The Scottish Parliament passed a bill on the 1st February 2018 making it an offence to engage in behaviour that is:
- abusive towards a partner or ex-partner
- likely to cause the partner/ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm
- intending the course of behaviour to cause harm or was reckless
The bill also provides for some changes to criminal procedure, evidence and sentencing in domestic abuse cases. Existing offences such as assault could still be cited where a case of abuse is not covered by the proposed offence (e.g. where a single incident rather than a course of behaviour is prosecuted). The bill includes a good range of definitions of abusive behaviours, for example, it explicitly includes sexual violence and provides a definition of psychological harm. The bill also addresses a gap as there is known difficulty in disclosing sexual violence within relationships.
There have been suggestions relating to strengthening the laws further:
- The documented use of manipulation and ‘gas lighting’ techniques used by an abuser to convince their partner that they are insane could be covered by further legislation.
- The defence of reasonableness needs greater definition, this section of the bill implied that the onus is on the prosecution to prove that the behaviour was not reasonable beyond reasonable doubt.
- Additional prosecutions for perpetrators if there are grounds for child abuse charges.
- Training will be needed to help those involved in investigation and prosecution of the offence understand the range of behaviours and controlling relationships.
- It is more likely the complainant feels s/he is no longer in a relationship whilst the accused is continuing to believe they are. Therefore if an ex-partner or a potential ‘victim’ of this offence wants to challenge the relationship status, it could mean they cannot access the protection of this law.
You can access an article discussing the implications for training the Scottish police here.
More information on the BBC news website is available here.
Many thanks to Professor Liz Gilchrist and Professor Erica Bowan for their contributions to this post.