Psychological abuse in the home becomes Scottish criminal offence

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson talks with Brenna Jessie (left) external affairs officer and Asia Kinross, administrator of Scottish Women's Aid. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
Justice Secretary Michael Matheson talks with Brenna Jessie (left) external affairs officer and Asia Kinross, administrator of Scottish Women's Aid. Picture: Jane Barlow/PA Wire
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Psychological abuse and coercive control in the home is to become a criminal offence after MSPs passed new legislation to crackdown on abusive and controlling behaviour.

A public information campaign explaining the new legislation will be launched by the Scottish Government before it comes into force shortly.

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The bill received near unanimous support in the Holyrood chamber as it passed the final legislative hurdle before it gets on to the statute book.

The legislation will create a specific offence of “abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner”’ including psychological abuse such as coercive and controlling behaviour.

Mr Matheson said the new offence would address a gap in the law. He explained that it has been very difficult to prosecute cases in which an individual behaves “in a highly controlling, manipulative and abusive” way towards a partner over a long period of time without using physical force.

He said that in some cases prosecutions under existing laws for a single incident had left victims feeling the sentence did not reflect the seriousness of the long-term psychological abuse.

Examples of the type of behaviour to be covered by the new law include: abusive name-calling; sharing of private information; being made to eat off the floor; preventing contact with family and friends; controlling use of phone or social media and ­preventing partners from going to work or college. Also covered would be unreasonable demands such as about food preparation or what type of clothes an individual allows a partner to wear.

Mr Matheson said: “I am pleased Parliament has come together to pass this legislation. This is a momentous day as our laws will be changed so they reflect the experience all too many women have suffered.

“Attitudes towards domestic abuse have changed considerably since this Parliament was established in 1999. Back then, some were of the mindset that domestic abuse – especially where it did not involve physical violence – was a private matter. Attitudes have rightly changed – albeit further work is needed to challenge lingering outdated or dismissive ­attitudes.

“I am very grateful to the domestic abuse survivors who presented their evidence to the justice committee. Their courage helped shaped 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.”

In all, 118 MSPs supported the Bill with just one vote against it. Conservative Margaret Mitchell voted against the legislation by mistake. Later it emerged that she wasn’t wearing her glasses at decision time and was extremely upset by the error, having previously spoken in favour of the bill.

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