Statistical Bulletin Crime and Justice Series: Criminal Proceedings in Scottish Courts, 2006/07

Criminal Proceedings in Scottish Courts 2006-07

Annexe B - Collection and coverage of the court proceedings data

B1. During the preparation of this bulletin, our validation procedures identified a small number of Sheriff Solemn records which had not been processed correctly for the previous 2005/06 bulletin. The data processing problem appears to have been caused in late 2005 when new Sheriff Solemn court codes were phased in by SPSA (then SCRO) which were subsequently not picked up by our data processing system. We estimate that the impact has been an undercount of around 150 persons with a charge proved from the 2005/06 bulletin, which is around 5 per cent of all Sheriff Solemn Court convictions and around 0.1 per cent of total court convictions.

B2. The SPSA database which holds information on the outcome of court proceedings is not designed for statistical purposes. It is dependent on receiving timely information from the courts and police force records offices, while some types of outcome, e.g. acquittals, are weeded after a prescribed length of time. A pending case on the CHS is updated in a timely manner but there are occasions when a slight delay may happen. Recording delays of this sort generally affect High Court disposals relatively more than those for other types of court. The figures given in this bulletin reflect the details of court proceedings as made available to and recorded at SPSA, and as provided to the Scottish Government at 22 October 2007. Because of these recording delays, figures for 2006/07, and to some extent earlier years, should be considered provisional on the basis that future bulletins may be able to provide more up to date figures. We estimate that the 2005/06 Bulletin contained an undercount of around 4,200 persons with a charge proved in 2005/06, around 3 per cent of all persons with a charge proved.

B3. Since the last bulletin in this series was published, High Court cases which were entered too late on to the Criminal History System to be included in the data analysis files covering the period January 2000 to December 2005 have now been added to the Scottish Government court proceedings database, along with other late data for the years 2005 and 2006. Further details of these and other amendments can be obtained from the enquiry point given at the end of this bulletin

B4. Although every effort has been made to ensure that the data is reliable, the data collected are subject to the errors which may arise in any large scale recording system. Some inconsistencies in the data received cannot currently be corrected, for example persons whose gender has not been recorded or whose age is unknown.

B5. During parts of 2000, a few police forces are known to have experienced backlogs in recording the outcome of some court proceedings for motor vehicle offences on the SPSA (then SCRO) database. As at the time information on disposals of such offences was generally only retained on the database for a couple of months from the date of disposal before being weeded off, these cases were not included in the extracts of statistical data provided to the Scottish Government. The estimated shortfall in the number of persons proceeded against during 1999/00 and 2000/01 is estimated to be around 3,300 proceedings in total.

B6. The police record very detailed information on statutory offences but this does not always correspond exactly to the categories in the Scottish Government classification of crimes and offences. The most important example in numerical terms is an offence under Section 41(1)(a) of the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. This offence relates to "any person who assaults, resists, obstructs, molests or hinders a constable..". The Scottish Government classification divides this into 3 categories - resisting arrest, serious assault and common assault, but this distinction is not made by the courts. The majority of such cases are thought to have been classed as common assault, and all the offences under this subsection have been so classified. The same problem arises in relation to a number of other statutes, but at the level of aggregation used in the bulletin the numbers involved in cases where there is a change in the final crime category are thought to be small.

B7. Following the introduction of computerisation of case recording to the sheriff courts, some difficulties were experienced by police force records offices in distinguishing sheriff solemn from sheriff summary cases when recording the disposal information on the SPSA database. Where possible those cases where the court type was incorrect have been identified and appropriate changes made to the data held in the Scottish Government Court Proceedings Database.

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