Chris Marshall: Headway being made in tackling domestic abuse

After years of being hidden away behind closed doors, crimes linked to domestic abuse have come to the fore due to renewed efforts by police and prosecutors.

The Clares Law scheme has brought five requests a day to Police Scotland. Picture: Contributed
The Clares Law scheme has brought five requests a day to Police Scotland. Picture: Contributed

Amid all the criticism of Police Scotland since its formation in 2013, one area where the force has won plaudits is in its tackling of domestic violence.

Last year it launched a disclosure scheme allowing women to check whether partners have previous convictions for violence.

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Dubbed Clare’s Law, after a woman murdered by a violent ex-boyfriend in Salford, the scheme is considered to be a huge success.

Police are said to receive around five requests a day under the scheme, however not all of those applications will be granted.

Police Scotland’s pro-active approach in this area was further highlighted by figures published late last year showing a five-fold increase in the number of rape and attempted rape cases in the High Court linked to domestic abuse.

According to the Crown Office, there were 435 rape or attempted rape cases in the High Court in 2014/15 where domestic abuse was an aggravating factor, compared with 88 in 2010/11.

The number of domestic abuse charges marked for the sheriff court was 31,373 in 2014/15, compared to 20,673 in 2011/12 – an increase of over 50 per cent.

The increases are no accident.

Women’s groups believe a new tactic which involves officers speaking to ex-partners of men being investigated in domestic abuse cases has paid dividends.

For their part, prosecutors believe the rises are due to changes in legislation and an increase in the number of historic crimes being reported.

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Police Scotland estimates that around 20 per cent of its time is spent tackling domestic incidents – with a call received every nine minutes.

The next step in tackling this could be the introduction of a specific offence of domestic abuse, which prosecutors believe would see many more cases reaching court.

However, the issue is problematic.

The Scottish Government is currently consulting on the need for bespoke legislation.

In its submission to the consultation, published yesterday, the Law Society of Scotland said more clarity was needed on the proposals.

The difficulties lie in the criminalising of what the government calls “psychological abuse and coercive control”.

While this sort of abuse makes life a misery for many women, and men, across the country, it is difficult to define, no less to prove.

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The Law Society said it did not dispute the idea that psychological abuse or coercive control could amount to criminal behaviour.

But it said more details were needed on what the gap in the existing law is.

It also said any offence extending beyond physical abuse would need to be clearly defined.

There was much disappointment when the Scottish Government dropped plans for the specific offence from its plan for government published last year, choosing instead to begin the consultation.

However, on the evidence of the Law Society’s submission alone, the introduction of a new offence – especially one which criminalises controlling behaviour – will be difficult to a reach consensus on.

Nevertheless, it is a sign of how far we have come in a short space of time that the issue is even up for discussion.