Fresh calls for domestic abuse law

A PILOT project to protect women from violent partners has prompted fresh calls for a specific offence of domestic abuse to be introduced in Scotland.
Lesley Thomson, Solicitor General at The Crown Office, wants bespoke law. Picture: TSPLLesley Thomson, Solicitor General at The Crown Office, wants bespoke law. Picture: TSPL
Lesley Thomson, Solicitor General at The Crown Office, wants bespoke law. Picture: TSPL

Earlier this week, the Scottish Government announced details of the Clare’s Law initiative, which will be piloted in Aberdeen and Ayrshire and will allow women – and men – to ask police if their partner has a violent past.

But there were renewed calls for new legislation to be introduced on domestic abuse north of the Border after the idea was once again raised in England by the Home Secretary.

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Earlier this year, Scotland’s solicitor-general, Lesley Thomson, said there was a need for “bespoke” legislation that would tackle a prolonged pattern of behaviour rather than relying on specific offences, such as assault or breach of the peace.

Mhairi McGowan, head of Glasgow-based domestic abuse advocacy group Assist, said: “We need something that encompasses emotional, psychological, financial, sexual and physical abuse.

“But that’s not a simple thing that can be done overnight. A new offence of domestic abuse is absolutely crucial, but we need to make sure we get it right.

“There needs to be extensive consultation, and that’s happening.”

Lily Greenan, manager of Scottish Women’s Aid, said the proposed English legislation looked to be focussing on a narrower definition of psychological abuse.

“The process of looking at this started at about the same time in England and Scotland. Here, it started with some of the coverage of the [former MSP] Bill Walker case.

“The approach in England is to look at psychological abuse as the focus. We want to explore all the options to see if we need a new law, or if we just change the way we bring prosecutions.

“We need to look at all the research and what’s being done in jurisdictions before coming to a decision.”

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She said the next step was likely to be a consultation exercise, which may have to wait until Lord Bonomy has concluded his review of corroboration.

The judge is looking at safeguards that could be put in place should the Scottish Government go ahead with its proposal to scrap the age-old legal principal that requires two pieces of independent evidence to bring a case to trial.

This week the Scottish Government announced details of a disclosure scheme, known as Clare’s Law, which will run for six months from November as a trial.

The establishment of pilot areas in Aberdeen and Ayrshire follows an announcement from First Minister Alex Salmond in May that Scotland would copy the scheme already in place in England and Wales.

Named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her former boyfriend in Salford, Greater Manchester, in 2009, it allows police to release information on request about a partner’s past if it relates to domestic violence or other violent acts.

It came as Home Secretary Theresa May said a new crime of domestic abuse was being considered for England and Wales.

The legislation would cover coercive or controlling behaviour within relationships, she said.

A Crown Office spokesman said: “We continue to work closely with criminal justice partners and other stakeholders to discuss the effective prosecution of domestic abuse.”