1 Types of Disposal
This bulletin builds on the previous bullletin: https://www.gov.scot/publications/extended-presumption-against-short-sentences-monitoring-information-july-2019-december-2019/ and reports on over 130,000 separate charges disposed of in Scotland's courts between 01 January 2020 and 31 December 2020. It includes disposals from Justice of the Peace, Sheriff Summary, Sheriff Solemn and High Courts.
For the purposes of this report, disposals have been grouped into four main categories:
Custody – including Imprisonment, Detention in a Young Offenders Institution, Extended Sentences, Orders for Life Long Restriction (OLR) and Life Sentences.
Community – including Community Payback Orders (CPO), Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLO), Drug Treatment and Testing Orders (DTTO) and other community disposals not already mentioned.
Monetary – including fines and compensation.
Other disposal – any disposal which does not fall in any of the previous categories, including: admonishments, absolute discharge and a range of orders relating to mental health and other issues.
The distribution of these four main categories of disposal are shown in Chart 1(Table 1). The total number of charges disposed of by the courts fell by 32% between 2019 and 2020 (reflecting the effect of adjourning the majority of court business in lockdown). In 2019, community disposals accounted for 22% of all disposals and custodial disposals accounted for around 14.5%. In 2020, of the reduced number of charges disposed, 21% were community disposals and 15.5% were custodial.
Numbers of custodial disposals recovered quickly following lockdown (reflecting a system wide desire to prioritise more serious cases) and overall numbers are at lower levels than 2019. However, until the backlog of cases created by lockdown is cleared it is unclear if this trend will continue.
Numbers of community disposals took longer to recover after lockdown and again, although numbers are lower than reported in 2019, it will not be until the backlog of cases is cleared that we will be able to assess long term trends.
Chart 2 (Table 2) details numbers of community disposals over time. The majority of community disposals were Community Payback Orders (CPO). The numbers of these fell sharply when lockdown commenced and although they have almost recovered, as previously discussed, it is too early to determine if the lower levels reported will change once the backlog of court cases is cleared. The number of Restriction of Liberty Orders (RLO) issued increased steadily since lockdown eased and numbers were at a recent high of 188 in December 2020.
1.1 Disposal by Gender
Over 80% of disposals were given to males. This proportion did not change in 2020.
Disposal groups over time split by gender are shown in Chart 3 (Table 3) (note that female disposals are displayed on a separate axis from male disposals to aid comparison). We can see that although monetary and community disposals account for similar proportions of disposals regardless of gender (Monetary - 44% of male disposals, 43% of female disposals in April 2017-December 2020, Community – 21% of male disposals, 19% of female disposals in April 2017-December 2020). A larger proportion of men than women receive custodial disposals and a larger proportion of women than men receive other disposals (Custodial - 17% of male disposals, 7% of female disposals in April 2017-December 2020, Other disposal – 18% of male disposals, 30% of female disposals in April 2017-December 2020). There was no observed difference to this pattern following lockdown.
(male disposals linked to left hand axis, female disposals linked to right hand axis)
2 Sentence Length
Until lockdown, the number of sentences of less than or equal to 12 months had been decreasing. This is part of a longer term trend confirmed by the latest criminal proceedings bulletin: Criminal proceedings in Scotland: 2018-2019 - gov.scot (www.gov.scot). Since lockdown, the court backlog has meant that there have been fewer custodial sentences than usual imposed by the courts. Although it appears that the number of custodial sentences of less than or equal to 12 months remains lower than pre-lockdown, it will not be until the court backlog is cleared that we are able to confirm this.
Chart 5 (Table 5) shows sentence length broken down into more detailed categories. There was a decrease in the number of 6-12 month sentences in the period between the extension of the presumption in July 2019 and the lockdown in late March 2020. There was also a less marked decline in numbers of under 3 months and 3-6 month sentences in this time period. There was no evidence of an associated increase in 1-2 year custodial sentences. It will not be until the backlog of cases in the courts has cleared that we are able to assess trends.
The proportion of all disposals that are accounted for by custodial sentences of 12 months or less had been falling until lockdown was announced. Immediately following lockdown when custody cases were being prioritised, this proportion increased to above pre-lockdown levels. This proportion appears to have returned to around 2019 levels, but it will not be until court backlogs have cleared that we will be bale to confirm this Chart 6(Table 4).
3 Disposals by Local Authority & Sheriffdom
Disposals by Local Authority of residence and Sheriffdom for calendar years 2019 & 2020 are presented in Tables ,, & . Disposals by Local Authority may be incomplete as these are based on recording of postcode of residence which is not always accurately recorded. Local Authority of residence is currently available for 76% of disposals, there will also be a proportion of disposals which relate to non Scottish residents.