Top prosecutor: ‘New domestic abuse laws give us the tools to deal with very real psychological harm of perpetrators’

Domestic abuse survivors watched as MSPs voted in new legislation to empower Scottish prosecutors to tackle “insidious abusive behaviours” not previously covered by the criminal law.

Feb 2, 2018

Domestic abuse survivors watched as MSPs voted in new legislation to empower Scottish prosecutors to tackle “insidious abusive behaviours” not previously covered by the criminal law. The passing of the new Act means victims will be “treated with respect” while policing and the courts are given the tools they need to deal with the “very real” psychological harm caused by perpetrators’ undermining and controlling behaviour, the Scottish parliament was told. Scotland’s most senior law officer, Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, welcomed the legislation as marking another step forward in changing how Scotland understands and deals with abuses carried out within the home. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill, which was passed at Holyrood on Thursday (February 1), creates a specific offence of domestic abuse that covers not just physical abuse but other forms of psychological harm and coercive and controlling behaviour. It covers the full breadth of violent, threatening, intimidating and other controlling behaviour which can destroy a victim’s autonomy and further recognises the adverse impact domestic abuse can have on children. Mr Wolffe said: “Victims of domestic abuse should be in no doubt that where criminal conduct is perpetrated against them and they come forward and report it, they will be taken seriously and they will be treated with respect. “The Bill will make criminal insidious abusive behaviours, intended to isolate, humiliate, degrade, subjugate, punish or control, that at present we are unable to prosecute. “For the first time, it will allow us not only to lay the whole story before the court, but to mark that whole story for what it is – a course of criminally abusive conduct deserving of prosecution in the public interest.” Abuse survivors were among those in the public gallery at Holyrood and were applauded by MSPs following the vote. Justice Secretary Michael Matheson praised the survivors 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.” During Thursday’s debate, he said attitudes towards domestic abuse had changed since the Scottish Parliament was re-established in 1999, from the mindset that it was a “private matter”. He added: “This is a momentous day as our laws will be changed in a way that reflects the experience that all too many women have suffered in terms of domestic abuse.” “The offence modernises the criminal law to reflect our understanding of how victims experience domestic abuse,” he added. “It will enable the court to consider both behaviour which would be criminal under the existing law, like assault and threats, and psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that can be difficult to prosecute using the existing law.” Speaking during a visit to Edinburgh Women’s Aid (EWA), Mr Wolffe said coercive behaviour can blight the lives of those who suffer it. He added: “In the experience of prosecutors who deal with domestic abuse, what we see is the damage that the kind of systematic, undermining, controlling behaviour can do to victims. “The damage may not be physical but psychological harm is very real and at present the criminal law doesn’t address that.” The Lord Advocate said the ability to put the “full lived experience of the victim” before the courts is at the heart of the changes to tackle what has so far been a “significantly under-reported problem”. “We’ve gone from a time which some of us can still recall when the criminal justice system regarded what went on in people’s homes as a private matter which was not for the law to interfere with,” said Mr Wolffe. “We now recognise that domestic abuse … causes real harm to victims and where criminal behaviour is perpetrated within the home, it is absolutely right that the criminal justice system steps in.” The top prosecutor said he would measure the success of the changes in the confidence of

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