The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 came into force on 1 April 2019. This was introduced in order to align the law in Scotland with the reality that domestic abuse can constitute a wide variety of behaviour, from physical violence and threats, to psychological abuse and controlling behaviour.
The 2018 Act makes all domestic abuse, whether physical or psychological, a criminal offence. A person commits the offence if they engage in a course of behaviour which is abusive towards their partner or ex-partner and is intended to cause them harm, or which is reckless as to whether it causes harm. The offence can therefore be broken down into several elements:
- The behaviour must be abusive: This can mean any violent, threatening or intimidating but can also mean acts towards the victim, a child or another person which has one of the following effects:-
- Making the victim dependent or subordinate;
- Isolating the victim from friends, family or other support;
- Controlling, regulating or monitoring the victim’s day to day activities;
- Depriving or restricting the victim’s freedom of action; and
- Frightening, humiliating, degrading or punishing the victim.
- There must be a course of behaviour: This means the abusive behaviour must have occurred on at least two incidents. Single events are not covered by the 2018 Act, but may be covered by other offences such as assault or the offence of ‘threatening or abusive behaviour’.
- The behaviour was committed against a partner or ex-partner: This includes spouses, civil partners, couples living together or people in an intimate personal relationship with each other such as boyfriend and girlfriend.
- The perpetrator intended to cause harm or was reckless as to whether they were causing harm: This allows the behaviour to be taken into account even if the perpetrator claims that it was not intended to cause the victim harm.
- That a reasonable person would consider the behaviour likely to cause the victim harm: This is an objective test made on the basis of whether an outsider looking at the situation would consider the behaviour likely to cause the victim harm, taking into account the particular characteristics or any particular vulnerability of the victim. This means that it is not necessary to prove that the behaviour actually caused the victim any harm.
Where the abusive behaviour is committed in the presence of a child, the offence is aggravated which makes the offence more severe and can ultimately lead to a higher sentence.
There is one defence available to a person accused of committing domestic abuse under the 2018 Act. The accused can argue that their behaviour was reasonable in the circumstances. This is designed to protect people where they reasonably believe that their behaviour was necessary in order to protect themselves, their partner or others from harm. For example, where they prevent their partner who suffers from an alcohol addiction from frequenting certain places.
Vulnerable Person’s Database
Police Scotland hold an Interim Vulnerable Persons Database (iVPD). This is the formal way Police Scotland records police contact with adults, children and young people. It allows officers from Police Scotland to record common concerns that there may be a risk to a person’s current or future wellbeing. Concerns can be recorded under the following categories:
- Child Concerns (including Child Protection)
- Domestic Abuse
- Adult Concerns (including Adult Protection)
- Hate Concerns
- Youth Offending
This better enables Police Scotland and partners to provide support at an earlier stage where appropriate to do so and take preventative action to stop low level concerns developing into crisis situations. Where there is Immediate Risk of Harm to a child, young person or adult, officers must take appropriate actions to safeguard the wellbeing of the individual.
The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme
This scheme was established to prevent domestic abuse. It gives anyone (male or female) who is concerned that their partner may be abusive, the right to ask the police about any previous history of violence. This enables people to make an informed choice about whether to continue their relationships, and also provides potential victims with additional support and advice.
The disclosure scheme originated in England, where it is often referred to as “Clare’s Law” after a woman who was killed by her violent partner. In Scotland, the scheme was trialled in Aberdeen & Ayrshire before being rolled out to the rest of the country on 1 October 2019.
If checks show that the individual in question has a history of violence or domestic abuse, the police will consider sharing this information with the potential victim.
The form can be accessed online here.
Disclosure Scheme Form
Support for domestic abuse victims
The Survivor’s Handbook
Finding a safety house
Reporting domestic violence