– in the Scottish Parliament on 17th March 2021.
1. To ask the Scottish Government what discussions it has had with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service regarding any court delays in cases relating to domestic abuse. (S5O-05114)
Before I answer on the substance of the question, I pay tribute to Linda Fabiani’s interest in raising issues of domestic abuse, both in relation to the relatively new domestic abuse offence that was passed by the Parliament in 2018 and on a range of other relevant issues such as non-harassment orders. She has been a champion for the rights of victims and survivors of domestic abuse and I am sure that, even after she departs this Parliament, she will continue to champion those worthy causes.
The Scottish Government is in regular dialogue with its justice partners, including the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, about the impact of Covid-19 restrictions on court proceedings, including cases that relate to domestic abuse. We understand the impact that delays have on victims and witnesses, and on the accused. That is a key driver behind our commitment to invest £50 million in our recover, renew, transform programme to increase capacity, drive further reform and, ultimately, tackle the backlog that has built up. A few weeks ago, I hosted a constructive round-table event to discuss proposals from the criminal justice board on increasing that capacity, and I will continue to take forward similar discussions with a wide range of stakeholders across the justice system—including, of course, those third sector organisations that represent victims and survivors of domestic abuse.
I thank the cabinet secretary for that detailed answer. I know that he recognises the added stress that delayed court cases cause to victims of alleged domestic abuse, in the form of uncertainty, family worries and, in too many cases, fear. Of course, such delays happened pre-pandemic, but the situation has got worse, for understandable reasons. When he meets the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and other partners, will the cabinet secretary always stress the absolute importance of quick and speedy resolution of such cases? That is so important to victims and their families.
Linda Fabiani is right to raise those concerns. I am in regular discussions with the Lord Advocate, the Crown Office and other justice partners about the issue. The Lord Advocate can, of course, speak for himself, but in any discussion that I have had with him, he has completely and absolutely understood the trauma that survivors and victims of domestic abuse face and suffer. That is why, despite the restrictions on court proceedings, domestic abuse cases will be prioritised—Linda Fabiani might have noted that. I will certainly continue to work with our partners to make sure that we do everything in our power to lessen the trauma that domestic abuse survivors face when it comes to reporting their case to the police and, ultimately, coming to a trial at court. I absolutely commit to Linda Fabiani that we will do that.