“Momentous” new Domestic Abuse Bill passed in Scotland

MSP’s last week voted 118 to 1 in favour of passing the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, first brought before the Scottish Parliament by Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson MSP, on 17 March 2017.

The Bill, creates a specific criminal offence where a person “engages in a course of behaviour which is abusive of their partner or ex-partner”. This covers not only physical or sexual violence but also psychological harm and behaviour that affects a person’s independence.

What constitutes abusive behaviour?

The Bill makes very clear what behaviour amounts to abuse namely:-

  • behaviour that is violent, threatening or intimidating, including sexual violence;
  • behaviour that makes a partner, or ex-partner, dependent on, or subordinate to them;
  • isolating a partner, or ex-partner, from friends, relatives or other sources of support;
  • controlling, regulating or monitoring their day-to-day activities;
  • depriving a partner, or ex-partner, of, or restricting their, freedom of action; and
  • frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner, or ex-partner.

Any behaviour that is intended to have one or more of these effects, or would be considered by a reasonable person to be likely to have one or more of these effects, amounts to abuse.

Effect on Children

The Bill also recognises the impact domestic abuse can have on children. The offence is aggravated if any abusive behaviour is directed at a child of the partner, or ex-partner, or if a child is used to direct abuse at a partner, or ex-partner.

Further, if a child sees, hears or is present during any incident of behaviour, the offence is considered to be aggravated.  The child does not have to be aware of the behaviour or have any understanding of the nature of the behaviour.

Meaning of partner

The Bill makes clear that a partner is not only a person’s spouse, or civil partner, or cohabitant, but also someone they are in an intimate personal relationship with.

The new Bill has been widely welcomed as recognising that domestic abuse is not always physical abuse. Michael Matheson commended the survivors of domestic abuse 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.”

If you are experiencing domestic abuse, as well as this new criminal offence, there is also a range of protections available to you and your family through the civil courts. If you would like any further advice, then please contact one of our experienced family law solicitors.