3. Commentary: Introduction
3.1 The term "crime" is generally used for the more serious criminal acts; the less serious are termed "offences". The distinction is made only for statistical reporting purposes and the "seriousness" of the offence is generally related to the maximum sentence that can be imposed.
3.2 The introduction of the Scottish Crime Recording Standard (SCRS) in 2004-05 has helped maintain a consistent approach to recording crime. As anticipated this has increased the numbers of minor crimes recorded by the police, such as minor crimes of Vandalism and minor thefts. However, it was not anticipated that the SCRS would have a notable impact on the figures for more serious crimes such as Serious assault, Sexual assault, Robbery or Housebreaking.
3.3 Unfortunately it was not possible to estimate the exact impact of the new recording standard on the recorded crime figures because around the time that the new standard was implemented, police also introduced centralised call centres which encouraged the reporting of incidents to the police.
3.4 The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey (SCJS) 2010-11 provides a complementary measure of crime compared with police recorded crime statistics. The survey provides information on the criminal justice system, on people's experience of civil justice problems and people's perception of crime. It also provides estimates of progress for two of the 50 national indicators in the Scottish Government's National Performance Framework: Improve people's perceptions about the crime rate in their area and Reduce crime victimisation rates. Further information on the National Performance Framework can be accessed via the following link:
The Scottish Crime and Justice Survey can also provide an estimate of the proportion of crimes not reported to the police. In 2010-11, it was estimated that 39% of crimes, as defined by the SCJS, were reported to the police (Section 6).
3.5 There have been no major legislative changes throughout 2011-12 which impact on the comparability of the statistics.
On 1 March 2012, the Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications Act 2012 was implemented. The Act introduces two new offences, Offensive behaviour at football and Threatening communications. These two offences are included in the Breach of the peace etc. category throughout the bulletin.
There were a number of legislative changes throughout 2010-11 which have affected the comparability of some crime groups with past years.
On 6 October 2010, section 38 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 was implemented. This introduced a new statutory offence of Threatening or abusive behaviour. Unlike the common law offence of Breach of the peace, where case law has decreed that it is necessary to show a 'public element' to the conduct, there is no requirement in the new legislation to demonstrate the offending behaviour was in a public place.
Section 39 of the 2010 Act introduced the new offence of "Stalking". Formerly conduct which constitutes this new offence would also have been recorded under the common law offence of Breach of the peace.
The offences of Stalking and Threatening and abusive behaviour are included in the Breach of the peace etc. category throughout the bulletin. Caution should therefore be taken when comparing this category with previous years. For further information please see Note 7.15.
The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 came into force on 1 December 2010. The Act was passed following widespread media and academic criticism of the previous law in Scotland surrounding rape and other sexual offences, particularly the gender specific nature of the common law offence of rape.
The Act replaces a number of common law crimes including Rape, Clandestine injury to women and Sodomy with new statutory sexual offences. The Act provides a statutory description of consent, which is defined as free agreement and provides a non-exhaustive list of factual circumstances during which consent will be deemed to be absent.
The Act created a number of new ‘protective’ offences, which criminalise sexual activity with children and mentally disordered persons. There are separate offences concerning young children (under 13 years) and older children (13-15 years).
The new legislation will only apply to offences committed from 1 December 2010. Any offences committed prior to this date will be recorded using the previous legislation.
The new legislation resulted in some increases in Sexual offences. However, it is likely that the effect will be to change the distribution of these crimes among the subcategories. For example, some crimes previously categorised as Lewd and libidinous practices will now be classified as Sexual assault.
The introduction of the new legislation resulted in some crimes that would previously have been classified as either Breach of the peace etc. or Other miscellaneous offences being classified as Sexual offences. Most of these are now classed as Other sexual offences. However, it is not possible to quantify the number of crimes that this change affects.
Any Sexual offence which occurred prior to 1 December 2010 will be recorded in line with the appropriate legislation in place at that time. If the conduct occurred both prior to and after 1 December 2010 the appropriate offences under the old and new legislation are recorded. Caution should therefore be taken when comparing Sexual offences with previous years.
Email: Neil Henderson