9. Criminal Justice
Services consistently communicated a number of concerns related to the impact of amended criminal justice procedures on women's risk of domestic abuse, particularly around early prisoner release, delayed court cases (and associated special bail condition periods, bail reviews, etc.) and the impact of extended periods of police undertaking on victim risk. Court advocacy support services reported continuing challenges related to the frequently-changing landscape of the criminal justice system and how information was being shared. Throughout the 8 weeks, many services reported an increase in prolonged exposure to stress/anxiety for clients due to rescheduled court cases, particularly petition cases.
In week 3, services reported an increase in calls regarding the early release of prisoners who were domestic perpetrators. There were reports of high levels of anxiety among clients over whether or not those convicted of domestic abuse would be released and clients were relying heavily on information from the Victim Notification Scheme, despite this not being the correct route to obtain information regarding prisoners on early release. Some services reported they did not receive clear communication about prisoner release. Services also reported clients' concerns regarding prisoners' access to mobile phones and how their use was being monitored.
Some services communicated concerns that the "business as usual" message was not being transmitted effectively to victims. Particularly in the first four weeks of lockdown, there were repeated reports of perpetrators telling victims the police were too busy to attend, or victims choosing not to report because they did not want to burden the police service. In the final three weeks of lockdown, court advocacy services began to report concerns about perpetrators perceiving the consequences of a breach of order were likely to be less severe. Services reported a general perception that perpetrators were unlikely to be remanded/imprisoned during lockdown. There were some reports of men pushing the boundaries of orders, bail conditions not complying with DTTO requirements, etc. in these instances.
In general, Police Scotland have received reports that are consistent with some of the experiences reported from domestic abuse support organisations. Police Scotland shared qualitative data with JAS on domestic abuse incidents where the COVID-19 crisis and lockdown has impacted on victims, families or perpetrators. A number of reports included incidents where the perpetrator did not allow the victim to leave the house. Some incidents were reported following arguments over lockdown restrictions (e.g. partners arguing over allowing friends into the house; leaving the house unnecessarily; meeting with friends in public). Police Scotland also received calls regarding conflict over child contact and attended some incidents where children had witnessed physical violence.
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