Domestic abuse victims deserve quicker justice

ONE of Scotland's top legal chiefs wants to crack down on domestic abuse court delays so that cases are seen within 10 weeks and victims are given "quick justice."

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Anne Marie Hicks wants to crack down on domestic abuse court delays
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ONE of Scotland's top legal chiefs wants to crack down on domestic abuse court delays so that cases are seen within 10 weeks and victims are given "quick justice."

Anne Marie Hicks, national procurator fiscal for domestic abuse, said the current waiting times are "disproportionate" to other crimes and could be damaging to victims and their families.

At the country's flagship domestic abuse court in Glasgow, delays of up to nine months have been reported because it is so overloaded.

Across Scotland, the latest available figures show there were more than 26,859 cases which had a domestic abuse element reported to the procurator fiscal in 2012/13 .

Ms Hicks, who oversaw the expansion of Glasgow's specialist domestic violence courts and set up the city's Domestic Abuse Unit, is also coordinating specialist training on the crime, which will be rolled out to legal chiefs across Scotland in a bid to improve the service at local level.

She says an action plan will be put in place to "revamp, improve and enhance" the current training.

It came after prosecutors revealed they wanted to create a specific offence of domestic abuse to target perpetrators who subject their victims to emotional and psychological pain, as well as physical.

As the Evening Times exclusively reported last month, under the planned new laws, abusers could be prosecuted for non-violent controlling behaviour for the first time in history.

Ms Hicks said: "At the moment we have quite considerable court delays, including at the specialist courts.

"That's something we would like to see addressed because the impact of giving evidence on domestic abuse - and for children who might have to give evidence - with lengthy delays in the court that could be six months or beyond is far, far more disproportionate than it would be for another victim who has maybe observed vandalism or fight in the street."

"That's one of the things we're working with other agencies and the Scottish Government to try and get cases to court within 8-10 weeks. That way, it's quick justice. People would have resolution, and not have something hanging over them months and months.

"I think it's more about available court time. We would like to see some additional court resource available for domestic cases so we avoid that situation."

Ms Hicks, who is originally from north Glasgow, started her career as a solicitor more than 20 years ago.

She was given the post of Scotland's first national procurator fiscal for domestic abuse last October - a move in itself which was viewed as groundbreaking.

The legal expert is currently leading a review of the current system of dealing with domestic abuse.

She said: "We're looking at enhancing our specialism at local level because obviously this is huge mainstream work for us.

"It's a massive volume: we get about 27,000 charges a year. All our prosecutors have to be equipped to deal with it.

"But to help them have more expertise and more access to expertise, I want to have more specialism at local level that they can tap into for extra help."

Ms Hicks said training on stalking was already being rolled out after the Government introduced new stalking legislation in 2010.

She said her team was looking at developing a "training strategy so there is enhanced training on practical prosecutions, skill-based training for prosecutors on dealing with these cases because they can be quite challenging".

She added: "The stalking training is one part of it that we've already implemented.

"We've devised a new course and we're now delivering it across the country to our prosecutors."

As we reported, developments in the area took a step forward last month after Solicitor General Lesley Thompson QC said there were plans to create a new offence of domestic abuse.

Police Scotland Chief Constable Steve House also proposed a multi-agency group to set up a pilot on a Clare's Law disclosure scheme in Scotland, which would allow people to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence.

Ms Hicks said: "We're really interested in to see how the new legislation might work.

"There might be a prosecution for an assault or a rape or the threatening of an abusive incident, but it's not covering the weeks/months, sometimes years of degrading, controlling, humiliating behaviour that people endure.

"It's very incident focused, but it doesn't really capture the bigger picture."

University of Glasgow graduate Ms Hicks said the "radical" change by authorities in the way they deal with domestic abuse was "fantastic".

She said: "I genuinely think if you are a victim of domestic abuse and you pick up the phone anywhere in Scotland you will get a serious response.

"People will listen, they will treat you seriously. I think that's a huge confidence boost for victims.

"It's now not 'just a domestic' that people have to endure - quite the reverse."

She added that the rise of third party reporting was an encouraging move.

"We now see a lot more reports from neighbours and people, who maybe in the past, would have just turned a blind eye," she said.

"Now people are saying: 'Somebody's safety is at risk.' So they pick up the phone and report it. People don't want to leave somebody endure a terrible situation."

A spokeswoman from Scottish Women's Aid said: "We support the latest calls by Anne Marie Hicks for the reduction of court waiting times.

"The impact on women of waiting for a trial date is immense, affecting women emotionally, and their safety while the abuser is on bail.

"Reducing the stress and danger for women will make a difficult process more bearable, and encourage more women to come forward."

rachel.loxton@eveningtimes.co.uk

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