Effects of New Covid19 Variant

During January 2021 and in response to the increasing spread of the new variant of COVID-19 across Scotland, a number of measures were advised:

- the Lord President announced that criminal courts would focus on the most serious trials and the majority of summary trials in the Sheriff Court and Justice of the Peace Court would be adjourned. This was estimated to reduce the overall number of criminal trials taking place during lockdown by up to 75%

- Social Work Scotland announced that for the same reason, face to face unpaid work as part of CPOs would be suspended as part of the current lockdown

- HMIPS announced that they had taken the decision to suspend on-site monitoring and liaison visits to prisons and Court Custody Units - a decision that would be reviewed on a fortnightly basis.

Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) Criminal Case Throughput Data

On 17 November 2020, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service (SCTS) published data on criminal case throughput.

Key points:

           - following an initial reduction after lockdown, the overall level of new cases registered has risen to 78% of the average monthly pre-COVID level

           - petitions (a useful indicator of future solemn business), are 15% higher than the average monthly pre-COVID level

           - with High Court remote jury centres now in place, evidence led trials are now 67% of the average monthly pre-COVID level

           - remote Jury Centres are being extended across Scotland to re-start sheriff court jury trials

           - evidence led summary trials in the Sheriff Courts are now 83% of the average monthly pre-COVID levels

           - the total volume of cases (not necessarily those that go on to a trial) concluded in October was 82% of the average monthly pre-COVID level.  

Council of Europe's European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Report

On 8 October 2020, the Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee published its report on the United Kingdom focusing on Scottish prisons. This was a follow up to their 2018 visit. Many of their recommendations had not been implemented, particularly around high-secure mental health accommodation provision for women. This chimes with calls for governance of the National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) to be revised and to find a way to make their recommendations legally enforceable.

Reconviction Rates in Scotland: 2017-18 Offender Cohort

On 6 October 2020, reoffending statistics for 2017-18 were published. They contained detailed analyses of reconviction rates and the average number of reconvictions per offender by: offender characteristics, sentence type, crime type, and local authority.

The latest cohort in the reconvictions statistics is the 2017-18 cohort, with reconvictions counted up to the 31 March 2019 at the latest for this cohort. This was before the extended presumption against short sentences came into force on 4 July 2019.

Key points:

-       the reconviction rate for offenders has fallen to its lowest level since comparable records began

-       the percentage of offenders who were reconvicted in a year was 26.3% – a one percentage point decrease from 27.3% in 2016-17

-       the average number of reconvictions fell from 0.48 to 0.46, a reduction of 4%

-       offenders given a short custodial sentence of one year or less were reconvicted nearly twice as often as those given a Community Payback Order (CPO).

Justice Committee Evidence Session - Covid19 Effects on Criminal Justice System

On 18 August 2020, the Justice Committee took evidence from the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and Teresa Medhurst (Interim Chief Executive of SPS). It heard that the court backlog could take 8-10 years to clear; that cell doubling up is returning; that new prison rules will be extended again from the end of September, but won’t include those relating to provision of food, access to showers and clean clothing which are to revert to normal regime; that unpaid work variations are being considered; that unspecified alternatives to remand are being considered; and importantly, a commitment was made not to return to pre-COVID prison population levels with a further executive release to be considered if required.