"Serious practical concerns" over the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill need to be addressed before MSPs are asked to approve it, according to Holyrood's Justice Committee in its stage 1 report published today.
The report supports the intentions behind the bill, which will introduce domestic abuse protection notices and orders (DAPNs and DAPOs) – short term orders to be made by the police and courts respectively, putting restrictions on suspected perpetrators of domestic abuse, and measures to allow social landlords to remove suspected perpetrators of domestic abuse from tenancies. The committee believes these could all prove useful tools in helping victims of domestic abuse.
However it highlights that both legal bodies and the police signalled outstanding issues with the drafting of the bill, which could mean its powers are not regularly used, or prove difficult to use in practice. Tensions with suspected perpetrators’ rights under the European Convention on Human Rights have also been raised, given the substantial restrictions on liberties and curtailment of rights which can be imposed under the bill.
Other issues raised include:
- a lack of clarity around proposed evidential thresholds for a DAPN or DAPO, and the decision-making process by police once a situation has been assessed;
- how DAPNs and DAPOs sit within the existing framework of court sanctioned family law interventions, such as child contact provisions, and what would take primacy;
- questions around what would constitute a breach of a DAPN or DAPO, and how breaches should be dealt with;
- resource implications for police who have issued a DAPN, with the expectation that a DAPO would have to be applied for on the next sitting court day;
- that the views of children will be sought in a way that aligns with other recently passed legislation looking at family breakdown and children’s rights.
The committee has asked for assurances that the Scottish Government will undertake extensive further consultation with police so that these concerns are addressed, and make consequential changes as the bill goes through the next parliamentary stages.
Committee convener Adam Tomkins MSP commented: "The aim of this bill, to provide further protection to victims of domestic abuse, is a laudable one, which all members would support. However, we have significant concerns about how these proposals would work in practice.
"While on balance we believe that DAPOs and DAPNs would be a useful additional tool for the police to have, it is of fundamental importance that this bill fully respects the European Convention on Human Rights. And to actually help those it seeks to give better protections to, officers on the ground must be able to use the law with confidence.
"Changes to ensure both of these tests are met must be made before MSPs are asked to pass it into law. To achieve this, the Scottish Government must engage extensively with law enforcement and bring forward amendments to what it initially set out."