1 Types of Disposal
This bulletin reports on over 232,500 separate charges disposed of in Scotland's courts between 1 April 2017 and 31 December 2019. It includes disposals from Justice of the Peace, Sheriff Summary, Sheriff Solemn court and High Court cases.
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 and included in this report fell by 6% between 2017-18 and 2018-19 and (based upon charges disposed between April to December) is estimated to fall by a further 2% between 2018-19 and 2019-20. Over the entire period, community disposals accounted for 20% of all disposals and custodial disposals accounted for 15%.
Numbers of community disposals reached their highest level (since April 2017) in October 2019, when 1,841 (24%) of all disposals were community orders.
Overall, numbers of custodial disposals have been falling since April 2019 and fell to around 900 per month in November/December 2019.
Chart 2 (Table 2) details numbers of community disposals over time. The majority of community disposals were Community Payback Orders (CPO), whose numbers follow the pattern described for all community disposals above. The next most common community disposal is a Restriction of Liberty Order (RLO). Numbers of RLOs issued have increased by over 50% from 108 in July 2019 to 165 in December 2019.
1.1 Disposal by Gender
Over 80% of disposals were given to males.
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 follow similar patterns over time regardless of gender, a larger proportion of men than women receive custodial disposals and a larger proportion of women than men receive other disposals. Given that men receive the majority of custodial disposals, it is perhaps unsurprising that their numbers follow a similar pattern as described above (Chart 1) for all custodial disposals. The numbers of custodial disposals received by women has remained reasonably stable over the last 12 months. The observed difference in gender may reflect a difference in the nature of the offences for which men and women receive custodial disposals. Future issues of this bulletin will be able to explore this further.
2 Sentence Length
Overall, the number of custodial sentences of 12 months or less has been decreasing since April 2017. In November and December of 2019, the number of sentences of 12 months or less was around 665, the lowest value since April 2017.
Chart 5 (Table 5) shows sentence length broken down into more detailed categories. In December 2019, there were fewer sentences in each of the six months or less categories than there were at the beginning of 2019-20. Overall, there are fewer sentences in the over 12 months categories and therefore they may be subject to more variation. However, currently there does not appear to be any evidence of an increase in numbers in any of these longer sentence groups.