Accessibility |

COPFS

Assault Cases against Police Officers (R016525) – August


 Thank you for your e-mail of 17 July 2017 in which you requested the following information under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA): 
"…….
He has raised concerns regarding the number of assault cases against police officers, which are being dropped at the Procurator Fiscal stage. [He] is concerned this is being done to clear cases quickly, and that those being charged are offered a plea deal to allow the assault charge to be dropped.

[I]would therefore be grateful if you can provide a breakdown as to the number of cases which involved an assault against a police officer and of these cases, how many resulted in the charges being dropped."

It may assist if I firstly explain that the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) uses a live operational case management system, specifically designed to receive criminal and death reports from the police and other specialist reporting agencies and to manage the cases for prosecution purposes. The information held on the system is structured and coded to meet these operational needs, rather than for statistical reporting or research purposes. Where we are able to provide data this data relates to the number of charges reported and not individual cases reported. There may be more than one charge involved in one reported case.

COPFS can only take action against an accused person where there is sufficienct evidence. Sufficient evidence means corroborated evidence, or evidence from more than one source. Where there is insufficient evidence COPFS cannot take or continue proceedings.

In relation to an assault upon a police officer there are a number of possible applicable charges that a prosecutor may select from both statute and common law. Statutory offences often dictate the method by which the offence can be prosecuted and the maximum penalty. For example, a charge of assaulting a police officer under Section 90(1)(a) of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 can proceed only on summary complaint and the maximum sentence that the court can impose is 12 months imprisonment. These limitations mean that, should a prosecutor assess that the circumstances of an assault on a police officer merit solemn proceedings and a sentence above 12 months imprisonment, the prosecutor will select a common law charge such as assault, assault to injury, assault to severe injury, assault to severe injury and permanent disfigurement or attempted murder.

As explained above, the COPFS case management system is designed for operational purposes. The COPFS database cannot be interrogated to identify common law charges involving an assault on a police officer. Data in relation to assaults on police officers libelled at common law is therefore not available.

As there is no particular timescale indicted in your request, the data I have provided covers the previous two full financial years i.e. 2014/15 and 2015/16. Please do not hesitate to contact us again if your request involves a particular time scale outwith the period we have provided.

The data provided involves the following most common relevant statutory offences charges:

  • Police Act 1996 S89(1) - Assault an officer of British Transport Police;
  • Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 S90(1)(a) – Assault an officer in execution of their duty;
  • Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 S90(1)(b) – Assault a person assisting an officer in execution of their duty.
  • Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 s90 (2)(a) - Resist/obstruct/hinder an officer in execution of their duty;

Whilst section 90 of the Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 splits the offences of assault on a police officer from that of resisting, obstructing or hindering a police officer, depending on the circumstances of the offence, it may be appropriate to libel these separate offences in the one charge. The table below includes information in relation to charges where both offences have been reported in the one charge.

The table which follows provides the number of charges reported, including a breakdown of the numbers of the individual charges as set out above, and the outcomes both court and non court. Included also is a breakdown of the reasons for your information of cases where court proceedings were raised but the accused was not convicted of the charge.

TOTAL CHARGES REPORTED

2014-15

2015-16

Police Act 1996 S89(1) - Assault British Transport Police

30

38

Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 S90(1)(a) - Assault, officer in execution of their duty

5,073

5,090

Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 S90(1)(a)&(2)(a) - Assault and resist/obstruct/hinder police officer in execution of their duty

4

203

Police and Fire Reform (Scotland) Act 2012 S90(1)(b) - Assault, assist officer in execution of their duty

54

27

Total

5,161

5,358

 

 

 

BREAKDOWN OF OUTCOMES

 

 

Action Taken - Court proceedings

2014-15

2015-16

Convicted

2,999

3,043

Not convicted

1,308

1,311

No Case to Answer

18

31

Accepted Not Guilty

1,186

1,205

Deserted Simpliciter

23

18

Found Not Guilty

52

44

Not Proven

28

11

Withdrawn

1

2

 

 

 

Ongoing

53

202

No further action

260

216

other

7

6

Not a separate charge

226

278

Total

4,853

5,056

 

 

 

Action Taken - Non Court

2014-15

2015-16

Direct measure

199

201

Not a separate charge

32

40

No Action

77

61

Total

308

302

 

 

 

Grand Total

5,161

5,358

     
Not a Separate Charge: The total number of charges reported will also include charges where action was taken in relation to other charges reported in the case, for example, because the prosecutor took the view that an alternative charge was more appropriate or because details of the charge were included within the body of another charge for evidential reasons.

   

 

Where we have taken no action it was because, amongst other reasons, there was an insufficiency of evidence, mitigating circumstances, or that further action was considered to be disproportionate. Where we have discontinued court proceedings and taken no further action this was because, amongst other reasons, there was now insufficient evidence, the accused was deceased or an acceptable explanation was offered.

I can confirm that COPFS treats any assaults commited against police officers very seriously and clear guidance has been issued by the Lord Advocate to Procurators Fiscal in relation to crimes against emergency and public service workers, namely, that there is a strong presumption against accepting pleas of not guilty, taking no action or taking no further action in relation to section 90(1)(a) (assault) charges where there is sufficient evidence.