‘Stalker’ trial delay leaves woman ‘living in fear’

A backlog of court cases mean many alleged victims have been left anxious as they await justice.

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An alleged stalking victim has said delays in the justice system due to the pandemic have left her in a constant state of anxiety.

Before the outbreak, there was already a backlog of court cases, partly due to a high volume of sexual offences.

Since jury trials in Scotland were suspended in March the number has grown.

For the past three years, Danielle [not her real name] has been receiving threats from a man she tried to help through her work.

She has been living in fear after he allegedly vowed to attack her and her colleagues.

“I feel as if I’ve not been able to live my life the way that I should,” she said. “It’s impacted on my whole family, it’s impacted on everybody that knows me.

“He knows where I work. I’m kind of scared to go to my place of work every day just in case he appears. It feels like it’s never going to stop.”

With a trial set for April, Danielle felt the end was finally in sight – but it has been pushed back to February next year at the earliest.

She said: “I was holding on for nearly two years for that trial date, and then for it just to be adjourned was just absolutely devastating. I can’t even explain how devastating.

“I’m anxious all the time, I don’t sleep.

“Most nights I’ll get up at 3am and I’ve got to make myself a cup of tea because I can’t sleep. I’m lying staring at the ceiling, I’m agitated, stressed.

“I’ve never had headaches in my life, but I’ve got headaches all the time. I feel sick all the time, I’ve constantly got an upset stomach.

“I’ve not been able to eat anything other than really bland food for a year now because everything I eat gives me an upset stomach because I never stop thinking about it.”

Danielle feels some of the barriers to getting justice could have been removed more quickly to allow her to begin the recovery process.

“There are measures now for the court process that could have been in place back in April,” she said.

“I do understand that everyone was in a bit of an unknown area back in April, but I won’t be the only one.

“I think they should have made more effort to find ways to make that happen.”

MSPs on Holyrood’s justice committee have warned that courts could take up to a decade to return to normal if no action is taken.

The Scottish Government has invested £12m in jury centres in cinemas for both High and Sheriff court trials.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf said: “That funding just stops the backlog from getting any bigger.

“There are discussions ongoing at the moment about how we make a dent into that backlog because we know the impact of that is very significant on the accused, victims, witnesses and all those that are involved in the court process.

“We are actively looking at virtual trials for example, particularly in summary cases.

“We know the damage and trauma caused in particular by domestic abuse offences, sexual offences, stalking offences.

“When it comes to the prioritising of cases, the courts service will prioritise custody cases, and cases that involve for example domestic abuse and other issues in relation to violence against women.

“Although that may be of little comfort, I hope it is of some reassurance that victims of those particular crimes will be given a degree of priority.”

Eric McQueen, chief executive of the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service, said: “Cases waiting for trial in the High Court are now on average about 12 months, in Sheriff and jury cases it’s about 15 months, in summary criminal trials it’s about six months, so it is quite a significant backlog that has accrued over a short period of time.

“While we’ve got these measures in place we still need to go a step further and think about next year how we start pulling back some of these backlogs which are causing delays within the system.”