The Law Society of Scotland has emphasised its support for continuing improvements to the way the criminal justice system responds to abusive behaviour, including domestic abuse, but has concerns the law in this area is becoming increasingly fragmented.
In its response to the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, the Law Society has said that as various forms of abusive behaviour can already be prosecuted under existing legislation, the new Bill may create further fragmentation rather than properly address the issue.
The professional body for Scottish solicitors has also pointed out that there may be some practical issues relating to the proposed offence of abusive behaviour in relation to partners or ex-partners. In particular, the difficulties there may be in obtaining sufficient evidence for a prosecution.
Ian Cruickshank, Convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee, said: “We would welcome changes to the existing law which would better reflect the current understanding of what constitutes domestic abuse and which could provide greater protection for victims or potential victims of psychological abuse. We recognise there are difficulties in prosecuting certain forms of domestic abuse and this is something that needs to be addressed.
”We’re not convinced, however, that the case has been made for the creation of a distinct offence of domestic abuse which is confined to partners and ex-partners, not least because much of this behaviour can already be prosecuted under existing legislation. There is a statutory offence of threatening or abusive behaviour in the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 and the Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm (Scotland) Act 2016 provides for a new specific ‘domestic abuse’ statutory aggravation where the abuse is of either a partner or an ex-partner.
“It’s not clear why relationships with partners or ex-partners are the only relationships which should be covered by the specific provisions of the Bill. Domestic abuse is not solely confined to intimate partners - adult siblings or other relatives, parents and adult children, particularly if they have learning difficulties or mental health problems, and even people living in shared houses, may all experience similar abuse, including psychological harm.”
The Law Society has also said that as part of any measure to improve the way the criminal justice system responds to abusive behaviour, including domestic abuse, there should be support for victims and those who have physically or emotionally abused their partners.
Mr Cruickshank said: “We think it’s important that people who have abused their partners should get support in order to recognise the impact of their abusive behaviour and learn how to change their behaviour to try to prevent them repeating this behaviour.”
The full response is available on the Law Society website. Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill response