5. Further reporting
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 8 of this report. In this report we have included information on a total of 95 SSIs – 16 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, 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 the Scottish Government made a decision to do so in order to ensure both consistency in reporting and that the fullest possible consideration is given to this important information.
5.3. 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 information from Police Scotland to support the review was published on 25 March 2021, 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 2020 to February 2021, incidents were 3% higher than the equivalent period in 2019-20 (59,031 incidents recorded in 2020-21 and 57,121 incidents in 2019-20). The proportion of April 2020 to February 2021 incidents that include the recording of at least one crime or offence was 39.7%. 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 1,419 such crimes recorded by the police from April 2020 to February 2021, compared to 1,580 during the equivalent period the preceding year (down 10%).
5.6. The requirement to consider this information on domestic abuse remains a valued part of the reporting process. The Scottish Government has for some time been examining how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted on people experiencing domestic abuse and other forms of violence against women and girls. Further to the monthly Justice Analytical Services data reports which support this review, the series of reports published by the Scottish Government in June, September, and November 2020 have helped to further our understanding of the impact of the pandemic on those experiencing domestic abuse. In addition, further research in relation to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 expected in Spring 2022, will include questions which will offer an opportunity to capture information about the impact of COVID-19 on the experiences of victims and witnesses of court.
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 are the provisions in the first Scottish Coronavirus Act at section 5 and schedule 4, Part 1 - Courts and tribunals: conduct of business by electronic means. The pandemic continues to have an impact on the court system, however justice partners in Scotland have been clear that while business is reduced, priority will be given to the most serious cases and those involving domestic abuse, sexual offending and child witnesses. On 12 March 2021 a Practice Note was issued by Sheriff Principal Derek Pyle, which set out that from May 2021 the majority of domestic abuse summary trials in Aberdeen Sheriff Court will be conducted virtually, with only the accused person and their solicitor having to be present in the court premises. Sheriff Principal Pyle noted that this initiative would improve the experience for witnesses and ensure the rights of the accused are protected during trials. It will allow up to nine trials to take place each week, which would otherwise not be able to proceed because of COVID-19 restrictions and also offers the opportunity for a national roll-out to provide much needed additional capacity to assist in dealing with the trials backlog post pandemic.
5.8. It remains a priority for the Scottish Government to encourage those experiencing domestic abuse to come forward and seek help and to hold perpetrators to account and on 17 March, the Scottish Parliament passed the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill. When commenced, the Bill will provide new powers to enable police and courts to ban suspected abusers from re-entering the home and from approaching or contacting the person at risk for a period of time, to enable the person at risk to consider their longer-term options around safety and housing. It will also provide a new power to allow social landlords to end the tenancy of a perpetrator of domestic abuse and transfer it to the victim.
Additional reporting requirements
5.9. 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 fourth 'Coronavirus (Scotland) (No.2) Act 2020: Report on Marriage and Civil Partnership' was laid in Parliament and published on 15 February 2021.
5.10. This provision relating to marriage and civil partnership was suspended from 30 March 2021 by regulations. There will, therefore, be no further reporting unless the relevant provision is revived by further regulations.
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 fourth '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 February 2021. The fifth report will be published in April and will be laid in the Scottish Parliament at the earliest opportunity once the Parliament reconvenes following the Scottish Parliamentary election on 6 May.