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Domestic Abuse Bill passes final Holyrood stage

2 February 2018

Psychological abuse and coercive control in the home will soon be a criminal offence, after the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill was passed yesterday evening by the Holyrood Parliament.

The bill creates a specific new offence of domestic abuse which extends beyond physical abuse to cover other forms of psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that cannot easily be prosecuted under the present criminal law.

It will make it possible to prosecute a course of abuse as a single offence, allowing courts to consider the whole circumstances of an abuser's controlling behaviour and sentence perpetrators accordingly. Some solicitors however have questioned how the new offence will be proved in court; and law lecturer and commentator Andrew Tickell, writing in the National newspaper, argues that while having the potential to do considerable good, the new offence suffers from the same problems of lack of clarity that many MSPs were eager to condemn in the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act.

Most of the Act's provisions will come into force on a day or days to be appointed by ministers. This will be preceded by a public information campaign by the Scottish Government. Ministers are also under a duty to report on its operation after three years.

The bill would have been passed unanimously but for Conservative Margaret Mitchell, who supports the bill, inadvertently voting against it by pushing the wrong button – a mistake that made her extremely upset.

Moving the bill, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: "I am not under any illusion that creating a new offence of domestic abuse will, on its own, end domestic abuse. Changes to the mindset of the men who perpetrate domestic abuse will take a generation or more. Only once it can be said that women are treated equally in our society can we be confident that we are on our way to eradicating domestic abuse. Nevertheless, it is heartening to see the pace of change. The #MeToo movement, which emerged during the scrutiny of the bill, is an example of what we all hope are seismic shifts in society’s views on how women are treated."

Click here for the official report of the debate.


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