As members will be aware, at this point in the proceedings, the Presiding Officer is required under the standing orders to decide whether, in his view, any provision of the bill relates to a protected subject matter—that is, whether it modifies the electoral system and franchise for Scottish parliamentary elections. The Presiding Officer has decided that no provision of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill relates to a protected subject matter and that, therefore, the bill does not require a supermajority in order to be passed at stage 3.
The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-10218, in the name of Michael Matheson, on the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill. I call Michael Matheson, the cabinet secretary, to speak to and move the motion.
I thank the members and clerks of the Justice Committee, the Finance Committee and the Delegated Powers and Law Reform Committee for their diligent consideration of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill. I also thank those who have taken the time to engage in the bill process and share their knowledge, experience and views during the scrutiny process. In particular, I applaud the courage of the individuals who shared with the Justice Committee their personal experiences of suffering domestic abuse. That assisted the committee’s consideration of the bill and helped the Parliament to gain a fuller understanding of what it is like to experience domestic abuse.
Members will recognise that attitudes towards domestic abuse have changed considerably since the Scottish Parliament was established, in 1999. Back then, some people—including some of those who worked within the justice system—were of the mindset that domestic abuse, especially when it did not involve physical violence, was a private matter and no business of the police or the courts. Attitudes have changed.
One effect of that has been that, as victims have become more confident that they will be taken seriously and more willing to come forward to the police, the true scale of domestic abuse in Scotland has been made more apparent. In 2016-17, nearly 59,000 domestic abuse incidents were reported to the police. However, we know that even that is likely to be a significant underestimate of the actual scale of domestic abuse. The 2014-15 Scottish crime and justice survey found that, of those who had experienced domestic abuse in the previous 12 months, around 20 per cent stated that the police came to know about the most recent incident. That is in contrast to a reporting rate of 38 per cent for all crime in that survey.
It is right that we also reflect on the changes to attitudes that have happened—and that are still happening—as the bill has proceeded through Parliament. The #MeToo campaign, which is shining a light on the experiences of all too many women across the world, only demonstrates further the need for the bill. Although attitudes to domestic abuse have changed and, as a society, we have a fuller and richer understanding of what domestic abuse is, the criminal law that is used to prosecute the perpetrators of domestic abuse has not reflected that understanding.
I pay tribute to Lesley Thomson, the former Solicitor General, who led from the front in publicly calling for a new criminal law approach to domestic abuse. It is worth recalling why she made that call. She said that, in her experience of prosecuting domestic abuse, the way in which the existing criminal law focused on individual incidents of assault or threatening or abusive behaviour was misguided because it did not reflect the way in which victims experience domestic abuse as an on-going course of abusive behaviour that is sustained over time, not as a few isolated incidents.
Responses to the subsequent Scottish Government consultation made it clear that there was a gap in the law in that it was difficult to prosecute cases in which an abuser behaved in a highly controlling, manipulative and abusive way towards their partner over a long period of time without using physical violence. Examples of the kind of behaviour that perpetrators may engage in are harrowing. Behaviour intended to humiliate or degrade their partner can include abusive name calling, sharing private information and making them eat food off the floor or from pet dishes. Perpetrators may also try to exert control over every aspect of their partner’s life, such as by preventing contact with family or friends, checking and controlling their use of their phone or social media, stopping them from attending work or college and making unreasonable demands about such things as food preparation, housekeeping, where the victim needs to be and when, and what the victim is allowed to wear. Those actions will not necessarily be accompanied by physical violence or overt threats, because the perpetrator knows that the victim may be in such fear of their partner that physical force or overt threats to them are not needed to exert horrendous control over them.
Even when a prosecution is possible using the current law, a conviction for a single incident of assault or threatening or abusive behaviour, for example, may leave the victim feeling, quite rightly, that the court process and the sentence imposed do not reflect the seriousness of the abuse—the background of long-term psychological abuse and controlling behaviour—that they have suffered. That is what we are addressing through the new offence of domestic abuse. The offence modernises the criminal law to reflect our understanding of how victims experience domestic abuse by providing a specific offence that is intended to be comprehensive in that the abuse can be prosecuted as a single offence, ensuring that the court considers the totality of the abuse that it is alleged the victim has experienced. It will enable the court to consider not only behaviour that would be criminal under the existing law, such as assault and threats, but psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour that can be difficult to prosecute using the existing law.
The Justice Committee heard evidence from stakeholders that identified a number of ways in which the bill could be improved. Scottish Women’s Aid highlighted the importance of providing extraterritorial jurisdiction for the offence, and we amended the bill at stage 2 to do so. As this is a “course of conduct” offence, it is possible that, in individual cases, abuse may occur across a long period of time and in more than one jurisdiction, and the bill now caters for that.
Groups that represent the interests of children asked us to consider how the child aggravation could better reflect the harm that is experienced by a child who grows up in an environment where their parent or carer is being abused, irrespective of whether they see or hear the abuse or are present when that abuse takes place or whether the abuser directs that behaviour at the child or tries to involve the child in the abuse. We widened the scope of the child aggravation at stage 2 so that it can be proven if a reasonable person would consider that the perpetrator’s course of behaviour, or an incident that forms part of that course of behaviour, would be likely to adversely affect a child who lives with the victim or perpetrator.
That change has been warmly welcomed by key stakeholders. It means that the aggravation can apply when, for example, the perpetrator’s controlling behaviour has the effect of isolating a child, as well as the primary victim, from friends, family or other sources of support or where abusive behaviour undermines the ability of the non-abusing parent or carer to look after the child—for example, by restricting their access to transport, limiting their ability to get a child to doctor’s appointments or restricting their access to money and thereby limiting their ability to provide essentials for a child.
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.
I am proud to have led the bill through Parliament. This is a momentous day, as our laws will be changed in a way that reflects the experience of domestic abuse that all too many women have suffered. Although I am under no illusion that laws alone can address domestic abuse, they have a key role to play. Once implemented, the bill will allow our justice system to deal more appropriately with domestic abuse.
That the Parliament agrees that the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill be passed.
I speak in favour of passing the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill.
The bill creates a specific statutory offence of domestic abuse. Currently, the criminal law focuses on discrete incidents of physical violence or threatening behaviour that causes fear or alarm, and it can fail to recognise the lived experience of domestic abuse as a course of conduct over a period of time.
The new offence, which we welcome, seeks to protect victims who have experienced coercive or controlling psychological or emotional behaviour by creating a new offence of having engaged in a course of abusive conduct even if it was entirely psychological and even if the victim did not, on the face of it, suffer harm as a result of the conduct. Furthermore, as a result of stage 2 amendments that the Government lodged, when the perpetrator, in committing the offence, involves or affects a child or a child sees, hears or is present during an incident that forms part of the course of behaviour amounting to the offence, the offence will be aggravated.
The bill also makes a number of attendant changes, which we welcome. Those include prohibiting the accused from conducting a precognition of the victim or complainer or from personally conducting a defence in court. Judges will be required, in their sentencing, to have regard to ensuring that the victim is not subject to further abuse, and it will be exceptional for bail to be granted when the accused has a previous conviction. Also, as the cabinet secretary mentioned, jurisdiction will be extended such that Scottish courts will be able to try someone for an offence of abusive behaviour that was committed wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom.
The Law Society concluded its very helpful briefing note with these words:
“we would stress that the law must be easily understood by all concerned. The public must be aware of the provisions of the Bill when it becomes legislation.”
That is a very important point.
Earlier this week, I met David McIntosh, the police area commander for Angus, to discuss various issues in the region. Coincidentally, he is also the chair of the Angus violence against women partnership, which sends an important message about how seriously the police take the issue. The discussion turned to today’s debate, and he reminded me that, on average, a woman suffers 22 incidents of domestic abuse before she feels able to report it. He suggested that one of the key benefits of having a bespoke act for domestic violence is that it sends a signal to victims of abuse that there is a specific piece of legislation that is designed precisely for their needs. Having such an act tells them, “You are the victim. You do not need to suffer this, because Parliament has legislated specifically for you. Come forward and the police will hear your voice sympathetically and appropriately, and they will ensure that all is done to protect you.”
The area commander reminded me that, in Angus and throughout Scotland, the number of recorded police reports of domestic abuse is rising, having gone from 36,000 incidents in 2000 to 58,810 in 2016-17. The explanation appears to be the increased reporting of a previously hidden crime.
In the financial memorandum, the Government estimates that creating the new offence will lead to an increase in the reporting of domestic abuse cases of between 2 and 10 per cent. That is good. However, if we take the median projected increase of 6 per cent, the Government’s best estimate is that the increase in costs for the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the courts will be just over £2.5 million per annum. The best estimate for the increase in the cost to the police of dealing with the offence is around £720,000 per annum, while additional costs for the Scottish Prison Service are estimated at just under £1.1 million per annum. That is a considerable amount, which I urge the Scottish Government to consider very carefully when the bill is passed today, as I hope it will be.
I also draw the Government’s attention to the representations on funding that are on page 5 of the Scottish Women’s Aid submission, which are well made and worthy of consideration.
I tried to amend the bill at stage 2, because I was staggered to learn that experiencing domestic abuse is the third most common reason for a homeless application in Scotland and can result in women and children spending months in refuges and unsuitable temporary accommodation. I therefore wanted to amend the bill to require a review of emergency barring orders—orders that would immediately ban a perpetrator of domestic violence from the home of their victim for as long as was considered necessary to secure the victim’s safety. I withdrew my amendment because the cabinet secretary argued that it was unnecessary, as the Government had committed to conduct a consultation on the matter in early 2018. I look forward to that work commencing.
I also have not forgotten my stage 1 representations, in which I made it clear that courts can sometimes seem stacked against domestic abuse survivors, particularly when victims of domestic abuse have to recount their case to multiple sheriffs. Mr Matheson was right to refer to the effect of the court process.
Trials of a one-family, one-judge system to address the issue have been carried out in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In England, there have been trials of an integrated domestic violence court in which one judge handles the criminal cases relating to domestic violence as well as all accompanying civil matters. A one-family, one-sheriff approach for domestic abuse victims in Scotland is surely worth exploring going forward. I wonder whether, in closing, the cabinet secretary or the minister might address whether such a trial would be possible.
Domestic abuse is monstrous and can cause immense and enduring trauma and harm. It has been sobering to hear and read the testimony of victims and the organisations that support them. They have highlighted the fact that there is behaviour that cannot currently be prosecuted because it does not meet the threshold of criminal conduct. More must be done to support the victims.
There is a gap in our law and the new offence is required. We agree that the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill achieves what is required and we shall vote for it today.
People who are seeing the physical devastation of domestic abuse for the first time always ask, “Why on earth does the victim stay? Why did they not leave—and leave immediately? Why did they go back?” What the person does not see is the years of psychological abuse that the victim has faced before the physical abuse began. They do not see someone who is so undermined that they blame themselves. They do not see someone who has nowhere to run, because the abuser has alienated their friends and family.
The bill tries to deal with such psychological manipulation, which is often the precursor to physical abuse and is just as devastating. The behaviour is often so subtle, initially, that the victim is unaware of what is happening to them, so it is for friends and family to spot it.
Concern was expressed that the threshold for criminality might be too low, but given the underhand nature of the crime, which is often hidden, harmful behaviour would not be captured and victims would not be protected if the threshold were higher.
For the offence to lead to a conviction, conditions will need to be met to ensure that a falling out or disagreement will not be captured. The conditions are as follows: the accused’s course of behaviour was abusive of their partner or ex-partner; a reasonable person would deem that such behaviour was likely to cause physical or psychological harm; and the accused intended to cause harm or was reckless about whether their behaviour would do so.
The bill will offer further protection, but there remain areas that need to be tackled. The bill considers the impact of domestic abuse on children, but it does not go far enough, although it was strengthened today by amendments in the name of my colleague Claire Baker.
Far too often in my casework, I see cases in which custody and access to children are used to continue to perpetrate abuse. Abusers use contact to trace the family and find out where they are living, so that they can continue the abuse. They use contact to monitor where a victim is, and they control their victim’s behaviour by changing pick-up and return times. The abuse continues and, worse, the child is used as a weapon.
The courts have forced mothers to hand over their children to an abusive ex-partner whom they know will harm the children—and if the mother does not hand over the children, she faces arrest. That is a horrendous and unacceptable situation to put someone in, and all too often we read that it has tragic consequences.
Although the bill now recognises the damage that is done to children by domestic abuse, we need to go much further to protect children. An abusive parent or step-parent should not have access to a child, under any circumstances. Unless they have been able to prove in a court of law that they have addressed their behaviour, their child must be protected from them. We need mechanisms to put such an approach into operation, but the rule of thumb must be that there is no contact, because of the damage that it causes to the child.
In a meeting with Mary Fee, the minister suggested that the Government will look at the issue as part of the reform of family law. However, the matter needs to be addressed urgently, because lives are being damaged and lost while the current situation continues.
The bill does nothing to ensure that all victims have access to a domestic abuse court. Given the concern that has been expressed about prosecution under the bill, such access is essential. If specialists do not preside over the legislation, we will have a two-tier system in which victims who have access to a specialist domestic abuse court get protection while those who do not have access do not get protection.
Domestic abuse courts are used to implementing special measures in court, when victims ask for things to be put in place to make giving evidence easier and less traumatic for them. A victim can ask for special measures in any court, but it is commonplace for victims to turn up at an ordinary court and discover that the measures have not been put in place. If all victims had access to specialist domestic abuse courts, there would be standard provision, rather than a postcode lottery.
We need specially trained professionals to deal with the legislation. The police need to be trained to investigate and recognise the offence, and throughout the whole prosecution system we need people who are appropriately trained. If people are not trained, the bill will not offer the protection that it should offer. That is why specialist domestic abuse courts are so important: they cater for the needs of victims, and the professionals have a deep understanding of the offence of domestic abuse.
Emergency barring orders were dropped from the bill because the Scottish Government said that it was going to consult on them as part of the review of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. However, EBOs would be required even if there were no children in the home. A victim should never have to leave their home, especially not in haste and in fear of their safety. The trauma that that causes is unacceptable. Measures need to be in place that immediately remove the perpetrator and make the house safe for the victim and their family to remain. An abuser is not law abiding, so simply being told to leave is unlikely to address their behaviour.
We also need to ensure that where exclusion orders of any kind come to an end, the victim is informed in enough time for them to take action to protect themselves. Too often, we hear of abusers being given non-custodial sentences with no restrictions, which means that restrictions put in place while on bail fall immediately, leaving the victim unprotected.
We in the Scottish Labour Party support the bill. Anything that provides better protection against domestic abuse is to be welcomed.
I am very happy and proud to speak in the stage 3 debate on the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill. As deputy convener of the Justice Committee, I thank the clerks for all their hard work and, of course, the many witnesses who bravely came forward to give evidence and who made it possible to frame such an all-encompassing piece of legislation. I am particularly proud because the bill is a good bill that will give greater security to the thousands of women in Scotland who suffer mental or physical trauma at the hands of cowardly abusers. The bill is, quite simply, groundbreaking.
I am happy, too, that the bill is consensual and that Parliament is united in condemning violence against women and children. As has been said, the bill is historic: for the first time, psychological abuse and coercive behaviour are being included in the vile crime of domestic abuse. The bill creates a new offence of engaging in a course of abusive conduct against a partner or ex-partner, and it amends other procedural or evidential aspects of criminal law in relation to domestic abuse, addressing an important gap in the law. Crucially, the bill acknowledges the horrendous, everlasting damage that psychological abuse and coercive controlling can do. It allows for convictions for domestic abuse based on a course of conduct rather than individual incidents.
The amendments to the bill have strengthened it and I was happy to support them all. I am particularly pleased that the bill includes an aggravation that acknowledges the damage done to children caught up in these situations and ensures that that is taken into account during sentencing. In this, the year of young people, that is a powerful way to demonstrate to young people how important they are and that society is taking steps to acknowledge the trauma that they suffer in situations of domestic abuse. That has not been given enough attention before.
Members will be aware of the revolutionary evidential research from the ACEs—adverse childhood experiences—study. Domestic abuse scores highly in the ACEs trauma index. I hope that the fact that the bill acknowledges ACEs is another step along the way to society changing the way in which it deals with traumatised children and helps them to heal. I echo Children 1st’s call for investment in trauma-informed support across Scotland to help children and families to rebuild their lives.
The inclusion in the bill of the presumption in favour of non-harassment orders is also welcome and will give comfort to victims who feel extremely vulnerable after a court decision. The benefit of the amendments at stage 2 in the name of my colleague Mairi Gougeon will be that children who reside with the perpetrator of the domestic abuse or with the partner or ex-partner who has been abused will also be able to receive the protection of a non-harassment order.
Those measures protect children in a way that has not been possible until the introduction of the bill. I am absolutely delighted that the Scottish Government has listened to the Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid, and to children’s organisations such as Children 1st and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, to name but a few organisations that protect our children every day. The introduction of a formal reporting process on the operation of the offence, the extension of the extraterritorial reach of the offence and Claire Baker’s amendments in relation to data collection to monitor the implementation of the bill are all very welcome, too.
Domestic violence—physical and psychological—exists in all sections of our communities, across all levels of society. We may never rid our society of domestic violence completely, but this bill, which puts Scotland at the forefront of progressive legislation once again, should act as a warning that it will not be tolerated. For that reason, I am proud to recommend that the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill be passed.
Several months ago, I stood in this chamber and spoke of my sense of sadness that this debate was ever necessary.
I still feel that way today. Domestic abuse has no place in our society, but it is—regrettably—all too prevalent, and reports suggest that most cases still go unreported. Physical abuse is often easier to identify because it leaves visible evidence. Coercion and control, on the other hand, are pernicious; they eat away at an individual’s self-esteem, leaving them subservient to the perpetrator and often unwilling and unable to report the abuse. I accept the argument that abuse of that kind can be difficult to prove, but the bill makes it clear that it is a crime and one that we, as a society, will not tolerate.
By acknowledging that psychological violence is as harmful as its physical counterpart, by realising that it affects not just one partner but the whole family and by recognising that the court system is simply not fit for purpose to deal with it, we are taking meaningful, necessary steps towards a society that is free from abusive behaviour. In that vein, I feel that Mairi Gougeon’s amendment, expanding the scope of non-harassment orders to cover children, bolsters the legislation. If a child resides with an adult who has been abused by their partner or ex-partner, the protection that a non-harassment order affords the adult should be expanded to cover the child as well. Anything else would be an abrogation of the state’s duty to protect children from harm.
When the Scottish Government consults on the issue later this year, I urge the cabinet secretary to consider Liam Kerr’s proposal to introduce emergency barring orders in Scotland. The orders would provide a reprieve for those who are being abused, offering a short-term solution before a non-harassment order can be put in place. Without emergency barring orders, those who have been brave enough to speak up against abuse are still at risk in the short term, when they are at their most vulnerable and require the most support. For any children involved, the prospect of having to flee their home, on top of the stress of having their family life disrupted, would surely have an adverse effect on their mental health. Introducing emergency barring orders would protect those children, helping to keep them in a safe and familiar setting without risk of displacement. That protection is already available in England and Wales, and I see no reason why it should not be introduced in Scotland as well.
In the previous debate on the legislation, my colleague Maurice Corry highlighted the need for a widespread publicity campaign around the new offence. Although his proposed amendment fell, I was heartened by the cabinet secretary’s reassurance that the legislation will be effectively publicised. It is clear that if the legislation is to deliver the result that we want, awareness is key. That is why I would like to see the publicity aspect of the legislation expanded into personal and social education classrooms. In this era of gaslighting and revenge porn, it is necessary to ensure that our young people have the tools required to deal with such issues and know when an offence has been committed. Further, by reinforcing at a young age the idea that domestic abuse can happen to men, not just women, and in same-sex relationships, we can change the culture around the issue within a generation.
There is a good deal to welcome in this new bill. That said, it is not perfect. I still believe that my colleague Liam Kerr was right to call for a one family, one judge system and, as I mentioned previously, I look forward to seeing the results of the Government’s consultation on emergency barring orders. However, the Scottish Conservatives absolutely support the principles of the bill. I hope that the passing of the bill will be a watershed moment for all those who have suffered at the hands of abusers. The bill will benefit the people of Scotland and, for that reason, I will—with, I hope, the whole chamber—support it this evening at decision time.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I start by putting on record my thanks to all the organisations that have provided us with briefings. My eyes are not that great, but I can see in the public gallery Dr Marsha Scott and Lily Greenan, both of whom have devoted much of their life’s work to getting to the point of the legislation that we have before us today. They should be incredibly proud of their achievements.
In all my dealings with them, I have been struck by their passion for the fundamental principle of addressing domestic abuse and violence and their grasp of the detail. We see both the passion for the principle and the masterful grasp of the detail in the bill that we are considering this afternoon.
Too often, women’s organisations still have to justify their existence. Every time that there is a funding round, they must talk about the good work that they do. However, before us today is a bill that is the living, breathing reality of why their work matters, why we still need it and the difference that it can make. It is a good week for them and it is a good week for women, with this bill following on from the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Bill, which we considered on Tuesday.
I agree with Rona Mackay that this is a very good bill. It is ambitious; it is ground breaking, and it does many things of note. I will quickly address its four key aspects. First of all, it removes the ability of a perpetrator of domestic abuse to conduct his own defence. Let us stop and think about what that means for the victim of domestic abuse who is considering whether to come forward and report what they have experienced. The idea that they might have to face a cross-examination by the very person who perpetrated the abuse does not bear thinking about, and this bill ensures that that will no longer happen.
Secondly, as has been discussed, the bill makes coercion a crime. I was particularly struck when the cabinet secretary first talked about the issue in the media, because he immediately understood that the training of police officers and all those on the front line is absolutely critical if the bill is to have any impact in that area. He said at the time—I am sure that everyone in the chamber will hold him to account for it—that he would provide the necessary resources to ensure that police officers and all front-line workers are fully briefed on the new offence and how best to deal with it.
Thirdly, we have had a little bit of a discussion about the importance of non-harassment orders. There is no doubt that Justice Committee members made a huge amount of progress in that area at stage 2, and I commend them for that.
It was not until today that I became aware of the fourth bit of this bill, which I am particularly fond of: the measures on bail restrictions. I am grateful to the Law Society of Scotland for its briefing on the matter. There is usually a presumption in favour of bail in criminal proceedings, with the exception of those involving drugs offences, violent offences or sexual offences, where the presumption is against bail. One thing that the bill does that we have perhaps not talked about enough is to add domestic abuse to the list of presumptions against bail. That is a very important development, not least given the case of a particular constituent of mine, whom I have talked about in the chamber before. I do not have time to repeat her entire history but, on 1 December 2016, I talked at great length about her experience of reporting domestic abuse. The perpetrator was facing many charges in court but those were whittled down, and the perpetrator absconded not once but twice while on bail. The difference that this measure could make to individuals who have experienced what my constituent experienced is profound.
I have said a lot of positive things about this bill. I am immensely proud of it and, given that it is a gender take on violence itself—and the roots are there from the equally safe strategy—we should be immensely proud of it. However, a by-product is the unfinished business of how we deal with children who are the victims of domestic abuse. Rhoda Grant covered much of that ground. I would be very grateful to the cabinet secretary if, in his closing remarks, he would comment on the other legislative opportunities that there might be to find symmetry between the civil and criminal legal systems and to consider their relationship with the child protection system in general. As I say, there is unfinished business there, but in no way does that take away from the success of all the parties involved in getting us to where we are today.
Earlier today, Liam Kerr mentioned the importance of housing and the position that many women find themselves in when it comes to refuges. When I visited Edinburgh Women’s Aid, I met one woman who was stuck in the refuge because of the lack of affordable housing to enable her to get out of that situation. That shows us just how important resources are not only for quality social housing, but for funding domestic abuse and violence against women services.
Can we please—once and for all—recognise that to do their job, organisations that deal with women who are affected by violence need long-term, sustainable funding? If this bill means anything—if the work of the people in the gallery means anything—we must give them the definitive commitment that that money will always be there.
I, too, thank the Government for introducing this legislation, everyone who has participated in the discussions, colleagues on the Justice Committee for the work that they have done and the staff and various other people for their briefings. Most of all, I thank the people who gave us private testimony. The cabinet secretary used the word “harrowing”. That testimony certainly was harrowing, but it was compelling, and it gave us an insight into areas that many of us are, fortunately, unfamiliar with.
There is a gentleman on Twitter who takes great exception to a phrase that I use. I will upset him again in mentioning the role of inequality and gender-based violence, which underpins the whole pernicious issue of domestic violence.
The Scottish Women’s Aid briefing talks about the organisation’s gratitude for the cross-party support that there has been. That has been the basis for progress. There has been progress over the years, and no role for party politics. For those who may have heard some differences earlier and who are unfamiliar with our procedures, that debate was in our mutual quest to try to make things as good as possible, certainly in relation to domestic abuse courts.
Kezia Dugdale talked about the relationship between civil and criminal proceedings and the conflict that there can be there. Other members have talked about issues relating to contact and the distress that it causes—and not only to the individual involved; on previous occasions, I have talked about grandparents becoming involved and the abuse that continues in that way.
The committee’s stage 1 report used the phrase “compelling and persuasive evidence”. The evidence certainly was that, for which credit goes to the people who came forward.
Over the past week, although not for the first time, we have spoken in the chamber about filling a gap in the law. A gap in the law required to be filled. People readily understand the physical evidence. Years of psychological abuse can take a real toll, and that toll is visited on children as well.
I understand that people have reservations about the bill. People have said that it is not easy to legislate in the field of human relationships. Things are difficult to prove. However, there is ample evidence from Police Scotland and the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and in the excellent work that has been done on serial perpetrators and historic abuse that there can be such legislation if we have the will and the resources. After all that we have heard, we would be failing if we did not legislate.
The stage 1 report said:
“the new offence may give rise to questions in relation to interpretation and enforcement”.
That is the law. Whoever gets the first bit of information—whether they are a police officer, a social worker or someone from the third sector—they will make judgments on it. The police officers who investigate make judgments, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service makes judgments on whether something is in the complainer’s interest or in the public interest and whether there is sufficiency of evidence, and the judge ultimately makes a judgment. Therefore, there is nothing new in the approach. We are adding something else into the equation, and it is worth while doing so.
I mention in particular Linda Fabiani’s amendments and her work. Her commitment to that work has been evidenced over the years, and a presumption in relation to non-harassment orders is a real boost to the bill.
Michelle Ballantyne and others have talked about education, awareness and proper resources. We need increases in refuge provision; increases in visiting support for women, children and young people living in the community; an increase in contact time for individual women and children; a decrease in waiting lists for refuges; an increase in counselling services; an increase in therapeutic activities and support for children; more on-call hours and drop-in support; and an increase in the provision of training for other agencies. Scottish Women’s Aid told us about all those things in its briefing, which says that
“Funding for Local Services”.
Those services are at risk.
It would be wrong to get embroiled in funding issues on a day on which an important bill is being passed. However, if there is genuinely a commitment across the public sector to address the matter, funding should not be an issue.
Finally, I want to talk about children and the addition of the aggravator. Although that addition is extremely welcome, Children 1st retains a concern. It has said that
“there is a need to ensure Scots Law recognises a child as a victim of domestic abuse in their own right”.
That is important. Again, the issue of contact comes in.
Children 1st has also talked about the
“need to consider ways to ensure the rights of children who give evidence are protected, including by the development of a Scottish model of the Children’s House (‘Barnahus’).”
I know that the cabinet secretary is looking at ways of doing that.
The Scottish Green Party will support the bill, which we warmly welcome.
I start, like others, by thanking all those who have helped us to get to this stage, including those who provided invaluable evidence, particularly the powerful and harrowing testimony that we heard from survivors. I also thank parliamentary staff, committee colleagues and indeed the cabinet secretary and his officials. John Finnie made a fair point about the cross-party collaboration that there has been on the issue over the years and in relation to the bill, as well as the constructive challenge that is necessary in the scrutiny of any legislation.
I confirm that the Scottish Liberal Democrats strongly support the efforts in the bill to tackle controlling and coercive domestic abuse and we look forward to voting in support of the bill very shortly, albeit recognising, as others have done, that more must be done to change both attitudes and behaviour more widely.
As we heard time and again during our scrutiny of the bill—most powerfully from survivors of domestic abuse themselves—psychological abuse can be every bit as damaging and every bit as traumatising as physical abuse, and potentially even more long lasting in its effects on the victim.
Currently, the law does not provide anything like the protection that is needed. As I said during the stage 1 debate, where psychological abuse is difficult to prosecute, that in turn makes it difficult to reinforce messages about how unacceptable such controlling and coercive behaviour is, and it then becomes difficult to persuade victims of the value of coming forward.
The bill, which I believe has been strengthened and improved through the scrutiny process, provides much needed added protection. It also offers more clarity and certainty for those who are affected—they are predominantly women—by such abuse that what they have suffered will be recognised and action will be taken against the perpetrators.
Of course, the impact that such abuse can have extends beyond the immediate victim. One of the areas where I think that the committee has worked most effectively with the Government in strengthening the bill relates to protections around children.
Although the bill originally established a specific aggravation where children are involved, I am pleased that the cabinet secretary accepted that that needed to apply beyond simply instances where a child sees, hears or is present in the house during a particular incident. A child’s experience is invariably interwoven with that of their abused parent, and the amendments made at stage 2 better reflect that fact.
The other area that we focused on, on which Mairi Gougeon and I lodged similar amendments, was that of non-harassment orders and how they would be applied, including the protection that they would afford to children. It is absolutely right that the bill requires courts to consider such orders in any domestic abuse case. Like John Finnie and others, I warmly welcome Linda Fabiani’s success earlier this afternoon in introducing a presumption in favour of those orders.
I am also pleased that at stage 2 the cabinet secretary responded positively to the proposals that I and Mairi Gougeon put forward so that, where the statutory aggravation is applied, the court should also be required to consider an order covering any children involved.
On the question of using emergency barring orders in more serious cases, the evidence that the committee took at stage 2 was helpful. I know that the Government continues to work with the third sector on proposals in that area and I look forward to seeing what emerges from that work in due course.
Perhaps the area where there continues to be a bit of an impasse is around the potential for more standalone domestic abuse courts. I entirely understand and recognise the rationale behind the calls for more such courts. Indeed, there is absolutely a need for specialist knowledge in taking forward domestic abuse cases, particularly when it comes to psychological abuse, which we are striking at through the bill.
There have already been steps in that direction within the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, and I, too, firmly believe that training in the area should be more of a requirement across the piece for fiscals, sheriffs and staff. However—I said this during stage 2—I have a concern about how such a specialist court system might operate in some parts of the country, including the one that I represent. Local access to justice is critically important as well, and I would have quite serious concerns if cases had to be heard some distance from where those involved live and work, for obvious reasons. Nevertheless, I accept that we will keep the issue under review. I think that the three-yearly reports will allow us to do that in a more informed fashion.
For now, I again thank all those who have helped us to get to this stage. As I have said before, the coercive and controlling behaviour that the bill strikes at can have a devastating impact on a victim, undermining their sense of self and hollowing them out slowly but surely over time. It has no place whatsoever in 21st century Scotland. Although the bill will not end domestic abuse, I am delighted that today we will close a gap in the criminal law in Scotland that will help to crack down on this abhorrent behaviour.
I have spoken in the chamber before on this issue and I am proud to be speaking about it again in the stage 3 debate. This bill is world leading and it will go some way towards addressing the true nature of domestic abuse, which, as others have said, is often a pervasive, controlling and demeaning behaviour over a long period of time that destroys the identity of the victim, who is usually—although not exclusively—a woman.
The bill sends out a strong message that we do not tolerate that behaviour. It demonstrates that the laws that we make in this chamber can send out such messages and be part of a strategy to effect change over the longer term. I am a member of the Justice Committee, and, like the other committee members who have spoken today, I thank those who provided evidence, particularly the victims of abuse, who provided the starkest evidence.
I declare an interest as a registered social worker with the Scottish Social Services Council. Domestic violence was one of the issues that I came across most frequently in both child protection and criminal justice roles, as I mentioned when speaking in Gail Ross’s members’ business debate on adverse childhood experiences last week.
There are currently gaps in criminal law that make it hard for prosecutors and agencies to tackle psychological abuse. With the bill in place, convictions will be sought for domestic abuse with the inclusion of psychological abuse. Current law focuses on incidents of physical violence or on threatening behaviour that causes fear or alarm, but, as we know and have heard, domestic abuse is not as simple as physical violence. Emotional abuse and controlling and coercive behaviour contribute to domestic abuse and can have a deeply damaging impact on families.
It is important that the bill takes into account the fact that third parties are often involved in cases and used as a means of control or abuse. Domestic abuse often takes place in family homes where children are present, which is why it is vital that the bill takes into account protection for children who are affected by domestic abuse. That is the area that has been discussed the most today. I welcomed the widening of the child aggravation provisions at stage 2 and I welcome the amendments lodged by Claire Baker that we passed today.
When domestic abuse takes place in a family home, children always experience something. That can range from having little access to support networks due to restrictions placed on a parent’s freedoms to witnessing the abuse taking place. If a child grows up in a home where coercive and controlling behaviour is commonplace, that can have a deeply damaging and lasting impact on that child’s attitudes towards what is acceptable behaviour.
I mentioned the recent debate on adverse childhood experiences, in which we heard how such experiences, which include witnessing domestic abuse in the home, can impact on individuals. Reducing the impact of ACEs is a very complex issue, but I believe that this bill will play a part in it.
I would like to talk about the non-harassment order, as others have done. I pay tribute to Mairi Gougeon’s stage 2 amendment and to Linda Fabiani’s amendment, which we passed today. The amendments make an important change that will help to protect victims and children. It should be the case that the court has to explain why an order will not be put in place, as opposed to the other way about.
Liam McArthur mentioned that the issue of specialist courts was raised at committee, and it was raised again during consideration of amendments today. Although I have sympathy with the view that has been expressed, I am of the belief that all courts should be specialist in domestic abuse. I said that at committee, because domestic abuse is a widespread issue. It does not take into account class, geography or anything like that, so all courts should be specialist in the area.
How will the bill work on the ground? What does it mean to ordinary people? Parliament can be very proud if we pass the bill tonight, because it will have a very positive effect. In recent times, my office has dealt with a complicated case of a young woman and her children. Obviously, I cannot go into the details, but we were able to put her in touch with the local women’s aid service, where she got help and refuge. This bill could help her.
What about implementation, which John Finnie mentioned? We must make sure that everyone plays their part to make it work. A couple of weeks ago I was at a meeting with other local politicians and Monklands Women’s Aid—the local service—and I was bitterly disappointed to hear that it is running into real funding difficulties with the local authority. Those funding difficulties are hampering its ability to provide even simple things for the women who need refuge, such as clean carpets and bedding—that sort of stuff. I am calling on all politicians in my local authority area—SNP, Labour and Tory politicians—to do the right thing and prioritise those services, and to help the bill to be implemented, because more and more referrals are likely to be made.
I am proud to voting for the bill today, and I commend the chamber to do likewise and make history.
I welcome the opportunity to speak at the third stage of this most important bill. I express my gratitude and appreciation to the Justice Committee clerking team for all their hard work on the bill and to all those incredibly brave victims of this despicable issue who provided valuable information to the committee.
I am glad to be able to support the bill. As members have pointed out, domestic abuse is always a monstrous and evil act. It was clear from the evidence that the committee heard that a new criminal offence is required to help the police, the courts and the whole of society to crack down on domestic abuse effectively. I am glad that the Parliament will be able to offer that to them today. We have a bill that will work well and that will, I hope, help a lot of men and women who are suffering in abusive relationships.
The Government has listened to the legitimate concerns that were raised in the Justice Committee and has acted accordingly. Mairi Gougeon’s stage 2 amendment on non-harassment orders will allow the courts to impose an NHO that protects children as well as the victim, which is important. That is a great move—anything that we can do to protect children from harm must be applauded most vigorously.
On NHOs more widely, groups such as Scottish Women’s Aid raised concerns surrounding the effectiveness of NHOs due to the lack of an emergency barring order. I am not sure whether that will be an issue, but it is important that the Government monitors the situation and ensures that NHOs work as planned. If they are not working as intended, the Government must be willing to adapt them to ensure that they are fit for purpose.
At stage 2, I tried to amend the bill to require the Government to promote public awareness of the new offence. At the time, I said that it was necessary
“to ensure that we have maximum awareness, understanding and clarity about the operation of the act among the public and Police Scotland and its team”,
and I still believe that to be the case. The cabinet secretary argued that my amendment was unnecessary and said:
“It has always been our intention to raise public awareness prior to the implementation of the offence”.—[
, 12 December 2017; c 28-9.]
My amendment was therefore voted down, which of course I accepted. I strongly welcome and commend the commitment that the cabinet secretary made in his opening remarks to raise public awareness as a matter of importance.
It is important that we talk publicly, loudly and as often as possible about what is unacceptable. In my view, that does not just mean telling people about the legislative changes; it is about changing the whole culture surrounding domestic abuse and making it clear that physical and psychological abuse will never be tolerated in any part of our country. That is incredibly important.
I turn to another point that I would like ministers to address. Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation told the committee that there is a “fundamental difference” between arresting on the basis of physical evidence and interpreting whether there has been psychological abuse, and so the requirement that is be placed on police officers will change dramatically. I think that everybody would agree that, if the legislation is to be as effective as possible, it will have to be used correctly by the police. For that reason, front-line police officers will need as much support and training as possible in how to apply the law. I hope that a scheme for the roll-out of training is already in place and, if it is not, I hope that the Government will endeavour to have one in place as soon as possible. I again take note of what the cabinet secretary said in his opening statement, and I am pleased that things are going in the right direction.
I associate myself with my colleague Liam Kerr’s words on the benefits of moving towards a one family, one judge system as advocated by the Scottish Conservatives. I will not go into detail, because Mr Kerr has covered that, but I strongly believe in such a move, and we should at least investigate it.
I look forward to joining other members in voting for the bill, which I believe has the potential to do a tremendous amount for the victims of domestic abuse in Scotland.
Yesterday, I received a note from a friend who was one of the first prosecutors in the first domestic abuse court in Glasgow. She said
“Good luck tomorrow, more legislation is seldom the answer, but this Bill has potential to effect meaningful change, even just in the conversation it has prompted. Mary Beard said you can’t fit women into a structure that’s coded as male, you have to change the structure and this legislation, on the foundation of Equally Safe, seems like a good attempt to do that.”
There have been 40 years of tireless work from the likes of Scottish Women’s Aid, the speaking out project, Rape Crisis Scotland, Engender, Zero Tolerance, White Ribbon Scotland, the STAMP—stamp out media patriarchy—project, the women’s centre in Hamilton, my colleagues on the cross-party group on men’s violence against women and children, which I co-chair with Claire Baker, and many more.
Today, we make history. On what I am sure is a landmark day for Parliament—one of the proudest days on which I have had the privilege to serve in the chamber—we can begin the process of healing scars that have existed for centuries.
I urge support not just from Parliament—we have that—for the voices of the women and men across Scotland who have, for far too long, been the victims of the abhorrent abuse that the bill seeks to rectify. The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill will safeguard all victims and ensure their secured wellbeing as a matter of priority.
From a human rights perspective, stage 3 shows that the Scottish Parliament, as a guarantor of human rights, is committed to the more equitable wellbeing of all its citizens by protecting the most vulnerable people through the creation of newly identified criminal offences. The bill will close a gap in the law and enable the police and prosecutors to protect victims of domestic abuse better.
The new offence, under the bill’s strict new measures, will ensure convictions when there is a recognised pattern of behaviour during the course of abusive incidents. Psychological forms of abuse, such as coercive control, are not covered by existing legislation. The gap was identified, through consultation, as letting victims down. Let us not let them down today. The new measures will ensure that, when abuse against partners or ex-partners has been reported, all types of abuse are considered, in order to ensure that survivors have easy access to justice with dignity.
It is vital that improvements in domestic abuse legislation go on to recognise the ever-changing patterns of behaviour. Professionals, working with victims and their families, must be able to count the number of incremental changes as an ordered number of incidents over time. Patterns may vary a little between perpetrators, but the incidents all share controlling, coercive, threatening, degrading and even violent characteristics.
Domestic abuse is perpetrated on victims of all identities, but it is driven by other community pressures and discrimination in society more widely, including sexism, racism and class divide. It is a gendered issue. That is why, as a gendered crime, domestic abuse is overwhelmingly experienced by women—but not exclusively so, as we know. The new legislation will help us to detail characteristics more effectively because they apply to people who are already marginalised and are subjected to the isolation, denigration and derision that are imposed by social contexts. Domestic abuse needs to be viewed as more than violence—especially for partners who are more likely to become victims of hate crime by virtue of their identity and who are at risk because of their gender.
Emotional wellbeing, physical health, financial security and self-esteem are inextricably linked to inequalities of power. Methods of control are insidious: behaviour might be subtle, but equally harmful. The bill will ensure that victims have a voice and are treated with the gravity and seriousness that they deserve—for example, when social media are used to spread images to shame and intimidate. I brought the issue of revenge porn, on which we now have legislation, to the chamber in September 2013. The changes will cover such behaviour more robustly.
The Scottish Parliament stands alongside those who, for far too long, have thought that their voices would be silenced by their abusers, and those whose ambitions and dreams have been limited by the pounding of fists or the power of controlling words. Finally, we can ensure that victims of domestic abuse will have their voice, our support and their justice.
It is a great privilege to be able to speak in support of the bill. As politicians, we all have different areas of Scottish life that particularly affect us and impact on how we think forever after, having heard real-life stories. I will talk about the impact that some of those stories have had on me, and how the bill is an incredibly important piece of legislation for Parliament to pass today.
I have had meetings with groups including Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women’s Aid. I work closely with groups in my constituency—for example, Waves (Woman Against Violence Environments), and the domestic abuse integrated support—or DAISY—project in Castlemilk, that support victims of domestic abuse. I have heard their numerous stories and got to know the women and their children personally, which has highlighted to me the importance of the bill more than any briefing could possibly do.
Why is the bill important? It is hard for me to imagine, but having merely listened to those women, I can think about what it means to be abused by a partner. Now is the right time to show how some people’s lives could be changed for the better—as we hope they will, if the bill is passed—by telling the stories of some of the many women who have been brave enough to share what has happened to them.
I now know well a woman who moved to Ireland when she met the love of her life. She had a family and did everything that she could to make a life across the sea. Sadly, she was beaten and emotionally abused so badly that she had to flee her home and her life there, and try to survive while rebuilding a life back here in Scotland. That marvellous woman is now in her 70s and chairs a charity that she helped to form that supports women who are fleeing abuse. Through her work and care for others, she has been able to move on with her life.
I have heard from women stories of their having to flee in the night and of their not even being able to seek shelter with family because of stigma and blackmail, which are often tools that abusers cruelly use to control them. Language such as “No one will want you”, “I’ll find you” and “I’ll hurt the people who take you in” can have a devastating impact on women. Those are just some of the many phrases that are commonly used to prevent them from escaping the hell in which they exist.
Women are forced to flee into the unknown—to boarding houses and safe houses—often with small children and very little in the way of clothing. I cannot tell members how it breaks my heart to hear of women making their children sleep with their coats and shoes on in case the man of the house comes home and the abuse starts for no reason and without warning.
I have been delighted to hear the focus on psychological abuse in the debate. We all know that abuse is not just physical: it can be sexual, emotional and—almost always—psychological. Many women do not even realise that they are victims. That is why I am so pleased that recognition of psychological abuse is part of the Government’s proposal.
Controlling behaviour can often be hard to detect at first. Perpetrators may use psychological tactics to ensure that their partner feels as though she is not good enough and her self-esteem is so damaged that the relationship becomes like an emotional prison, with no escape. For me, the impact on children is one of the most damaging aspects and one of the reasons why I am delighted that the Government has said that it will look at the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, in relation to contact with children. I have spoken to kids who have been affected, and I have taken part in Christmas parties at which the only gifts that they have had are ones that my constituents gave me to pass on to them. I have seen the financial, psychological and physical implications for them.
I am very pleased to see this legislation that the Scottish Government is taking forward and which, clearly, the Scottish Parliament will support. That will be an historic moment for Scotland. The important thing about the bill is that the legacy of change may have come from Parliament, but it will belong to the many women who have been victims of abuse, those who have survived and those who have gone on to use their experiences to change the lives of others. My contribution and the result today are dedicated to each and every one of them.
I recognise the work of the cabinet secretary, supported by his team, in introducing this important piece of legislation as well as the work that has been done by members from across the chamber in supporting and strengthening the bill. I thank NSPCC for its support for my amendments this afternoon.
Domestic abuse is a stain on our society. In the main, it consists of men’s domination of women and children. It destroys lives and families, and our criminal justice system must be robust in dealing with its perpetrators. The bill is significant in creating a specific statutory offence of domestic abuse that includes coercive, controlling, psychological and emotional behaviour as well as physical assault. It makes changes to bail conditions and the use of non-harassment orders, and it recognises the impact of domestic abuse on children. It also re-emphasises the Parliament’s commitment to tackling domestic abuse and to not hiding from the problem but playing our part in bringing it into the light.
In 1999, when the Scottish Parliament was established, it was seen as a Parliament that was able to focus on issues of importance and that contained many more women politicians than we had seen before in our mainstream politics—a Parliament that was prepared to bring such issues to the forefront. This afternoon, we have heard thoughtful, challenging and impassioned speeches, which are the reason that this Parliament was created.
The bill is significant in showing an understanding of coercive control and emotional abuse and the impact that those behaviours have on women’s lives through the isolation and fear that come from living in such a situation. We must ensure that the law is effective and that victims have confidence in it. This afternoon, John Finnie described how that can be achieved through the work of the police and the Procurator Fiscal Service.
I recognise that funding has been announced for specialist training for the police and, this morning, for training by Scottish Women’s Aid. That is all welcome, but there will be challenges with the rolling out of the legislation, two of which I will highlight.
First, judicial training, which Liam McArthur touched on, remains an issue. Although there is training available, it is only voluntary. The measures that were outlined in a letter that the Justice Committee received from the Lord President are welcome, and I recognise his commitment in saying,
“I will continue to place a high priority on judicial education in this field.”
However, the current measures do not fully address the issue and I would like to see more progress on that.
Secondly, although the funding for training that has been announced is welcome, Scottish Women’s Aid, in its briefing, talked about the issues around funding as the “elephant in the room”. Some members have received a briefing from Perthshire Women’s Aid, which is in my region, that describes an experience of counselling services being heavily oversubscribed, children’s services being underresourced and all services running at capacity. We recognise the financial situation that many women’s support organisations around the country face and, although I know that the Government has a big commitment to that area, I call on the Government to do what it can to ensure that there is sufficient support. We also recognise that local authorities have borne the brunt of the cuts in recent years, but I ask all local authorities, even in such difficult times, to recognise the importance of those services and to prioritise them. John Finnie and Kezia Dugdale spoke about the need for funding for those organisations.
There are many issues that I want to raise, but we are short on time. Rhoda Grant made some important points on the contact system; perhaps the cabinet secretary will respond to those in his closing comments.
Scottish Women’s Aid has been tweeting artwork by children who are supported by the organisation, which brings home the impact of domestic abuse on children.
I want to mention the work that has been done by Zero Tolerance with Scottish Women’s Aid and the ASSIST—advice, support, safety and information services together—project in the publication of “What journalists need to know about the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill”. That document goes beyond the bill and describes what responsible journalism means. It is about changing the narrative and increasing public awareness of what abuse is and what it looks like—how somebody’s sister, neighbour or daughter might be living—so that we can all challenge it and not accept it.
I hope that that is a positive ending, because we can be proud of the legislation that will be passed today. Our firm hope is that it will improve the lives of women and children around Scotland.
It is clear from members’ speeches that there is total consensus in the chamber and across all the parties in the Parliament for the introduction of legislation to create a new offence of engaging in an abusive course of conduct against a partner or ex-partner.
The current law focuses on individual incidents of physical violence or threatening behaviour that causes fear and alarm. However, the evidence from witnesses during the scrutiny of the bill established that there is a gap in the law in addressing abuse that is not restricted to physical abuse but that is controlling, coercive and psychological in nature. Put simply, there do not have to be black and blue bruises for an individual to have been the victim of domestic abuse.
As John Finnie and Liam McArthur confirmed, that was vividly brought home to committee members when they heard the harrowing and compelling private testimony of survivors who had been the victims of such abusive behaviour, which can leave psychological scars that endure many years after physical scars have healed. It took immense courage for those survivors to talk about their experiences, and the committee owes them a huge debt of gratitude.
Stage 2 amendments included a welcome provision for a statutory aggravation to cover a situation in which a child sees, hears or is present during an incident of partner abuse. The committee recommends that the disconnect between criminal and civil courts when deciding whether to grant child contact orders should be considered in the review of the law relating to children and key adults in their lives. I hope that Liam Kerr’s suggestion of one-family, one-sheriff domestic abuse hearings will also be considered.
Further evidence was taken at stage 2 on emergency barring orders, which would exclude an abuser from a victim’s home immediately. As the cabinet secretary stated, there are complexities here, and I therefore welcome his commitment to formally consult on the introduction of new powers in this area.
A minority of witnesses—including legal experts and Calum Steele from the Scottish Police Federation—expressed a concern that the new offence could inadvertently criminalise behaviour that, rather than being abusive, is nothing more than a normal heated exchange or disagreement. However, on balance, the committee was persuaded that, with the reasonableness test, and if the context and course of behaviour are taken into account, the threshold for criminalisation will not be too low.
Context is crucial, which is why I lodged a stage 2 amendment to include the idea of context in the bill. However, I did not press that amendment, because the cabinet secretary and, after reflecting on the point, Scottish Women’s Aid, considered it unnecessary and believed that the offence as drafted is the best form of words to achieve the purpose of the bill. I sincerely hope that they are both proved to be correct.
Linda Fabiani’s stage 3 amendment, which was agreed to today, introduces an assumption that a non-harassment order will be granted, and I commend her for her commitment to the issue.
The bill’s schedule makes welcome and long-overdue criminal law procedural reforms in an effort to ensure that the victim is not re-victimised by the criminal justice process. The reforms therefore prohibit the accused in domestic abuse cases from conducting their own defence or directly precognoscing the victim.
If the bill is to give the victims of psychological abuse the justice that they desperately seek, it is essential that sufficient resources are made available to adequately support victims and witnesses and that the new offence is the subject of a publicity campaign to encourage victims to come forward. I ask the cabinet secretary again to confirm that that will be the case, so that the bill will be legislation that the Parliament can be proud to have passed.
I welcome the funding that the cabinet secretary has identified. The issue that a number of colleagues referred to is not necessarily the quantum of funding but its predictability over a two, three or four-year period. Could the Scottish Government address that when it takes forward the proposals in the bill?
I assure Liam McArthur that we will continue to monitor and evaluate as we go forward. I am determined to make sure that those people who work directly with victims of domestic abuse are properly informed and have the right information on how the new legislation will be implemented and its provisions. That is why I have targeted support specifically to the police and their staff and also to Scottish Women’s Aid staff.
I turn to the public information campaign. I have given a commitment to take that forward before the provisions of the legislation come into force, and that is what we will do. I will set out how we will roll out the campaign in the coming months.
I thank all members for their positive contributions in the course of this stage 3 debate and during the passage of the bill.
The Scottish Parliament is not short of disagreements—that is the nature of debate—but I think that it is right to pause and highlight the fact that this place is often at its best when we can come together and try to tackle some of the most significant problems that we face as a society.
We cannot afford to underestimate the nature and the extent of the problem that we face in relation to domestic abuse. I mentioned in my opening remarks that nearly 60,000 cases of domestic abuse were reported to Police Scotland in the space of one year, and that there is an unknown number of other incidents that are not reported.
I believe that it is incumbent on us all, as elected members of the national Parliament of Scotland, to address what is, in my view, one of the key gender-based challenges that we face as a society. Despite concerted efforts over many years, the scourge of domestic abuse is still a blight on the lives of too many people. As we seek to redouble our efforts in order to tackle this issue more effectively, the bill will help us in moving that agenda forward.
As I mentioned earlier, scrutiny of this bill is occurring at a time when I sincerely hope that fundamental changes are taking place in relation to how women are treated in our society. We recognise that there is much more to do, but we are moving in the right direction.
This bill is timely for many reasons, but perhaps first and foremost as an example of the steps that are needed if we are to have a shift in mindset to support the wider changes in our society that we all want to see. The bill makes it clear that domestic abuse is not simply physical abuse and that the pernicious and horrific coercive controlling behaviour that degrades and humiliates women in particular is now within our criminal law’s scope.
Members have raised specific points during their speeches. I recognise Kezia Dugdale’s point about raising awareness of the new provisions and I have taken specific action to make sure that those people who engage with the victims of domestic abuse will have a proper and detailed understanding of the new provisions if the bill is passed this afternoon. That will help to ensure that police officers and staff in Police Scotland understand the new provisions in the legislation. I have provided additional funding to allow 14,000 police officers and staff to be trained to understand the new bill. Maurice Corry also raised that issue. Alongside that, an extra £165,000 will be provided to Scottish Women’s Aid to support its training programme to help staff who work in its projects across Scotland. I have no doubt that it will help to support them to make sure that they create awareness of the bill’s provisions.
I am coming to that very point, which includes the emergency barring orders that members have mentioned. We will have a consultation fairly soon on how we can roll out emergency barring orders in Scotland and how they will operate. It will look at whether the victim should apply for an order, or a third party on their behalf, and the impact of the orders in other jurisdictions.
We have given a commitment through my education colleagues, who are about to undertake a consultation exercise, to look at modernising the existing child neglect offence that is contained in section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, looking specifically at abuse aspects and how they impact on children. Annabelle Ewing, Minister for Community Safety and Legal Affairs, will consult on potential changes to the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 relating to contact, residency, parental responsibilities and rights. We hope to publish that consultation in spring to allow us to make further progress on the issue.
Today is a momentous day. It is a day that many campaigners who have dealt day in, day out with the corrosive effects of domestic abuse may have thought would never arrive. Our modern understanding of the nature of domestic abuse is being reflected in how our criminal law in Scotland now operates. I pay tribute to Marsha Scott and Louise Johnson at Scottish Women’s Aid for their assistance and expertise in developing this new offence. I pay tribute also to people like Mhairi McGowan, who has tirelessly led the ASSIST service for many years to provide advocacy for those who have been affected by domestic abuse. I pay tribute to Children 1st, Barnardo’s and other children’s organisations for emphasising the importance of acknowledging the risks and harms that are caused to children by domestic abuse.
I am particularly proud of this piece of legislation. I mentioned my visit to Scottish Women’s Aid. At the heart of the bill are the voices of the women who have experienced domestic abuse. I will draw the debate to a close by finishing with them. Nicola Borthwick said:
“Life as an abused woman was dangerous, terrifying and exhausting. I had no freedom, no escape and no voice. After fleeing I lived in hiding and forwent my right to vote to remain hidden. So, to have spoken and been heard at our nations parliament, giving personal evidence to support this Domestic Abuse Bill, is a precious memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life, long after the last of the old wounds have healed. It’s very difficult to experience a sense of justice. All of the past, good and bad, is real and affecting. However, to transform the legacy of those abusive deeds from merely damaging into something positive that contributes to establishing safety from domestic abuse for others, is incredibly rewarding and fulfilling.”
Dorothy Aidulis, another survivor of domestic abuse, said:
“For years I had to keep silent, watching my every word and facial expression, second-guessing everything I ever said or wrote, having my words twisted and used against me. It was exhausting and disorientating. I remember once while being shouted at, actually wanting him to hit me; so that I would be ‘allowed’ to leave. This is why we need this Bill. Speaking to the Justice Committee was scary, and brought a lot of memories back. But I was treated so kindly, and with such respect. And they listened. This may sound ordinary; but it wasn’t. As a survivor, this was official acknowledgement of the abuse I had suffered, and validation that I was right to speak up. Simply being believed was such a release and I felt a huge pressure being unwrapped like an invisible grip from around me. Being unexpectedly handed the opportunity to contribute to the making of this historic Bill will stay with me forever, and I cannot think of a more fitting outcome for some of the darkest days of my life. From myself, and from other survivors who cannot tell their story; thank you.”
Today, we as a Parliament stand with Dorothy, Nicola and the many others who have spoken up on domestic abuse. Without their courage and determination, we would not be here. [