Journey times in the Scottish Criminal Justice System: 2023-24

This bulletin assesses an accused person’s criminal justice journey time from offence date to case conclusion or verdict for the period from 2023 to 2024. This journey time is broken down by justice system stage and type of crime.

4. Methods

A case may have multiple accused with multiple charges. For cases disposed of by COPFS, the journey time is taken to be the time between the oldest offence date and the date when the whole case was closed by COPFS. The date when the charge is reported to the Police (police known date) can also be different for the separate charges attributed to an accused, so for simplicity, the earliest police known date in a case is used in calculations. The dates when the case was reported and closed by COPFS were used to calculate the COPFS report to case closed times.

Where COPFS decide that there should be no action against an accused, but action is taken against other accused in the same case, the case will remain open until all accused have reached a disposal.

Figures for accused given a direct measure cover those where the initial decision was to offer a direct measure. In some cases, the direct measure may have been refused and may not therefore have been the final disposal for the accused. Again, in a multi accused case, the case will not be closed until all of the accused have reached a disposal.

The same approach is used to calculate the times for accused disposed in court. The journey time is taken to be the time between the earliest offence date of the accused in a specific case and the latest verdict date (verdict date is only extracted when all charges have received a verdict). Time from offence to police known date was calculated using the earliest offence date and the earliest date that any of those offences was reported to the Police. Time from police known to COPFS report was calculated from the earliest police known date to the date when the case was reported to COPFS. COPFS report date and date on which the accused was registered in SCTS, were used to calculate COPFS report to court registration times and time from court registration to verdict was calculated using the date on which the accused was registered in SCTS and the latest verdict date. The supporting tables provide the median times for each chart with the addition of the 90th percentile times added as an indicator of range and the number of case-accused associated with that time (i.e. the number of accused in each court case who receives a verdict. If the same accused appears during the same period in another case then they will be counted twice). Note that the methodology used to count the number of accused and classify them in crime groups is different to that used in the Criminal Proceedings in Scotland official statistics. Comparison with Criminal Proceedings data is not advised as the statistics presented here are calculated differently and based on a different data source.

Some case-accused have been excluded for the calculation of the median and 90th percentile times due to missing dates (0.2% for cases closed by COPFS and 5% for accused prosecuted in Scottish criminal courts).

It should be noted that throughout the bulletin where a court type is referred to this indicates the destination or final court of the accused. Accused may move from one court type to another during their journey.

Where an accused is part of a multi-accused case, the case may be heard in a court type which appears inappropriate for one or more accused. For example, there are cases where an accused has only miscellaneous offence charges and they appear in a solemn court. In such situations, there may be a co-accused with more severe charges being tried in the same case.

To calculate journey times by crime group, all the charges present when an accused was registered with SCTS were mapped to a crime code. These crimes were then classified in groups defined in the new crime classification as described in Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2021-2022.

One of the primary aims of this publication was to determine journey times for victims of sexual crime, therefore the methodology outlined below prioritises charges which relate to sexual crimes. Allocation of accused to a crime group follows the stepwise methodology outlined below:

1: if any of the charges against the accused is a sexual crime (Group 2) then that accused is included in the sexual crime group,

2: of the remaining (non-Group 2) accused, if any of their charges include a Group 1 crime, then they are classified in the non-sexual crimes of violence group (Group 1),

3: of the remaining accused, if any of their charges include a Group 3 crime, then they are classified in the crimes of dishonesty group (Group 3).

The same steps are followed for Damage and reckless behaviour (Group 4), Crimes against society (Group 5), Antisocial offences (Group 6), Miscellaneous offences (Group 7) and Road traffic offences (Group 8). This bulletin does not include times for offences (Group 6, 7 and 8). These will be included in the next update of the supporting interactive dashboard later this year:

Note that each accused will be counted once for each case in which they appear and will only appear in one crime group for that case, i.e. the journey time for an accused with a sexual crimes (group 2) charge at registration and a non-sexual crimes of violence (group 1) charge at registration will be included in the median journey time for sexual crimes and not for non-sexual crimes of violence.

In placing an accused in a single crime group using this methodology, there will always be a small number of occasions where the accused appears in a particular crime group that appears counterintuitive e.g. if an accused is charged with a minor sexual crime and serious assault, they will appear in the sexual crimes group when the serious assault charge may have more impact on their journey time. For example, of 449 people accused of murder between 2017-18 and 2023-24, there were 10 people (2%) who also committed a sexual crime and will have been classified in the sexual crime group according to this methodology.

This same methodology is followed when disaggregating the crime groups into crime types, with sexual crimes being prioritised (the crime type ranking used is shown in Table 2 of annex B). Then, allocation to a crime type follows the usual hierarchy set out in other JAS publications: if any of the charges against the accused is a Rape & attempted rape charge then that accused is included in the Rape & attempted rape crime type. Of the remaining accused, those with at least one Sexual assault charge will be classified in the Sexual assault crime type and so on for the rest of the Sexual crime types. Thereafter, the remaining accused are allocated to a crime type using the same methodology.

The list of the crime types in each of the crime groups can be found here:

Recorded Crime in Scotland, 2021-2022  and in table 3 of annex B.

Categories where the numbers of accused are small (<2 per month) have been removed from the charts and supplementary tables.

For each of the subsets of times under consideration, median times for the year 2023-24 will be compared to the previous year (2022-23) to determine what change has occurred in the most recent period. A small number (1.5%) of ‘historic’ charges (offence date to police known date of more than 1 year) are included in this analysis.

Analysis of median times means that less weight is attributed to these long journey times and the addition of the 90th percentile time indicates the distribution of times. 

Median journey times (in days) are quoted as this measurement is less sensitive to outlying observations than a mean time would be. Please note that medians should not be added and that we would not expect the sum of the median number of days of all the stages to be the same as the total median number of days from offence to verdict.

All information on Justice of the Peace courts is available in the supplementary tables. To help minimise the size of this bulletin, commentary on JP courts is minimal.



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