Yesterday, the Scottish passed the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill. The Bill has been hailed as a “gold standard” for Scotland, with Scotland’s Justice Secretary Michael Matheson describing yesterday as a “momentous day”.

So what exactly is the Bill about?

When the Bill becomes law, It will be a criminal offence, punishable by imprisonment, for a person to “engage in a course of behaviour which is abusive of the person’s partner or ex-partner”. This offence will be aggravated, if a child is involved.

A person will commit an offence if:

  • a reasonable person would consider the course of behaviour to be likely to cause their partner or ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm; and
  • that either they intended by the course of behaviour to cause their partner or ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm or that they were reckless in their course of behaviour to cause their partner or ex-partner to suffer physical or psychological harm.

It is therefore not necessary for a partner or ex-partner to actually prove they have been harmed by the behaviour of their partner or ex-partner.

Who is a partner or ex-partner?

The new law covers not only spouses or civil partners and cohabitants but also people in intimate personal relationships – who do not live together.

What constitutes abusive behaviour?

Abusive behaviour includes behaviour which is:

  • violent, threatening or intimidating;
  • making a partner or ex-partner dependent or subordinate;
  • isolating a partner or ex-partner;
  • controlling, regulating or monitoring a partner or ex-partner’s day-to-day activities;
  • depriving a partner or ex-partner of, or restricting their freedom; and
  • frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing a partner or ex-partner.

By covering the effects of emotional abuse as well as the effects of physical abuse, this Bill is seen as a breakthrough for Scotland, improving the lives of those who suffer from emotional abuse. As for many years, whilst the impact of emotional abuse can be devastating for victims, it has been difficult to prosecute.

What about the impact on children?

Quite often sadly, where there is domestic abuse, children are involved in some way too. This can be anything from a child witnessing the abuse or by the abuser involving the child in their actions – regardless of whether the child is willing or unwilling to participate. For example, it is not too uncommon for children to be asked to report one parent’s activities to the other parent. The Bill provides that any domestic abuse offence, is aggravated when the abusive behaviour is committed towards a partner or ex-partner in a way which involves a child. Therefore, this Bill quite rightly recognises the impact of domestic abuse has on children.