Justice - vision and priorities: report

This report highlights our key achievements in justice since the publication of Justice in Scotland: vision and priorities in 2017. It also outlines the unprecedented impact of COVID 19 on the justice system.

2. The current picture

2.1 The 2017 Vision and Priorities was built on the outcomes and approach set out in the first Strategy for Justice in Scotland in 2012. By drawing on the evidence base, it reflected on both achievements and challenges for the immediate and longer-term, identifying four key outcomes and seven priorities for 2017- 2020 to help 'shape our collective effort, inspire collaboration and frame a shared vision for the future'.

2017 Priorities and Challenges


1 We will enable our communities to be safe and supportive, where individuals exercise their rights and responsibilities

2 We enable our people, economy and infrastructure to respond to major risk, recover from emergencies and adapt to emerging threats

3 We will modernise civil and criminal law and the justice system to meet the needs of people in Scotland in the 21st Century

4 We will work with others to improve health and wellbeing in justice settings, focusing on mental health and substance use

5 We will work to quickly identify offenders and ensure responses are proportionate, just, effective and promote rehabilitation

6 We will improve the experience of victims and witnesses, minimising court attendance and supporting them to give best evidence

7 We will use prison only where necessary to address offending or to protect public safety, focusing on recovery and reintegration


  • Increasing inequality and adverse childhood experiences
  • Concentration of crime and victimisation
  • people's experience of justice system
  • prevention and early intervention
  • emerging crimes and threats
  • high prison population
  • physical and mental health and wellbeing

On the priorities and challenges, our current evidence shows aspects where we continue to make progress, where the situation has remained unchanged, where there is a mixed picture, and also where there is more to do.

Overall, the lower levels of crime and victimisation reported in the Vision and Priorities document have been maintained but significant challenges remain such as an increase in illicit drug use, a rise in custodial sentences and the prison population, and a fall in the use of community sentences.


  • Crime has fallen by 46% since 2008-09, and by 21% since 2016-17. Results from the 2019-20 Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) show that around 1 in 8 adults were victims of crime in 2019-20 (11.9%) compared to 1 in 5 in 2008-09 (20.4%). The SCJS detected no change in the overall victimisation rate between 2018-19 and 2019-20.
  • Police recorded crime remains at one of the lowest levels since 1974. Between 2018-19 and 2019-20, the number of crimes recorded remained almost unchanged. In terms of shorter term trends, the number of crimes recorded by the police in April 2020 to January 2021 was lower than the same period in 2019-20. It should be noted that the restrictions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 will have had an impact on these figures.
  • Fall in convictions in most categories between 2017-18 & 2018-19. The decline in convictions in 2018-19 was driven by falls in breach of the peace (13%), common assault (12%) and crimes against public justice (11%). However, convictions for sexual crimes increased by 9% in 2018-19 from 1,112 to 1,215 people.
  • Lowest number of convictions in last 10 years. In 2018-19, the number of people convicted in Scottish courts decreased by 6% to 78,503. This is in line with the general downward trend of the last ten years.
  • While the number of sexual crimes recorded by the police fell in 2019-20, this follows an increasing trend over the last decade. Multiple factors lie behind the long term increase in recorded sexual crime including a greater willingness of victims to come forward, historical reporting, more online offending and the impact of new legislation. The SCJS for 2018-19 & 2019-20 combined estimates that 3.6% of adults experienced at least one serious sexual assault since the age of 16, unchanged from 2008-09.
  • Violent crime has fallen over the long term although the detailed picture is mixed. The SCJS shows a 39% fall in violent crime between 2008-09 and 2019-20. Police recorded crime shows that non-sexual crimes of violence increased by 16% in 2019-20. This increase is due to the recording of new crimes under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, following its enactment on the 1st April 2019. All other non-sexual crimes of violence collectively decreased by 5%. These crimes remain at a lower level than all years between 1980 and 2011-12. The number of crimes of handling an offensive weapon which was not used in other criminal activity recorded by the police has increased in recent years but remains significantly down over the longer term.
  • The number of homicide victims has remained broadly stable over the last eight years. There were 64 homicide victims recorded by the police in Scotland in 2019-20, a 35% decrease from 2010-11. Since 2012-13, the number of victims of homicide each year ranged between 59 and 64.
  • Women are more likely to experience partner abuse. The SCJS for 2018-19 & 2019-20 combined, estimates that 3.2% of adults had experienced partner abuse in the year prior to interview. A higher proportion of women than men experienced this, at 3.7% and 2.6% respectively.
  • The number of domestic abuse incidents recorded by the police has remained relatively stable between 2011-12 and 2018-19. There were 60,641 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by the police in 2018-19, an increase of 2% on 2017-18. In 2018-19, 41% of all incidents recorded by the police included the recording of at least one crime or offence


  • The number of police officers has been maintained. There were 17,234 full-time equivalent (FTE) police officers in Scotland on 31 December 2020. This was 1,000 (+6.2%) more officers compared to the position at 31 March 2007.
  • Increase in crime clear up
  • o rate. The clear up rate for all recorded crimes was 51.5% in 2019-20, up from 51.0% in 2018-19. Clear up rates have been relatively stable over the last decade following a generally upward trend since 1976.
  • The majority of adults (55%) believe the police in their local area were doing an 'excellent' or 'good' job in 2019-20. This is a decrease from 61% in 2012-13, but unchanged since 2018-19 (56%). This figure is lower for victims of crime and those living in the 15% most deprived areas of Scotland.

Hate crime

  • Police recorded hate crime has remained stable between 2014-15 and 2019-20, the number of hate crimes recorded by the police has been relatively stable, at around 6,300 to 7,000. In 2019-20, 62% of hate crimes included an aggravator for race, 20% sexual orientation, 8% religion, 4% disability and 1% transgender identity. The remaining 5% had multiple hate aggravators.
  • Increase in hate crime charges. There has been an increase in the number of charges reported to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in 2019-20 compared to 2018-19 for all categories of hate crime (race, religion, sexual orientation, disability and transgender identity). Racial crime remains the most commonly reported hate crime, followed by crimes with a sexual orientation aggravator

Alcohol and drug use

  • Self-reported illicit drug use amongst adults has increased in recent years. Where the drug types included in the SCJS are generally consistent over time, self-reported drug use has increased since 2008-09 and 2017-18 (from 7.6% in 2008-09 and 7.4% in 2017-18, to 9.7% in 2018-20). Between 2017-18 and 2018-20, self-reported use of any drug listed in the survey during the 12 months prior to interview, increased from 9.5% to 13.5%. In the 12 months prior to interview, those aged 16-24 were the most likely to have reported using drugs and cannabis was the drug most commonly used by adults.
  • Alcohol & drugs remain a factor in many violent crimes. The 2019/20 SCJS found that offenders were believed to be under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in over half (55%) of violent incidents. This was lower than both 2008/09 (68%) and 2018/19 (78%). There has been some fluctuation over the years in the proportion of violent crime where offenders were believed to be under the influence of alcohol, with the latest results suggesting 44% of cases in 2019/20.

Community safety

  • Improved public perception of local crime rate since 2008-09 but there is no change since 2018-19. The public feel safer in their local communities. The SCJS found that, in 2019-20, 73% of adults thought that the local crime rate had stayed the same or reduced in the past two years. This shows an improvement from 69% in 2008-09 and no change since 2018-19 (73%).
  • Most adults feel safe walking alone after dark, unchanged from 2018-19. The SCJS found that over three-quarters (77%) of adults said that they felt 'very' or 'fairly' safe walking alone in their neighbourhood after dark in 2019-20, unchanged from 2018-19 (78%) but an increase from 66% in 2008-09.
  • Number of fires fallen 37% in the last decade. In 2019-20, there were 24,472 fires in Scotland, down 9% on 2018-19 and 37% lower than in 2010-11. There were 27 fire fatalities in 2019-20 - 48% lower than in 2010-11 and the lowest in the last decade.
  • Criminal and civil proceedings
  • Rise in custodial sentences in 2018-19. The number of custodial sentences increased by 2% between 2017-18 and 2018-19, from 11,980 to 12,220. The proportion of all sentences resulting in custody rose to 16%, the highest over the past decade. This contrasts with the fall in the proportion of community sentences, from 21% in 2017-18 to 19% in 2018-19.
  • Reconviction rates are at their lowest level for 21 years. The average number of reconvictions per offender was 23% lower than it was a decade ago. The fall in the last decade was mostly driven by younger age groups, with average reconvictions decreasing by 19% for under 21s, 29% for 21-25 year olds, and 25% for 26-30 year olds. Average reconvictions also decreased for the older age groups over the decade, but to a lesser degree, with a 7% decrease for 31-40 year olds and 6% for the over 40s.
  • No. of children referred to SCRA on offence grounds down by almost two-thirds in last 10 years. Statistics published by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA) show that, in 2019-20, 2,840 children were referred to the Reporter on offence grounds. This constitutes a decrease of 64% since 2010-11.
  • Long-term downward trend in initiated civil law cases, normalising after the rise in caseload in 2017-18. There were 72,100 civil law cases initiated across the Court of Session and sheriff courts in 2018-19 (excluding summary applications). This represents a decrease of 11% from 2017-18, which continues the long-term downward trend in court business levels over the last ten years.

Prisons and community sentences

  • The prison population had grown prior to COVID 19. Daily population figures for Friday published by the Scottish Prison Service, show that the prison population rose from around 7,500 in April 2018 to around 8,300 in November 2019, but fell sharply in the early days of lockdown. This was due to a drop in the number of sentenced admissions following the Coronavirus outbreak and the early release of prisoners. The remand population was at 1,114 on 27th April 2020, but grew to over 2,000 by September. Since October 2020, there have been slight falls and rises in the remand population, but overall it has remained stable, reaching 1,946 on 25th January 2021 (26% of the overall prison population).
  • The number of Community payback orders imposed during 2019-20, was 1% lower than in 2018-19. Seventy per cent of these had an unpaid work or other activity requirement, while 62% had an offender supervision requirement. Community payback orders accounted for around 96% of all social work orders imposed in 2019-20.


Email: socialresearch@gov.scot

Back to top