QC warns against jubilation over drop in youth conviction rates as crime rises

QC warns against jubilation over drop in youth conviction rates as crime rises

Thomas Ross QC

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s comment that a decline in convictions for people aged under 21 was a “great credit to our justice system” has been described as “mildly extraordinary” by one QC, given that crime itself is rising.

Latest figures have shown that those aged under 21 who have been convicted of a crime has dropped from 27,832 in 2007 to 8,814 in 2017 – a fall of nearly 70 per cent.

Speaking to Scottish Legal News, Thomas Ross QC said: “I appreciate that Mr Yousaf has only been in the job for a month, but measuring the success of the justice system by conviction rates is mildly extraordinary.

“Only two months ago Police Scotland confirmed that crime was on the increase, so it seems unlikely that the public will be impressed by the Cabinet Secretary for Justice presenting a drop in conviction rates as a triumph.

“There can of course be many reasons for a reduction in conviction rates. When accounted for by a drop in crime, everybody welcomes it. When explained by deficiencies in the justice system itself, then the government has to step up.”

Mr Ross referred to the Justice Committee’s report released last year on the operation of the prosecution system, which concluded that it “remained under considerable pressure”.

He said: “The report spoke of a perception on the part of witnesses of a ‘just about managing prosecuting service lacking the time and resources to always get things right’. When stretched to breaking point individual prosecutors will make mistakes, which will impact negatively upon conviction rates. When the prosecution service is overburdened, it will divert cases from prosecution, with the result that no conviction will ever be recorded.”

The silk added: “Mr Yousaf is new to the post, and it is to be hoped that he grows into it, but he should quickly find a better way of measuring how the system that he has responsibility for is performing. When he does, I suspect that he might not like what it tells him.”

Share icon
Share this article: