Domestic abusers let off with fines and warnings
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.’