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.
This new report explores the police and CPS’s response to victims of stalking and harassment and provides recommendations for best practice. The introduction suggests that victim testimonies point to stalking affecting all ages and backgrounds in society. They found that stalking was often misunderstood by the police and the CPS and went unrecognised. The report suggests a single accepted definitions of stalking and harassment would help combat this problem leading the way for stalking specific powers to be used to search premises and seize evidence. The authors also identified that crime recording for these types of crimes are often inaccurate and this is important in terms of allocating police resources to decide where and how to allocate officers and how to spend local budgets. Another finding is that the police often do not see the bigger picture from the victims point of view, as they continue to record single events rather than looking at a pattern of offending behaviour.
You can view a copy of the report here.
A Bill is being drafted in the Scottish parliament to amend the Legal Aid (Scotland) Act 1986 to allow contributions of civil legal aid in certain proceedings arising from domestic abuse. The bill has been proposed by Rhoda Grant MSP. This is to allow more victims of domestic violence to access legal aid to be represented in court. Many of these victims may have be experiencing financial abuse and may no longer work due to either mental health issues or their partner’s refusal to allow them access to work.
The Bill also introduces a new section into the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. The purpose of this new section is to remove the requirement to show a course of conduct before a non-harassment order can be granted in civil proceedings involving domestic abuse. Instead, the bill makes it competent for the court to grant a non-harassment order after one instance of harassing behaviour. Many campaigners welcome this new legislation.
Additionally legislation in Scotland seeks to prosecute offenders who perpetrate psychological abuse towards their victims. Politicians and women’s groups involved in pushing for and creating the legislation have said they recognise the terrible effects non-physical abuse can have on victims that can be long lasting and wide ranging effects.
An article in the Glasgow Herald covering legislation can be accessed here.
A BBC news report covers debate in the Scottish parliament is available here.
A new document has been published by the Department of Health in the UK as a resource for NHS staff and other professionals working with people who have experienced domestic violence. The document is called ‘Responding to domestic abuse: a resource for health professionals.’ The resource looks at how health professionals can support adults and young people over 16 who are experiencing domestic abuse, and dependent children in their households.
It aims to help health staff to identify potential victims, initiate sensitive routine enquiry and respond effectively to disclosures of abuse. Commissioners will gain insight into services to support people experiencing domestic violence and abuse, and the importance of joined-up local strategic planning.
The resource draws on the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence multi-agency guidelines on domestic violence and abuse, and provides:
- the legal and policy contexts of domestic abuse in England
- information for commissioners on effective integrated care pathways
- information for service providers on shaping service delivery
- what health practitioners need to know and do
- information to ensure the right pathway and services are in place locally
The new guidance document can be downloaded here.