COPFS inquiry: Domestic abuse cases expedited following Scottish government cash injection
Domestic abuse cases are being dealt with more quickly following an injection of cash from the Scottish government into the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS).
Audit Scotland told Holyrood’s Justice Committee that the average time for such a case to call was eight weeks, down from last August’s figure of 11 weeks.
It explained that the Crown has been given extra funding to manage increased caseloads and to deal with domestic abuse cases more speedily.
In 2014/15, it was given an extra £2.6 million and a further £1m in 2015/16. The first transfer was used to hire extra staff while the remainder came from a £20m fund for dealing with violence against women.
The news comes amid assertions of a top-down, policy-led and over-zealous approach to domestic abuse that sees cases with little evidence being prosecuted.
An anonymous former fiscal, writing for Scottish Legal News last month, said that it is “certainly well-known within legal and criminal justice circles that criminal cases involving a ‘domestic’ element are being subjected to an incredibly over-zealous, intrusive and counter-productive approach led in policy partnership by the Scottish government, Police Scotland and COPFS”.
They added that complainers are ignored when they plead for their partners not to be prosecuted because “prosecution remained at the forefront of our agenda to satisfy policy requirements.”
Another fiscal made an anonymous submission to the committee last week citing concerns over a routine lack of evidence.
The fiscal told the Holyrood committee that, as a result of failures, the sheriff and jury unit to which they are assigned sees “serious and often complex cases” indicted for trial “(1) without all the essential evidence on the indictment, (2) without being read by a legally qualified member of staff, (3) without there ever being any prospect of sufficient evidence, resulting in a huge waste of time and resources and unnecessary distress and inconvenience for witnesses.“
Audit Scotland said: “In both 2014/15 and 2015/16, the Scottish government provided additional funding during the course of the year to the COPFS. In 2014/15, the Scottish government provided a supplementary £2.6 million for additional specific court and casework. In 2015/16, the Scottish government made additional funding (£0.95 million) available to the COPFS to reduce the overall time that cases involving domestic abuse took to reach the courts.”
A Crown Office spokesman said: “COPFS has, in recent years, absorbed within its core budget an increase in the reporting of complex sexual abuse and domestic abuse cases, large and complex organised crime and terrorism case, and new requirements required by legislation.
“Additional funding has been made available to deal with a number of particularly large and sensitive cases.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish government said: “Additional funding of £2.4m was provided to the Crown and courts in each of those two years (2014/15 and 2015/16) for extra fiscals, court staff and judiciary to help speed up the delivery of justice, in particular for cases involving domestic abuse and sexual violence.”