DOMESTIC abuse charges reported to prosecutors in Scotland reached a five-year high with cases rising during the first Covid lockdown, figures revealed.

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) statistics record 33,425 charges relating to domestic abuse were reported in 2020/21.

This is up 9% from the 30,718 recorded the previous year and the highest since 2015/16, following four years of cases remaining around 30,000.

The statistics cover the period following the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020.

While the figures for March were relatively low, this increased from April and May, peaking in June and July at more than 3300 charges a month before falling in August.

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The first lockdown began easing in Scotland on May 29.

Lord Advocate Dorothy Bain QC, Scotland’s highest law officer, said lockdown was “particularly difficult and dangerous” for domestic abuse victims.

Scottish Women’s Aid warned that as many women don’t report to the police, this is only a “fraction of what is actually happening in our families and communities”.

Of the domestic abuse related charges reported to the COPFS, the vast majority were prosecuted with 92% proceeding to court, the same as the previous year and up from 85% in 2013/14.

Two of the domestic abuse-related charges in 2020/21 were homicides, 573 were attempted murder or serious assault charges and 620 were charges of rape or attempted rape.

The most common types of domestic abuse-related offences reported in 2020/21 were breach of the peace type of offences at 31% (9527), including threatening or abusive behaviour, followed by common assault at 25% (7550).

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive at Scottish Women’s Aid, said the figures highlight the “sheer enormity of domestic abuse in Scotland” and the “increased risk” that has been ongoing since the beginning of the pandemic.

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Dr Marsha Scott warned that the figures only showed a fraction of the reality of domestic abuse in Scotland

She said: “We remind everyone regularly that Covid does not cause domestic abuse, but that it has given perpetrators more tools for controlling and coercing and has made help-seeking so much more difficult for those living with domestic abuse.

“It is also worth noting that most women do not report to police, so these figures represent only a fraction of what is actually happening in our families and communities.”

A total of 1581 charges were reported under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act, which came into force in April 2019, creating a specific offence of domestic abuse including coercive control.

These were 4.7% of all domestic abuse charges reported but were up 48% on the previous year’s total of 1065.

A total of 1045 stalking charges under section 39 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 were reported to COPFS. Of these, 592 (57%) were identified as domestic abuse.

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The statistics show the majority of those accused of domestic abuse in 2020/21 were male, at 28,975 (87%).

Dr Scott added: “We welcome the continued high percentage of charges that the Crown chooses to prosecute and are happy to see the small uptick in the percentage of overall domestic abuse charges that are prosecuted under Section 1 the law, which is essentially the new law.

“We would hope to see that percentage continue to climb over the coming years.

“We are very interested to see the increase in the percentage of cases going to the high court, given what we have heard from some fiscals about the opportunity offered by the new law to present more evidence about the abuse, and we will be watching this figure in next year’s report.

“We would also welcome improved disaggregation of data—by sex, by race and ethnicity, by disability, etc.

“In addition, we would very much like to know what percentage of the cases included children in the family so we had a more accurate picture of when child aggravations are and are not a feature.”

Scott added that the data does not include the outcomes in cases and the backlog of court cases caused by the pandemic has brought “heightened risk to survivors”, with many abandoning court action when faced with “multi-year waits”.

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Lord Advocate Bain (pictured) said: “While the last year has been a challenging one for all of us, for victims of domestic abuse the period of lockdown was particularly difficult and dangerous.

“All staff at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service have worked hard to protect victims during this time by continuing to prepare cases and prosecute offenders where possible.

“The impact of the pandemic on the justice system, particularly the ability to progress criminal trials, has been significant.

“We have been working with partners across the criminal justice system to respond to the challenges and we will continue to do so, with a focus on ensuring cases progress as efficiently as possible during the pandemic recovery.”

She said she understands the “devastating impact” victims can experience and the “compounding effect of delays and uncertainty”, vowing to ensure those who come forward are properly supported.