New domestic abuse law passed at Holyrood

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MSPs have passed a “momentous” new law on domestic abuse.

The legislation creates a specific offence of domestic abuse, previously dealt with under various existing laws.

Abuse survivors were among those in the public gallery at Holyrood and were applauded by MSPs following the vote.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill covers psychological and emotional maltreatment and coercive and controlling behaviour as well as physical attacks.

Examples of coercive and controlling behaviour include isolating a partner from their friends and relatives or controlling their finances.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson praised the survivors who contributed to the new law.

He said: “Their courage helped shape 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.”

During the Holyrood debate, he said attitudes towards domestic abuse had changed since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, from the mindset that it was a “private matter” outwith the justice system, particularly if the abuse was not physical.

He added: “This is a momentous day as our laws will be changed in a way that reflects the experience that all too many women have suffered in terms of domestic abuse.”

“The offence modernises the criminal law to reflect our understanding of how victims experience domestic abuse,” he added.

“It will enable the court to consider both behaviour which would be criminal under the existing law, like assault and threats, and psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that can be difficult to prosecute using the existing law.”

Scottish Conservative justice spokesman Liam Kerr said: “Domestic abuse is monstrous and can cause immense and enduring trauma and harm.

“It has been sobering to hear and read the testimony of victims and the organisations that support them, which has highlighted the fact that there is behaviour that cannot currently be prosecuted because it does meet the threshold of criminal conduct.”

He added: “There is a gap in the law and it is correct the new offence is required.”

Labour’s Rhoda Grant said any measures that provide better protection against domestic abuse were welcomed but there were still areas which needed to be addressed.

“The bill does look at the impact of domestic abuse on children but it does not go far enough,” she said.

“Through my case work I see far too often examples of custody and access to children being used to continue to perpetrate abuse.”

She also called for all domestic abuse victims to be given access to a domestic abuse court.

She added: “Without specialists presiding over this legislation we will have a two-tier system where those with access to a specialist domestic abuse court will get protection while those without will not.”

The Scottish Government has given Scottish Women’s Aid an extra £165,000 to train staff at the charity to promote understanding coercive control.

The vote was 118 to one and the Tories confirmed the single vote was a mistake by Margaret Mitchell, who spoke in support of the Bill.

Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said: “We recognise that domestic abuse is more than physical assaults, it’s about abusers who exert control over their victims by using a range of debilitating tactics.

“Survivors have long told us that whilst physical assaults are often part of that abuse, it is commonly the punishing psychological abuse which is more difficult to cope with.

“This new legislation is very welcome as it recognises the full extent of abuse that victims suffer and allows us to bring the full weight of the law against those who commit abuse, whatever its form.

“In preparation, Police Scotland will be training around 14,000 officers and staff on recognising coercive and controlling behaviours.”

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