic abuse legislation, investment in training and support, and campaigns.

5.8. This approach is also informed by engagement with Police Scotland and victims organisations with specialist knowledge and insight around barriers to reporting of crime in relation to particular offences. Specifically, this exclusion recognises that reducing unpaid work hours associated with those offences may, while only applying to existing orders, risk reducing future reporting rates. It is therefore considered appropriate to exclude orders involving domestic abuse, sexual offences and stalking to avoid the risk of an adverse effect on the reporting of those offences by victims. There are no intentions to postpone, alter or revoke requirements which are designed to manage and reduce risk such as Supervision, Programme, or Conduct Requirements.

5.9. We are aware of the particular impact that the ongoing restrictions will be having on those experiencing domestic abuse and continue to make clear through Scottish Government guidance that the lockdown restrictions do not prevent individuals from leaving home, if escaping domestic abuse. On the continued impact on the court system, the Lord President announced on 11 January 2021 that as a result of the increasing spread of the new variant of COVID-19 across Scotland, the criminal courts will focus on the most serious trials and the majority of summary trials in the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court would be adjourned. In doing so, the Lord President was clear in setting business priorities that all criminal jury trials in the High Court and Sheriff Court must continue. These will focus on the most serious cases, where people are in custody and where the nature of the alleged offence, including sexual offences and offences involving domestic abuse and children, demand that priority be given. In addition, all non-custody trials will be administratively adjourned, with the provision to accelerate priority or urgent trials, such as those involving allegations of domestic abuse or child witnesses.

Additional reporting requirements

5.10. 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 third ‘Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020: Report on Marriage and Civil Partnership’ was laid in Parliament and published on 15 December 2020. This will continue to be reported on separately and is not included within this report.

5.11. 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 third ‘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 10 December 2020. The fourth report is due to be laid in Parliament in February. This will continue to be reported on separately and is not included within this report.



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