Scotland politics

MSPs back general principles of Domestic Abuse Bill

domestic abuse Image copyright Laura Dodsworth
Image caption Ministers want to create a specific offence criminalising psychological abuse

MSPs have unanimously backed the general principles of a new domestic abuse law including specific rules criminalising psychological abuse.

The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill is aimed at strengthening and expanding the law on the topic.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson told MSPs that the number of domestic abuse crimes was "truly shocking".

While other parties outlined additional priorities and policy ideas, MSPs were united to pass the bill at stage one.

The legislation will create a specific offence of "abusive behaviour in relation to a partner or ex-partner", including psychological abuse such as coercive and controlling behaviour.

A Scottish government consultation found that more than 90% of people did not believe the current laws provided police and prosecutors with sufficient powers to bring perpetrators of abuse to justice.

Mr Matheson said despite previous action and reforms, the criminal law still did not fully respect such abuse in all its forms. He said said the bill was "the next important step in the fight to address the scourge that is domestic abuse".

He said: "Creating a new offence of domestic abuse will not on its own end domestic abuse, however it is a ground-breaking approach that will put Scotland at the forefront of efforts to tackle the scourge of psychological abuse and coercive control.

"For too long an attitude has been allowed to linger that domestic abuse is a private matter, no business of the criminal law. This bill makes crystal clear those days are long gone."

Image caption Michael Matheson said the legislation was "the next important step" in the fight against domestic abuse

The Scottish Conservatives suggested assigning a single sheriff to deal with the entirety of a domestic abuse victim's court case so that they do not need to give distressing evidence repeatedly.

Justice spokesman Liam Kerr said a "one family one judge" approach "may reduce the number of court appearances, streamlining the process, and meaning the trauma of retelling the incident numerous times can be avoided".

Labour's Claire Baker said there were ways the bill could be strengthened, calling for extra action to address the damaging impact of abuse on children and warning of a "postcode lottery" for support.

However she stressed that psychological abuse "can not be trivialised", saying the bill must "challenge, not normalise, actions that demean, humiliate, harm or control partners".

Green MSP John Finnie paid tribute to women who gave evidence to the justice committee during early consideration of the bill. This sentiment was echoed by Lib Dem Liam McArthur, who also said his party was unequivocally supportive of the bill's aims.

At decision time, MSPs voted to unanimously agree the general principles of the legislation. It will now pass to committee stage for further consideration before a final round of votes in the chamber.

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