Overview of Findings
The information collected to fulfil the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 Reporting Requirement provides an early indication of how the Act has bedded in since 2019.
The Reporting Requirement requires the publication of both statistical information relating to the progress and outcomes of domestic abuse cases in court and information about the experiences of victims and witnesses in domestic abuse cases, including child witnesses, as well as information about court business. The Reporting Requirement period covers the first three years of operation of the Act which is the period 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022.
It is important to note that this is an Interim Report and presents a partial view of the data relating to the first three years of the Act and it is therefore too early to draw firm conclusions. In addition, for two of the three years covered by the Reporting Requirement, the justice system was significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and this impacted on the statistics presented and the research undertaken, as well as the lived experience of victims of domestic abuse.
A central aim of the Act is to enable the prosecution of various types of abuse, including emotional and psychological abuse, which takes place over a period of time, under a new domestic abuse offence. Early indications show an increase in the use of the legislation over the two years for which statistical data is available. Criminal proceedings data indicates an increase in the number of people convicted of the new offence (from 212 in 2019-20 to 383 in 2020-21). Similarly, the figures show an increase in the use of the new statutory sentencing aggravation intended to reflect the harm caused to children by domestic abuse since the Act came into force, from 39 in 2019-20 to 90 in 2020-21 (around a quarter of all convictions for the offence). However, the impact of the pandemic makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the criminal justice statistics presented in the report.
The Act also provides for a number of associated reforms to criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing. These reforms, whilst not specifically focused on court procedures, are intended to help to minimise the trauma for the complainer. Research undertaken to generate information about 'the experience of witnesses (including witnesses who are children) at court' found that going to court was experienced as difficult and distressing for many of the victims and witnesses who participated in the research.
Overall, the evidence on victim and witness court experiences, and the criminal justice system as a whole, suggests the continued existence and/or the exacerbation (due to the COVID-19 pandemic) of known issues relating to the experiences of vulnerable witnesses at court; rather than new issues specific to or resulting from the Act. These included long delays; lack of communication, involvement or understanding of procedures; and the importance of kind and respectful treatment and availability of specialist support. It is important to note that these findings are drawn from three small-scale research studies (69 research participants in total) and cannot therefore be generalised to all domestic abuse victims and witnesses. Small samples are fairly typical of research studies on domestic abuse due to their highly sensitive nature.
The research also sought to elicit the views and perceptions of victims and witnesses of specific provisions of the Act. Evidence on this was limited, in part due to a lack of awareness and understanding of the Act amongst victims. Indicative findings suggest that there were mixed views on the scope, application and protection offered by non-harassment orders, and other measures designed to address the harmful impact of domestic abuse on children.
A number of areas for improvement were identified in the research which included improved knowledge, communication and information sharing; increased use of remote and/or earlier pre-recorded evidence; quicker and more efficient processes; and, expanding support and ensuring safety for victims at all stages of the justice process.
Further statistical data will be provided in a Final Report in 2023 which will include information on the outstanding elements of the Reporting Requirement, including the statistics on the final year of convictions data, journey times through court and Non Harassment Orders issued under the Act.
Laid before the Scottish Parliament by the Scottish Ministers under Section 14 of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018.
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