Scotland politics

MSPs agree new legislation making 'revenge porn' a crime

Revenge porn concept image Image copyright PA
Image caption A new criminal offence for non-consensual sharing of intimate images is part of the bill

Holyrood has passed new legislation on abusive behaviour which makes so-called "revenge porn" a criminal offence.

The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill introduces a range of new measures to protect victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said the legislation would modernise the powers of courts to protect communities against sexual offenders.

MSPs unanimously supported the bill, despite controversy over one measure.

Mr Matheson pointed out that Police Scotland deals with calls about domestic and sexual violence every nine minutes, saying the root cause was "inequality in our society".

He said the bill would widen the power of courts, and said it struck the "appropriate balance".

Provisions included in the new legislation include:

  • a specific offence for non-consensual sharing of private, intimate images, often referred to as "revenge porn"
  • measures to allow courts to directly protect victims, even if a conviction is not reached due to the mental or physical condition of the accused
  • a requirement for juries to be given specific directions about how to consider evidence in sexual offence cases
  • a guarantee that Scottish residents who commit child sexual offences in England and Wales can be prosecuted in Scotland
  • a new domestic abuse aggravator that an offence was aggravated by involving abuse of a person's partner or ex-partner
  • reforms to the system of civil orders available to protect communities from those who may commit sex offences.
Image caption Conservative MSP Margaret Mitchell said the provision about directing juries could "compromise democracy"

The Scottish Conservatives supported the bill, although MSP Margaret Mitchell said she had "grave concerns" about some provisions.

An amendment was submitted to remove the provision requiring judges to direct juries in sexual offence cases, but it was not selected for debate by the presiding officer.

Ms Mitchell said said: "Provisions for statutory jury directions compromise the independence of the judiciary which is a central tenant of Scots law.

"They strike at the separation of powers and raise constitutional issues which compromise democracy in Scotland.

"This is a dark day for our democracy in Scotland. These comments not withstanding, the Scottish Conservatives will support the bill."

'Extremely disappointed'

Labour's Elaine Murray and Lib Dem Alison McInnes spoke out in support of that measure, with the latter saying there needed to be "radical and ambitious reform".

Ms Murray said juries often had "misconceptions" about the way people react after a sexual attack, which judges could explain to them.

However, justice committee convener Christine Grahame agreed with Ms Mitchell that parliament was "interfering too deeply in the judiciary", saying she was "extremely disappointed" in the decision not to select the amendment.

She too backed the bill, in particular speaking to the measures against "revenge porn".

She said: "It has become all too easy to use the internet as a weapon."

There was broad support for the new offence, although Labour's Margaret McDougall, making her valedictory speech, said the definition was "far too narrow".

She said it should be extended to include intimate text and audio, but her amendments to that end were voted down. Ms McDougall supported the bill, but warned that it was not "future proofed".

The bill was unanimously supported by MSPs at decision time.

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