MSP hails passing of first part of new domestic abuse laws

MSP hails passing of first part of new domestic abuse laws

MSP Rona Mackay has called passing of the first part of a new domestic abuse bill “historic”.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1’s general principles were adopted by the parliament on Thursday September 29.

For the first time, psychological abuse will be classified as part of domestic abuse.

As the deputy convener of the Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee, Ms Mackay has worked to bring the general principles bill to parliament.

Ms Mackay said: “The new domestic abuse bill has two main purposes: to create a new offence of engaging in a course of abusive conduct against a partner or ex-partner; and to amend other procedural and evidential aspects of criminal law in relation to domestic abuse.

“It recognises the damage that psychological abuse can do and makes it a crime in its own right. It addresses a gap in the criminal law by allowing for domestic abuse convictions based on a course of conduct that includes psychological abuse, rather than on individual incidents.

“We all know that psychological and emotional abuse is just as painful as physical abuse. We might not see the bruises, but controlling and coercive behaviour eats away at the victim’s soul and self-esteem each and every day.

“The Justice Committee heard heart-breaking evidence, and I thank our witnesses for their immense bravery in telling us their stories so that others will not suffer in the way that they did.

“I am delighted the Bill has passed its first stage in the parliament, it really is a historic moment. I’m very much looking forward to seeing it through to becoming part of Scots Law.”

ENDS

FULL SPEECH:

Today is a historic day, because the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill will, for the first time, introduce provisions on psychological abuse into the repugnant crime of domestic abuse. The bill has two main purposes: to create a new offence of engaging in a course of abusive conduct against a partner or ex-partner; and to amend other procedural and evidential aspects of criminal law in relation to domestic abuse. It recognises the damage that psychological abuse can do and makes it a crime in its own right. It addresses a gap in the criminal law by allowing for domestic abuse convictions based on a course of conduct that includes psychological abuse, rather than on individual incidents.

We all know that psychological and emotional abuse is just as painful as physical abuse. We might not see the bruises, but controlling and coercive behaviour eats away at the victim’s soul and self-esteem each and every day. The Justice Committee heard heartbreaking evidence, and I thank our witnesses for their immense bravery in telling us their stories so that others will not suffer in the way that they did.

Domestic violence—physical and psychological—exists in all sections of our communities and at all levels of society. As we have heard, mental and emotional abuse includes threats, criticism of someone’s appearance and intellect, name calling, and controlling what someone does, their access to money, where they go, how they dress and who they speak to, among many other degrading control mechanisms. The cowardly abuser knows no bounds. They will threaten someone’s children and isolate them from friends and family—in effect, they will try to make them a non-person. It is all about control—control by fear.

The bill aims to tackle all forms of that vile crime. As we have heard, it has been welcomed by a wide variety of organisations, including Scottish Women’s Aid, the Law Society of Scotland, Children 1st and the NSPCC, to name but a few.

Children are the forgotten victims of domestic violence. The ways in which they can be harmed by domestic abuse extend further than simply witnessing abuse. The trauma is long lasting and far reaching. I am therefore delighted that the bill provides for a statutory aggravator for instances of partner abuse in which third parties—usually children—are involved. That aggravator was not part of the Scottish Government’s initial consultation on the bill but, as we listened to stakeholders such as children’s charities and women’s groups, it became clear that children needed to be recognised as major victims of such crime.

I have sympathy with the view among children’s organisations that abuse of children in domestic violence cases should be recognised in its own right, but the Government believes that the bill strikes the right balance and that major reform of the criminal law on the abuse of children is best considered separately. That law is under review, and I sincerely hope that that review will reflect the urgent need to recognise the devastating effect that domestic violence can have on children.

Another welcome measure in the bill is the requirement for courts to consider whether to impose non-harassment orders to protect victims. Scottish Women’s Aid believes that it is critical for NHOs to cover children, too, and that courts should be more willing to consider refusing contact for abusive parents. I agree, and I am pleased that the cabinet secretary is considering that. I am also pleased that emergency barring orders are being considered and that the cabinet secretary will enter dialogue with third sector organisations to consider that measure at stage 2.

There is not enough time to do justice to all aspects of this important bill—I agree with Kezia Dugdale that time is far too short—but I hope that, between members around the chamber, we have covered most of the salient points. The bill aims to expose the inadequate bullies who perpetrate controlling and coercive behaviour and to send a message to them that such behaviour will not be tolerated. For that reason, I am proud to recommend the general principles of the bill to the chamber.

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