The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament on 1 February. Thought to be the first of its kind, the Bill will make it possible for partner abuse which is not obviously violent or threatening to be prosecuted as a crime in its own right.
The Bill creates an offence where a person engages in a course of behaviour that is abusive of their partner or ex-partner. Abusive behaviour can constitute behaviour which is violent, threatening or intimidating. However, it also includes behaviour directed at a partner or ex-partner, their child or another person that has the effect of leading the victim to become dependent on or subordinate to the perpetrator; isolates them from friends, relatives or other sources of support; involves them being controlled, regulated or monitored by the perpetrator; restricts or deprives them of their freedom of action; or is frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishes them. No actual harm need have been inflicted on the victim – it is enough that the perpetrator either had the intention to do so through their behaviour or was reckless as to the possibility of doing so, and that a reasonable person would consider that the behaviour was likely to be harmful to the victim.
Aside from legislation created in 2016 which allows criminal offences to be aggravated if they are committed by a partner or ex-partner of the victim and are intended to cause either physical or psychological harm, the majority of the criminal law’s handling of domestic abuse involves charges of assault, threatening or abusive behaviour that would cause fear or alarm, and breaches of civil domestic abuse interdicts intended to keep the perpetrator away from the victim’s home. The new Bill is the first substantive offence that criminalises abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner of a psychological, coercive or controlling nature.
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson described the passing of the Bill as “momentous”, and felt that laws would now “reflect the experience all too many women have suffered”.
He stated: “Attitudes towards domestic abuse have changed considerably since this Parliament was established in 1999. Back then, some were of the mindset that domestic abuse – especially where it did not involve physical violence – was a private matter. Attitudes have rightly changed – albeit further work is needed to challenge lingering outdated or dismissive attitudes.
“I am very grateful to the domestic abuse survivors who presented their evidence to the justice committee.
“Their courage helped shaped the legislation I brought to parliament, and their actions will help the justice system prosecute those who commit one of society’s most insidious crimes.”
The Bill has also won praise from a number of organisations that support victims of domestic abuse. Chief executive of Scottish Women’s Aid Dr Marsha Scott commented: “Women have been telling us for 40 years that it is psychological and emotional abuse that is the most traumatic for them and the hardest to recover from, yet for such a long time we had absolutely no tools in legislation to take their stories seriously and hold abusers accountable for the untold harm that they wreak.”
She continued by saying that she felt the Bill genuinely provided a way of “victimless prosecution” for domestic abuse.
She said: “It does not blame women and it does not mean women have to come into court and prove how harmed they have been by the abuse.
“In fact it is all structured in looking at the behaviour of the perpetrator and asking ‘would a reasonable person think that this could be harmful?’.”
Scottish Women’s Aid have received £165,000 from the Scottish Parliament in order to train staff in accordance with the new Bill. It was also announced in December that around 14,000 Police Scotland officers and staff will receive training in order to be able to assess instances of psychological abuse and coercive control in domestic abuse situations.