Justice secretary Humza Yousaf has announced an £825,000 training scheme to assist police officers in dealing with domestic abuse. This announcement comes as the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 prepares to come in to force early next year. Mr Yousaf described the introduction of the Act as "an important step towards increasing awareness of the full extent of domestic abuse for victims and those around them".
[Update: in February 2019, Alexis Harper was invited on to BBC Radio Ulster's Talkback show to discuss domestic abuse legislation as Northern Ireland is the only jurisdiction in the UK which does not have a version of the Domestic Abuse Act. You can hear the conversation on that programme from the 1:08:50 point of that show here.]
What is the Domestic Abuse Act intended to cover?
The Act creates an offence with respect to the engaging by a person in a course of behaviour which is abusive towards that person's partner or ex-partner.
The new law covers not only spouses, civil partners and cohabitants but also people in intimate personal relationships who do not live together.
As well as physical abuse, it will cover other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that cannot be easily prosecuted under the existing law.
What constitutes abusive behaviour under the Domestic Abuse Act?
The Act provides a description as to what constitutes abusive behaviour. It includes behaviour which is violent threatening or intimidating and behaviour that is designed to have one or more of the following effects on the victim or would be considered by a reasonable person to be likely to have one or more of the following effects:
- Making them dependent on or subordinate to the perpetrator
- Isolating them from their friends, relatives or other sources of support
- Controlling, regulating or monitoring their day to day activities
- Depriving them of, or restricting their freedom of action
- Frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing them
The above could include for example preventing the victim having access to money or from having access to their phone or other forms of communication. Further it could include controlling the victim's movements; abusive name calling and playing mind games with the victim that cause them to doubt their sanity.
What are the implications of the Domestic Abuse Act?
The Act has provoked debate between one side hailing it for being a significant stride forward to allow for the criminal prosecution of perpetrators of emotional abuse. On the other side of the debate there is concern as to whether the Act will achieve the desired outcome and whether there will be difficulties in obtaining sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution.
As a Family Lawyer, I often work closely with people who have been in abusive relationships and it is likely that the Act will have implications on how family cases are dealt with. Often children can be involved in some way by either the child witnessing the abuse or by the perpetrator of the abuse involving the child in their behaviour. The offence covered under the Act will be aggravated if there is a child involved and therefore recognises the profound impact of domestic abuse on the child/children of the relationship.
Get in touch
If you are experiencing domestic abuse and you require advice on options available to you, please do not hesitate to contact Alexis Harper or a member of our family team by telephone or by submitting an online enquiry for a confidential chat.