THE NUMBER of domestic abuse criminal charges are at a four-year high – despite fears the backlog of court cases could “undo many years of progress” for victims.

Statistics released from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), have revealed that 30,718 charges were reported in relation to domestic abuse in 2019-20 – with 92 per cent of cases proceeding to court.

The figures show that just five per cent, 1,501 charges, led to no action being taken – with the majority of these due to a lack of evidence.

More than 1,000 prosecutions have taken place in the first year of Scotland’s domestic abuse law.

Scottish Women’s Aid has welcomed the new legislation in action but the organisation has warned that the backlog in court cases due to the Covid-19 pandemic could threaten access to justice for victims of domestic abuse.

Proposals to give police and the courts powers to remove suspected domestic abusers from victims' homes will be lodged at Holyrood in the coming weeks.

Most of the domestic abuse charges were prosecuted at the sheriff summary level, but there has been a steady rise in the number of charges at the more serious solemn level, increasing from 10 per cent in 2013-14 to 15 per cent in 2019-20.

READ MORE: Some domestic abuse victims feel 'nothing has changed' despite Scotland's new law

Statistics also show that two thirds of domestic abuse charges are brought against people aged 31 to 40 or 21 to 30 - evenly split between the two age groups.

In 2019-20, 1,065 charges were reported under the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, with 95 per cent of charges proceeding to court.

Solicitor General for Scotland, Alison Di Rollo QC, said: “The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, which came into force in April 2019, broke ground in addressing the true dynamics of abusive behaviour to which too many victims are subjected.

“This legislation has allowed the prosecution of a range of coercive and controlling behaviours which are so harmful to victims but which were not previously criminal.”

She added: “Courts can now consider the totality of behaviour when sentencing, better reflecting the lived experience of victims and children.

“Police and prosecutors in Scotland have undergone extensive training on this legislation and will continue to work closely together, and with victim support agencies, to ensure that the prosecution of domestic abuse is as effective as possible and that victims are supported through the process.”

Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women's Aid, said that implementing the new domestic abuse law “has been a huge undertaking for every cog in Scotland’s justice system”.

READ MORE: Scottish Women's Aid demands 'urgent action' for abused women and children during coronavirus pandemic

She added: “The Crown Office have been an enthusiastic and insightful partner in transforming Scotland's response to domestic abuse generally and coercive control specifically, and the figures are welcome evidence of that.

"Over 1,000 prosecutions in the first year of implementation is impressive, particularly when compared to other jurisdictions with similar legislation.

"We are encouraged by early use of the innovative child aggravator, however we would like to work with Police Scotland and our colleagues in the Crown Office to gather further information on how children are faring under this new law.

"There are undoubtedly still lessons to be learned in how the justice system responds to survivors of domestic abuse. We are particularly wary that the current backlog in courts due to the Covid-19 pandemic is threatening to undo many years of progress on access to justice for those who have experienced domestic abuse and we will continue to work with colleagues from across the justice system to make the necessary improvements in this regard."

Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said the statistics showed the new laws “are encouraging victims to come forward and report these crimes”.

He said: “We have provided an additional £825,000 to Police Scotland to support the training of 14,000 officers and frontline staff to respond to and investigate the new domestic abuse offence.

“I want to be absolutely clear that all forms of violence against women and girls, including domestic abuse and stalking, will not be tolerated and holding perpetrators to account will continue to be a priority.”

He added: “I will introduce a Bill to the Parliament in the coming weeks which would give police and the courts new powers to remove suspected domestic abusers from victims’ homes.

“This will lift the burden of action from those already suffering or at risk from abuse by giving greater powers to police to intervene.

“It will also provide victims with vital breathing space, free from coercion and control, to decide the best future option for themselves, aided by support services.”

Anne Marie Hicks, COPFS national procurator fiscal for domestic abuse, added: “COPFS takes a rigorous approach to crimes of domestic abuse and stalking, and we are committed to prosecuting these crimes effectively and fairly.

“This includes a presumption in favour of prosecution where there is sufficient evidence to support a criminal allegation.

“Prosecutors recognise the devastating impact these crimes can have on those affected and will continue to use all of the tools at our disposal, including the groundbreaking legislation introduced last year, to prosecute domestic abuse.

“While the figures published do not cover the period of lockdown, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic upon the justice system, particularly the ability to progress criminal trials, has been significant and we recognise the impact of delays and uncertainty on victims.

“We will continue to work closely with justice partners and victim support organisations on a system-wide response to the challenges of the pandemic to ensure the justice system fully recovers, and cases progress as efficiently as possible.”