'World's gold standard': New domestic abuse law comes into force in Scotland

New domestic abuse legislation comes into force today [1 April] that criminalises psychological domestic abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour

  • Domestic Abuse bill passed last year will for the first time make domestic abuse – both psychological and physical abuse - a specific criminal offence. 
  • New offences include “course of conduct”, “reasonable person test” and Non-Harassment Order to help women and children living in an environment where domestic violence takes place.
  • Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf: “I am proud Scotland is leading the way with this groundbreaking legislation, which uniquely recognises the effect of domestic abuse on child victims as well as adults.”

NEW domestic abuse legislation described by Scottish Women’s Aid as the “world´s gold standard” will come into force today across Scotland, making coercive control a criminal offence.  

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) bill was passed in the Scottish Parliament last year and will for the first time make domestic abuse a specific criminal offence, and will include psychological abuse as well as physical.

Scotland will be the only part of the UK where there will be a specific sentencing aggravation that reflects the harm caused by coercive control.

The Scottish Courts will have powers to impose Non-Harassment Order on those offenders who are convicted of domestic abuse to help protect their victim from further harm.

READ MORE: "A momentous day": Domestic Abuse Bill passed in Holyrood

The Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “The Domestic Abuse Act makes absolutely clear that coercive and controlling behaviour is domestic abuse and a crime. I am proud Scotland is leading the way with this groundbreaking legislation, which uniquely recognises the effect of domestic abuse on child victims as well as adults.

“Last week I visited Glasgow East Women’s Aid and met survivors of this appalling crime. They described how a frightening and systematic pattern of psychological abuse had robbed them of their sense of self, the ability to make their own decisions, and isolated them from family and friends.

“No-one should be forced to live like that and I hope our powerful new public awareness campaign will encourage victims to recognise their own circumstances and to seek support with the confidence that the law is behind them.”

When the bill was passed at Holyrood, Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon said that it was proof that Scotland has come “a long way from believing that domestic abuse is only a physical act”.

READ MORE: Editorial: Why CommonSpace is backing these 5 reforms to how the courts handle domestic abuse

The new law will allow the police and courts to pursue someone under a single offence known as “course of conduct”, enabling police and courts to prosecute someone for physical, psychological and coercive behaviour at the same time.

There will be a new offence that would include a “reasonable person test” consisting of, for example, whether it would be reasonable for a person to consider limiting a woman's access to her bank account or stopping them from attending work/college.

Scottish Women’s Aid has said that the new Domestic Abuse Bill is “the world's gold standard for domestic abuse law”.

Dr Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women’s Aid, said: “At Scottish Women’s Aid we think this new law has the power to transform Scotland. Coercive and controlling behaviours—forms of psychological and emotional violence that women and children have told us for years are the most traumatic—are now a crime in Scotland.”

READ MORE: Scottish Lib Dem conference calls for legal changes to make it easier to remove domestic violence abusers

A spokesperson for Zero Tolerance said: “The new law on domestic abuse recognises for the first time that domestic abuse is not ‘a fight’ or a one-off act – it’s a pattern of controlling behaviour that can include significant emotional and psychological abuse as well as physical and sexual assaults. This is a very welcome development which reflects the reality of domestic abuse and we hope will lead to a more effective criminal justice response.”

Since the law was passed, the Scottish Government have provided more than £800,000 to Police Scotland for training more than 14,000 police officers and support staff. Police Scotland have also developed online training to be made available for all 22,000 staff.

Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, Crime and Protection lead for Police Scotland, said: “This new offence is a clear warning to abusers that all forms of domestic abuse are criminal, and that perpetrators should expect to face the full consequences of their abusive behaviour.”

A public awareness campaign has been launched today by the Scottish Government to increase the public’s understanding of the wide-ranging nature of domestic abuse and to encourage victims of violence to seek help.

Picture courtesy of Laura Dodsworth 

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