Do­mes­tic abusers let off with fines and warn­ings

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Gra­ham Grant Home Af­fairs Ed­i­tor

SOAR­ING num­bers of do­mes­tic abusers are be­ing let off with fines or warn­ing let­ters, al­low­ing them to es­cape a con­vic­tion.

Of­fi­cial fig­ures show al­most 1,400 charges, in­clud­ing sex crimes and as­sault, re­sulted in ‘di­rect mea­sures’ – up nearly 70 per cent in a year.

They come af­ter MSPs passed a Bill last week to crim­i­nalise psy­cho­log­i­cal do­mes­tic abuse and co­er­cive be­hav­iour.

Scot­tish Tory jus­tice spokesman Liam Kerr said: ‘Do­mes­tic abuse is a pri­or­ity for po­lice – and that is ab­so­lutely right. But they are be­ing un­der­mined by a court sys­tem that lets too many off the hook and a gov­ern­ment which wants to scrap jail terms of less than a year.

‘If we are se­ri­ous about crack­ing down on do­mes­tic abuse, sen­tences on those found guilty have to be much tougher. Oth­er­wise, the leg­is­la­tion just won’t work for the vic­tims.’

Crown Of­fice fig­ures for 2016-17 show 1,381 do­mes­tic abuse charges led to di­rect mea­sures for crimes in­clud­ing sex­ual as­sault, com­mon as­sault and van­dal­ism. In 2015-16, it was 825, mean­ing a rise of just over 67 per cent.

Of the 30,630 do­mes­tic abuse charges in 2016-17, 26,157 went to court, while the oth­ers not dealt with by di­rect mea­sures largely led to no fur­ther ac­tion.

Di­rect mea­sures in­clude fis­cal fines of £50-300 and warn­ing let­ters. They are not re­garded as le­gal con­vic­tions.

Scot­tish Labour jus­tice spokesman Daniel John­son said: ‘Do­mes­tic abuse is a scourge on so­ci­ety and we must work to­gether to tackle it. The num­ber of re­ported in­ci­dents of do­mes­tic abuse is ris­ing and, as vic­tims are all too of­ten afraid to come for­ward, this may only be the tip of the ice­berg.

‘The Do­mes­tic Abuse Bill is an im­por­tant step to­wards end­ing do­mes­tic abuse – but our work can­not stop there.

‘It is es­sen­tial both vic­tims and the pub­lic have con­fi­dence in our jus­tice sys­tem – and that in­cludes en­sur­ing any­one guilty of do­mes­tic abuse is prop­erly pun­ished.’

Scot­tish Women’s Aid chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Mar­sha Scott said: ‘Our main con­cern is to en­sure women and chil­dren are safe. We have some ex­cel­lent sher­iffs, but a lot don’t un­der­stand that do­mes­tic abuse is a hu­man rights vi­o­la­tion.

‘The sanc­tions they im­pose are rel­a­tively in­signif­i­cant com­pared to the se­ri­ous­ness of the of­fence.’

Dr An­drew Tick­ell, a law lec­turer at Glas­gow Cale­do­nian Univer­sity, said: ‘The new leg­is­la­tion has the po­ten­tial to do con­sid­er­able good – but with the po­ten­tial, if clum­sily en­forced or in­ju­di­ciously pros­e­cuted, to do con­sid­er­able harm.

‘Holy­rood has again given pros­e­cu­tors too much au­ton­omy and ig­nored the im­por­tance of clar­ity, cer­tainty and clear thresh­olds in our crim­i­nal law.’

A Crown Of­fice spokesman said: ‘Pros­e­cu­tors deal with ev­ery case on its own in­di­vid­ual facts and cir­cum­stances. Ef­fec­tive and ap­pro­pri­ate pros­e­cu­to­rial ac­tion is not lim­ited to court pro­ceed­ings.

‘Di­rect mea­sures are an ef­fec­tive re­sponse to cer­tain types of of­fend­ing, mak­ing of­fend­ers face up to the con­se­quences of their ac­tions with­out de­lay.’

A Scot­tish Gov­ern­ment spokesman said: ‘It is for the Crown Of­fice to de­ter­mine whether to pros­e­cute any par­tic­u­lar case.

‘It has made clear there is a pre­sump­tion that all do­mes­tic abuse cases where there is suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence of vi­o­lence or threats of vi­o­lence will be pros­e­cuted in the Sher­iff or High Court.’

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