Journey times in the Scottish Criminal Justice System
This bulletin assesses an accused person’s criminal justice journey time from offence date to case conclusion or verdict. The bulletin analyses the average length of journey and how these journey times have been impacted by the COVID pandemic.
1. Key Points
This is the first experimental bulletin produced by the Scottish Government that assesses an accused person's criminal justice journey time from offence date to case conclusion or verdict. The bulletin uses two new datasets supplied by the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) covering the time period April 2017 to December 2022.
The insights from this bulletin allow us to make observations about the average length of journey times in general, as well as how these journey times have changed from pre-pandemic levels and over the course of the pandemic and beyond.
- The effect of the pandemic is very apparent in the data. Across all crime groupings and court types, median journey times of accused persons increased in 2021-22 (post pandemic) when compared to 2019-20 (pre-pandemic).
- Furthermore, with the exception of Justice of the Peace (JP) courts, all other court types saw an additional increase in median journey times over the first 9 months of 2022-23.
- In the first 9 months of 2022-23 covered by this publication, median journey times for accused persons with a COPFS "No action" marking were longer by around 2 months than for accused persons marked for direct measures (e.g. a warning letter or a fiscal fine).
- Median journey times for accused persons in solemn cases are longer than those for accused in summary cases. For example, median journey times in the first 9 months of 2022-23 were around 2 years 10 months in High court and 1 year 5 months in Sheriff solemn courts. This compares to around 11 months in Sheriff summary courts and 10 months in JP courts.
- In both sheriff (solemn and summary) courts and JP courts the offence to verdict median times for accused persons with a non-appearance warrant were higher than for those without non-appearance warrants; in the first 9 months of 2022-23, journey times for accused persons with non-appearance warrants were 8 months longer in Sheriff solemn courts, 6 months longer in Sheriff summary courts and 9 months longer in JP courts.
- The analysis suggests that there are differences in accused persons' journey times depending on the type of crime on registration. The longest journey times were observed for accused persons charged with at least one sexual crime and prosecuted in High court – with a median time of around 4 years in the 9 months of 2022-23 covered by this publication. It is worth noting that a proportion of these cases are likely to be historic in nature and therefore the age of the offence will impact on the estimated journey time.
- The analysis also shows that the time associated with different parts of an accused person's journey in the justice system varies depending on the type of court their case is allocated.
- For example, in the first 9 months of 2022-23, offence to registration times were longer than registration to verdict times in solemn courts - median offence to registration time for accused persons in High court were around 20 months and median registration to verdict time were 11 months; offence to registration time in Sheriff solemn court were around 10 months compared to 4 months for registration to verdict.
- In contrast, for sheriff summary courts registration to verdict times are in general longer than offence to registration times - (median offence to registration journey times were around 2 months compared to a median of about 6 months for registration to verdict).
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