9. Criminal justice
As the Phases out of lockdown progressed, there were increasingly frequent reports of victims losing faith in the criminal justice system. Victims' stress and anxiety related to delayed or rescheduled court cases was also consistently reported throughout lockdown and Phases 1 to 3.
Services reported that some victims did not feel they were being offered a sufficient or risk-based response from the criminal justice system, or from the family court system in relation to child contact. Throughout Phases 1 to 3, organisations reported a high number of victims attributed court and justice outcomes (e.g. absence of special bail conditions; the increased use of undertakings; perceived leniency in response to multiple, repeated offences; the lack of a non-harassment order and the use of financial penalties in sentencing) to COVID-19, and during Phase 3 some victims stated they were less likely to report in future as a result of the response. Court advocacy organisations also expressed concern about perceived increases in perpetrators who would usually be remanded or imprisoned being released on bail or police undertaking. It should be noted these were observations only and not based on statistical analysis of court proceedings. Police Scotland undertook a number of measures to address identified issues.   Court advocacy staff reported challenges keeping victims engaged and observed high levels of despondency related to the delays in court cases and feeling that the justice system was not responding to victims' needs effectively. During Phase 3, a small number of Maracs observed an increase in repeat referrals and identified barriers to managing victim safety effectively due to the use of bail conditions for repeat offences and a perceived increase in leniency towards perpetrators in the court's use of remand.
During Phases 1 and 2, there were consistent reports from domestic abuse support organisations of victims being unaware of the 'business as usual' message relating to the criminal justice response to domestic abuse. There were continued reports of victims perceiving the police were too busy to attend domestic abuse incidents and some victims communicating to support services they had consequently chosen not to report to police. In some cases, perpetrators were reinforcing this message as part of their abusive tactics. Some court advocacy and other domestic abuse support services observed increased communications from victims whose perpetrator had stated remand and/or imprisonment were unlikely in the current context and believed if they breached bail conditions/court orders or engaged in other criminality, the sentence would be more lenient.
Court advocacy services consistently reported a number of challenges in effectively advocating for victims who were witnesses in criminal cases, or engaged in civil court processes. While some of these challenges were resolved through communication with court agencies, including the Crown Office and Prosecution Service (COPFS), court advocacy services reported the quickly changing landscape of the criminal justice process presented new challenges throughout Phases 1 to 3. Some organisations also experienced significant difficulties accessing accurate information for victims on the status of the courts and individual cases. In particular, court advocacy organisations reported difficulties in accessing accurate and up-to-date information relating to bail review hearings.