Eyes turn to the Scottish Parliament this week as a new form of domestic abuse legislation is set to form the culmination of hard work done by Scottish Women’s Aid. The new law is to set the ‘gold standard’ by encompassing both physical and emotional domestic abuse and bringing it under the umbrella of one offence. The law has passed successfully, with numbers of people claiming that it is a bill that “could change Scotland forever.”
The Domestic Abuse Bill is guided by a reasonable person test, i.e. a person will be considered to have exhibited abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner if “a reasonable person would consider the course of [A’s] behaviour to be likely to cause B to suffer physical or psychological harm.” The perpetrator may either intend to embark upon such a course of behaviour or may simply be reckless as to whether this behaviour has had such an impact on B, illustrating the breadth of this legislation.
Furthermore, the breadth of the offence is shown by the fact that ‘fear, alarm and distress’ are all signs of psychological harm under the offence. Critics have pointed out a danger of it being difficult to collect satisfactory evidence of this when trying of domestic abuse cases. In other areas, however, the legislation has been praised for its focus on the evaluation of the perpetrator’s behaviour, rather than burdening victims with the responsibility of proving the impact of the abuse in court.
The BBC summarizes:
What constitutes abusive behaviour? The new legislation says the abusive behaviour is:
Behaviour that is violent, threatening or intimidating
Behaviour whose purpose is one of the following:
- making a partner dependent or subordinate
- isolating a partner from friends, relatives or other sources of support
- controlling, regulating or monitoring a partner’s day-to-day activities
- depriving a partner of, or restricting, freedom of action
- frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner.
The offence is aggravated if any of the behaviour is directed at a child or witnessed by them.
The broad nature of the offence is moreover exhibited by Section 2A(1) which reads, “An offence under section 1(1) [meaning the domestic abuse offence]can be constituted by a course of behaviour engaged in by A even if the course of behaviour occurs wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom.”
Dr Marsha Scott of Scottish Women’s Aid has said:
“Women have been telling us for years that it is emotional abuse that is most harmful. One of the unique things about this bill is that it privileges the experiences of women and children. That’s why Scotland’s approach to domestic abuse is so radical.”