AT least 97,000 arrest warrants have been issued for alleged criminals who failed to turn up to court since Police Scotland was formed four years ago.
Sheriff and Justice of the Peace courts issued a staggering 1,910 arrest warrants every month on average between April 2013 and the start of this month.
The tens of thousands of non-appearances mean court cases cannot go ahead and police have to track down and arrest culprits, running up costs to taxpayers likely to run into millions of pounds annually.
The figures, released under Freedom of Information, do not include High Court cases, meaning the total number of cases – and costs – will be higher.
The Scottish Police Federation called the figures “shocking” and said communities were being deprived of cover as officers chased alleged criminals who had failed to turn up to court.
The Scottish Conservatives today said the non-appearances demonstrated “total disregard” for the legal system and urged that culprits be held accountable.
The figures, released by the The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service, show that a total of 2,379 arrest warrants were issued after accused people failed to turn up to “solemn” cases, those serious enough to require a jury and which cost taxpayers up to £9,160 in court time alone, according to the government.
In 2013, the first year that Police Scotland formed, 22,061 arrest warrants for non-appearance were issued by JP courts and Sheriff courts in Scotland.
This increased to 23,398 the following year and again up to 24,303 in 2015. Last year, the figure fell back slightly to 22,312. In the first three months of this year, 5,350 warrants were issued.
Andrea MacDonald, Chair of the Scottish Police Federation, said: “The figures provided as a result of the Freedom of Information request are shocking.
“I am very concerned that many of our members are cited to attend court on their rest days and this continual disruption to their family lives has a detrimental effect on their welfare and that of their families.
“The non-attendance of individuals at court often means that our members can be cited on several occasions in relation to one incident.
“The time that has to be spent by the Police Service of Scotland administering and executing these warrants also means that our communities are deprived of a service and it is time that our members cannot spend dealing with issues of concern for the public.
“This is also in addition to the financial strain it places upon a service which is already stretched to the limit.”
Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Liam Kerr said: “It is a concerning to see these figures, showing such a significant number of non-appearances in court.
“Such behaviour demonstrates a total lack of respect and disregard for the legal system , by individuals who seem to feel it is acceptable to not turn up.
“It is vitally important that these people are held accountable, otherwise it makes it difficult for justice to be served.”
The Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service refused to include figures from the High court saying that costs would be too high to search through every individual case due to the way their system is set up.
Arrest warrants for non-appearance at court are by no means the only burden on police officers.
In 2013, Labour MSPs hit out at the high number of arrest warrants that were being sent out to people who failed to pay fines.
Scottish Court Service statistics showed that 90,894 arrest warrants were issued for non-payment of fines between 2009/10 and 2011/12.
A spokesman for the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service said: “Failure to attend hearings causes inconvenience and delays.
“SCTS and justice agencies work hard to ensure that cases proceed as scheduled and the figures show that the number of arrest warrants issued reduced from 2015-16 to 2016-17 and continues to reduce.
“However, we are not in any way complacent. SCTS has proposed some of the most radical court reforms in decades in our Evidence and Review report published in 2016.
“This calls for the development of summary procedures to allow for a more streamlined, digitally-enabled justice process, using digitised evidence as far as possible, controlled within a case management system, with the objective to minimise the need for face-to-face hearings in court.
“SCTS is working with organisations across the justice system to bring forward proposals to the Scottish Government.”