Domestic abuse cases unlikely to succeed burden on courts

Calum Steele

Scottish courts are being weighed down with domestic abuse cases which are very unlikely to result in any convictions, according to a police body.

The Scottish Police Federation (SPF) said that couples were unable to have an argument now without one “leaving in handcuffs”, The Scotsman reports.

Calum Steele, general secretary of the SPF, told Holyrood’s Justice Committee that officers’ professional discretion was being ignored because of a policy of prioritising such cases.

Mr Steele said: “These are policy decisions which impact on police demand from the very beginning and then impact on court demand and staff in marking papers and getting witnesses to court for a case which is never going to see a conviction.”

He added: “For services where staff are under pressure of time to go through that rigmarole, whilst that might suit a policy objective does not seem very pragmatic in terms of utilising the resources.

“It would be inappropriate for me to speak for fiscals, but we heard earlier there was a perception that there was a lack of discretion.

“If I was to draw a parallel with the police service in these cases, there is absolutely a lack of discretion.

“We have got to a stage in Scotland where couples can’t have a row in their house. If they do and the police are informed, there is a very strong likelihood one of them is leaving in handcuffs.

“There are understandable reasons why the police and Crown Office focus on domestic violence has changed massively over the years, of course there are.

“Are we really saying we’re best served having families and relationships having interference from the criminal justice system because someone phoned the police after overhearing raised voices?”

But Rachel Weir, vice-president of the Procurators Fiscal Society, said: “In the almost 19 years I have been a prosecutor, I have never once initiated proceedings in a case where I didn’t think a crime had been committed or where I didn’t think there was a sufficiency of evidence. There is not a policy in the world that would direct one of our members to do such a thing.

“The suggestion that prosecutors in Scotland are initiating proceedings in cases where there is an insufficiency of evidence is certainly not matched by my experience or any of our members and is in many ways an attack on their professional dignity.”

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