Domestic and sexual abuse law strengthened

The Scottish Parliament has passed a new bill to help tackle domestic abuse.
The Scottish Parliament has passed a new bill to help tackle domestic abuse.

Access to justice for survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence will be improved by a Bill passed by the Scottish Parliament.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill tackles the way modern technology can be used to perpetrate abuse, creating a new offence of sharing private intimate images without consent, or so-called ‘revenge porn’.

The new bill also modernises criminal law and strengthens powers for the police, prosecutors and courts to take action against perpetrators of domestic abuse, harassment and sexual offences.

Under the new law judges will be required to give juries specific directions when dealing with sexual offence cases, designed to improve juries’ understanding of sexual violence, which is a known barrier to access to justice for victims.

A new statutory domestic abuse aggravator will also be introduced to ensure courts take domestic abuse into account when sentencing an offender.

The bill ensures that child sexual offences committed in England and Wales by Scottish residents can be prosecuted in Scotland. It also reforms the system of civil orders to strengthen protection for communities from those who may commit sex offences.

Commenting, Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “Domestic abuse and harassment are appalling crimes and with this new law we are sending a strong message that they will not be tolerated in Scotland.

“We are taking bold steps to improve the way the justice system responds to abusive behaviour, holding perpetrators to account for their actions and improving public safety.

“We are continuing to modernise the law and to make sure our legislation best fits the needs of a modern Scotland both in the way it supports victims in their access to justice and tackles crimes which adapt as technology changes. That is why we are creating a new offence of sharing intimate images without consent, reflecting changing technology and the harm this sinister crime inflicts.

“At a time when survivors are displaying greater confidence at coming forward about the abuse they have suffered, we want to help break down the barriers to victims of sexual violence accessing justice.

“This includes helping juries’ understanding of the crime of sexual violence and strengthening the powers for police, the prosecutors and the courts to take action against perpetrators.”

“At the same time as passing this Bill we are consulting on how a ground-breaking specific offence to tackle domestic abuse across Scotland might be taken forward. Scotland will be one of only a handful of countries across the world to introduce dedicated legislation that would not only capture types of conduct that are already criminal but also other forms of psychological abuse and control which cannot usually be prosecuted under the existing criminal law.

“We know legislation alone is not enough to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse, harassment and sexual violence. This is part of a range of measures we are putting in place, including an additional £20 million to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls. These measures show domestic and sexual abuse will not be tolerated.”