Letter to the Office for Statistics Regulation on criminal justice statistics (22 June 2020)

notebook mail business paper

22 June 2020


We would like to raise our formal concerns about the reliability of some of the statistics published in ‘Criminal Proceedings in Scotland’. [1]

This is a National Statistics for Scotland publication, which we understand means that it should meet identified user needs, are produced, managed and disseminated to high standards, and explained well.

Our concern specifically relates to the reliability of the data marked ‘male’ and ‘female’. These terms are used throughout the publication, including in the main body of text, although we note that tables and figures in the publication are inconsistently labelled ‘sex’ or ‘gender’. For example:

Table 5(a) Numbers of people convicted by sex and age, 2009-10 to 2018-19 (page 60)
Table 8(c) People convicted by gender, main crime/offence and main penalty, 2018-19 (page 70

The publication does not define what the ‘male’ and ‘female’ categories capture, although we think that data users would reasonably expect this to refer to a person’s biological (or possibly legal) sex.

However, both Police Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service record incidents according to a person’s self-identified gender.[2] This means that the statistics most likely reflect a combination of both sex and gender identity data. This is not acknowledged in the publication.

For crime types that are rarely committed by females, such as sexual assault, we would suggest this uncertainty means that the data are unreliable. For example, only 4 females were convicted of sexual assault in 2018/19, compared to 288 males. We also note that a female was convicted of rape/attempted rape in 2018/19. [3] Whether these data accurately reflect the sex of the convicted person is not at all clear.

It is also not possible to determine whether any variation in female offending over time is due to the possible inclusion of self-identification cases in some years, but not in others, given that Police Scotland are unable to confirm when this recording policy was introduced, [4 ,5] or which, if any, years subsequently include self-identified cases.

We would be grateful if OSR would consider investigating this issue further.

Kind regards,

Dr Kath Murray
Lucy Hunter Blackburn
Lisa Mackenzie

1. Criminal Proceedings in Scotland 2018/19
2. Police Scotland and the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service recording based on self-identified gender:
3. Under the Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009, rape is defined as penetration with a penis (including a surgically constructed penis), without consent. We also understand that a female may be found guilty of rape if they assist a male assailant in an attack. As such, it is not clear whether this highly unusual conviction refers to a male or a female.
4. Police Scotland Freedom of Information response, confirming that officers record on the basis of self-identification and that the force do not know when the policy was introduced:
5. Police Scotland press comment on the introduction of recording based on self-identified gender