A claim by a leader of Scotland’s police officers that domestic abuse cases with no chance of conviction are being taken to court, has been denied by prosecution service representatives.
The conflicting evidence was given before the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, at a hearing during its inquiry into the Crown Ofice & Procurator Fiscal Service.
Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said the professional discretion of police officers and prosecutors was being ignored due to “a policy decision to make domestic abuse cases a priority”. This impacted on demands on the police, the courts and COPFS staff “in marking papers and getting witnesses to court for a case which is never going to see a conviction”.
He added: “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.”
However Rachel Weir, vice president of the Procurators Fiscal Society, maintained that in almost 19 years she had never begun proceedings where she did not think a crime had been committed or there had been a sufficiency of evidence: “There is not a policy in the world that would direct one of our members to do such a thing.”
Another fiscal, Fiona Eadie, said the prosecution policy was supported by organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis, and was “effectively a zero tolerance policy”.
For the Faculty of Advocates, Derek Ogg QC claimed that many prosecutors “felt constrained against taking decisions” in cases. Fiscals were “a real asset and should be cherished but that also means having trust in their judgments”. He added: “I think the new Lord Advocate will loosen the reins somewhat in this.”
Mr Ogg also believed there was a “perception problem” among complainers that the prosecutor was their person in court. “The prosecutor has a different role and it is not readily understood… it is to prosecute fairly in the public interest. The prosecutor is not there to represent victims and get the case limping into court under any circumstances.”
The committee will continue to take evidence until the end of this month, and will then question ministers.