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The legislation makes it a statutory offence to assault, threaten or abuse a retail worker

Convictions made under Scotland’s Protection of Workers Act are “not high enough”, with just 11.6% of reported cases by retailers resulting in conviction since the law’s introduction almost three years ago, the Scottish Grocers’ Federation has said.

The figures mark the first time that information on conviction rates under the act have been released, following SGF’s calls for more transparency around prosecutions.

The legislation, which was delivered by Daniel Johnson MSP with the support of SGF, makes it a statutory offence to assault, threaten or abuse a retail worker as they’re going about their job. It has been in effect since August 2021.

According to Police Scotland, there have been 10,295 cases reported by retailers under the act so far, with a 61.7% detection rate whereby police have identified the person responsible.

However, primarily driven by a backlog in the courts, just 1,199 of charges have resulted in convictions, with a further 1,313 marked for court proceedings still ongoing, figures by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) showed as of 31 January.

Another 323 charges were acquitted, with 141 marked for no further action.

Reasons for when a successful detection is not referred to the COPFS under the act could be down to reasons including a lack of sufficient evidence or a crime moving to a different classification such as hate crime, SGF added.

While SGF said it had seen a small improvement in retailers reporting crime, there was a lack of confidence in police response rates.

According to its latest Scottish Crime report, 55.7% reported that police response times to violence incidents against staff were either unsatisfactory or significantly delayed, which was “undermining the effectiveness of reporting the crime”.

It also found 92.8% of retailers reported that violence against staff occurred at least once a week, while 37% reported incidents involving a weapon, such as a knife, club or firearm, occurred at least once a month.

“Showing that the Protection of Workers Act is working well is vital to cutting retail crime in Scotland,” said SGF CEO Pete Cheema. “Both to provide confidence to retailers that these crimes are taken seriously and to send the message to the criminals responsible that there are consequences for their actions.

“That is why SGF have repeatedly called for these figures to be made publicly available by the Scottish government. So, it is a positive step that they have now been published by the Crown Office.

“However, it is disappointing to see that so many cases are being put on hold by the backlog in the courts. The proportion of perpetrators successfully being bought to justice needs to be much higher, with only one in nine cases having made it to a courtroom so far.

“Retail crime has a devastating impact on people, businesses, and communities. Ministers must take action now to ensure that both the police and the Scottish justice system have the resources they need to fully uphold the law.”