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Domestic abuse protocol revised by police and COPFS

13 May 2019

A new edition of the Joint Protocol on Domestic Abuse has been published by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Police Scotland.

The revised fifth edition follows the coming into force of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 and improvements in practice by police and prosecutors.

It now includes:

  • enhanced provisions on the reporting of cases by the police to the procurator fiscal, particularly in relation to children impacted by domestic abuse, to reflect the 2018 Act;
  • Information on the new provisions in the Act on non-harassment orders (NHOs) to enhance the safety of victims and children experiencing domestic abuse;
  • new guidance on police powers of investigative liberation, which enables the police, when further investigation is required before reporting to the procurator fiscal, to liberate a suspect from custody on such conditions as are necessary and proportionate to ensure the proper conduct of the investigation. The guidance covers the need for a full risk assessment and outlines the new offence of failing to adhere to investigative liberation conditions;
  • sections on safeguarding children during the investigation, and child witnesses, which detail the police and prosecutors’ approach to children at different stages of the criminal justice process.

Setting the background, the Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC explained:

“The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 creates a new offence of engaging in a course of abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner. The Act will enable charges to reflect the full ambit of such behaviour, including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological and financial abuse. It also recognises the harmful impact of domestic abuse on children, providing a mechanism for this to be recorded and reflected by the court in sentencing following a conviction and it introduces important safety measures for the protection of adult victims and children.

“The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced new powers to the police allowing, among other things, conditions to be attached to a suspect’s liberation when cases are being investigated. This will be particularly useful in domestic abuse cases, given the particular risks which can arise for the victims of such abuse.”

On the protocol he noted: “The protocol highlights the continuing commitment of police and prosecutors to a consistent, effective and rigorous approach to crimes of domestic abuse and to supporting victims and children through the criminal justice process.

“COPFS will continue to work closely with Police Scotland, and other partners, including Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and ASSIST, to tackle and prevent domestic abuse, and the Service strongly encourages anyone who has been a victim of any such offending to report this to the police and to seek support.”

Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, Crime and Protection, Police Scotland, added: “Effective collaboration is key and the Joint Protocol between Police Scotland and COPFS clearly sets out the procedures and practices we will follow when dealing with domestic abuse, maximising use of new legislative provisions.

“The Joint Protocol, which was agreed following consultation with a number of victim support and advocacy services, is another way in which we demonstrate our commitment to victims of abuse by tackling it together using all possible means.”

Welcoming the new protocol, Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive of Scottish Women's Aid, commented: “Collaborative working like this is critical as we all strive to realise the potential of our new 'gold standard' legislation.

“Making the law work requires that child and adult victims/survivors are confident that they will be taken seriously, responded to in a timely fashion, and reassured that their courage in disclosing coercive control and other aspects of domestic abuse is reflected at all levels.”

Click here to view the new protocol.

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