Annex E – Legislative and policy changes
E.1 Coronavirus legislation was introduced in April 2020 Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 (legislation.gov.uk). National lockdowns due the Covid-19 pandemic were in place from 24 March to 19 June 2020 and 5 January to 22 February 2021. This resulted in significant reduced activity in both the number of reports being referred to COPFS and the number of proceedings going through Scottish courts. Local tiered restrictions also affected court activity in various regions across Scotland throughout 2020-21 when national lockdowns were not in place. Therefore, caution should be taken when comparing the latest figures with previous years given any changes described in this document reflect the impact of the pandemic as opposed to be indicative of any longer-term underlying trend.
Domestic Abuse Scotland Act
E.2 The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 introduced a crime relating to a person engaging in a course of behaviour relating to domestic abuse. There is also a provision for a new statutory aggravation relating to children, which is aggravated if the offence directs behaviour at a child, or uses a child to direct behaviour at the partner/ex-partner. It came into force on 1st April 2019.
E.3 In the past, these crimes will often have been convicted under individual charges in other crimes or offences categories, including Breach of the peace etc. (which covers stalking, and threatening and abusive behaviour) and Common assault in the Miscellaneous offences category. Therefore it may affect the numbers of proceedings and convictions for these crimes, and the numbers of proceedings and convictions with a statutory domestic abuse aggravation or domestic abuse identifier. COPFS’ Domestic Abuse and Stalking Charges 2020-21 Statistics on the number of charges reported to them showed that the percentage of charges for stalking with a domestic abuse identifier fell from 65% in 2019-20 to 57% in 2020-21.
E.4 The introduction of this act is also likely to have an effect on the numbers of proceedings and convictions in the violent crime category, as the new crime under this act was added to this category. It was put in this category after consultation with users.
Other changes to legislation during the period covered by this bulletin
E.5 The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced a new statutory aggravation for domestic abuse which came into force in April 2017. This act also covers ‘intimate images’ offences (often known as ‘revenge porn’).
E.6 Sections 79-81 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 (“the 2016 Act”) made significant changes to the sheriff and jury procedures contained in the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 (“the 1995 Act”), and were introduced over three dates during the period May to August 2017. This may feed through to average sentence lengths because it allows sentence discounts for early guilty pleas.
E.7 The 2016 Act - Part I (Police powers) came into force on 25 January 2018. The provisions, amongst other matters, transferred written undertaking provisions from the 1995 Act to Part I of the 2016 Act.
E.8 On December 5th 2014 the alcohol limit for drivers in Scotland was reduced from 80 mg to 50 mg per 100 ml blood.
E.9 The Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act 2012, which came into effect on 1 March 2012, was repealed on 20 April 2018. See Annex E7 in the 2018-19 bulletin for a table of all the proceedings and convictions under this act by year.
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