Proposed criminal procedure reforms to be enacted as part of the new law on domestic abuse have been put out for views by the Scottish Government.
A 12 page consultation paper just published outlines four measures intended to improve protections for complainers before, during and after trial.
Introducing the proposals, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson says that during consultation on the terms of the draft offence – which are still being separately considered – many stakeholders suggested that the way in which the justice system handled domestic abuse cases needed to be modernised, with protections to complainers lacking.
Before trial, it is proposed that there be a new standard condition of bail that prohibits an accused when they are charged with domestic abuse offences from obtaining precognitions or statements from a complainer except through a solicitor. This would be similar to the additional condition that already applies to accused charged with certain sexual offences. It would apply both where the new offence is charged and also to other offences such as threatening behaviour committed in the context of domestic abuse.
At trial there would be a ban on an accused conducting their own defence, again as already operates with sexual offences and in certain situations involving child or other vulnerable witnesses.
Also as has been enacted for alleged sexual offences, it would be possible for expert evidence to be led as to a complainer's behaviour with a view to supporting their credibility – explaining why it may be seen as an understandable reaction to their situation rather than something that undermines their credibility.
After trial, the court will be required to consider in every case that results in conviction, whether to impose a criminal non-harassment order, whether or not the Crown applies for such an order. This would ensure the protection needs of victims are always directly considered by the court.
There is also an invitation to suggest other ancillary provisions to be introduced with the bill.
Click here to view the proposals. The paper does not state a closing date for submissions, but the bill has been promised for the 2016-17 parliamentary year.