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 60 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 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. The view remains that this information continues to be a valued and necessary part of the process to determine whether certain provisions remain necessary.
5.4. The latest information from Police Scotland to support the review was published on 26 November 2020, 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 October 2020, incidents were 7% higher than the equivalent period in 2019 (39,235 incidents recorded in 2020 and 36,744 incidents in 2019). The proportion of April to October 2020 incidents that include the recording of at least one crime or offence was 43.4%. 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 893 such crimes recorded by the police in April to October 2020, compared to 1,026 during the equivalent period in 2019 (down 13%). In addition to earlier research published by Justice Analytical Services on the particular impact coronavirus has had on those experiencing domestic abuse an update covering phase 3 of Scotland's route map (11 August – 11 October) was published in November. This research along with the available information on domestic abuse incidents, continues to inform our approach to ensuring that our response to domestic abuse is effective and that those at risk are being supported. Going forward, Justice Analytical Services will be gathering information on the experiences of child and adult witnesses in domestic abuse cases at court to fulfil Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2019 legislation reporting requirements and to provide an insight into the experience of being at court during the pandemic emergency.
5.6. Beyond the immediate response to the coronavirus emergency situation, the Scottish Government remains committed to ensuring that actions to tackle domestic abuse and all forms of gender based violence continue to be prioritised. The final Equally Safe Progress Report published in November 2020 gives an account of the actions taken throughout the past year to react to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and details some of the key actions and achievements over the course of the Equally Safe Strategy and Delivery Plan.
5.7. This continued focus on efforts to tackle violence against women and girls is vital as we move from a focus on the immediate response to the coronavirus situation to a period of recovery and renewal. For example, the Scottish Government’s continued commitment to improve the services for women and girls experiencing violence, has been embedded within the Recover, Renew and Transform (RRT) Programme.
5.8. It is clear that the necessary restrictions put in place to respond to COVID-19 have had a significant impact on Scotland’s justice system. The work of the RRT Programme is focussed towards enabling the justice system to be able to not just operate again at pre-COVID-19 levels, but also to prepare for future transformation. Consideration of equality and human rights is central to this work, and organisations representing the Violence Against Women and Girls sector are represented on the advisory group that sits across the RRT programme. To support the aims of the programme, the Scottish Government has provided significant funding, including £12 million to the Scottish Courts and Trials Services for remote High Court and Sheriff jury centres to restore pre-COVID-19 court capacity, on top of £3 million to develop court technology.
5.9. Relevant to the provisions contained at Section 5 and schedule 4, part 1 of the first Scottish Act on conduct of court business by electronic means, throughout the RRT programme it is recognised that virtual proceedings, combined with summary trials continuing in physical courtrooms, could provide a mechanism to deal with some cases awaiting trial. For example, in preparation for a Round 3 of pilot virtual summary trials, a revised Practice Note is being finalised to reduce the burden of case preparation and introduce a presumption in favour of virtual trials for at least one category of business (e.g. Domestic Abuse). In parallel, a full Equality Impact Assessment is being carried out to ensure necessary safeguards and protections are built in to these changes; and that the learning from the current pilots and a full review of the end to end customer journeys will inform any future national roll out.
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 second ‘Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020: Report on Marriage and Civil Partnership’ was laid in Parliament and published on 15 October 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 second ‘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 9 October 2020. This will continue to be reported on separately and is not included within this report.