Domestic abuse work has been 'too slow' despite 'positive' new law

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which passed in 2018, is undergoing scrutiny to accelerate progress.

Domestic abuse work has been ‘too slow’ despite ‘positive’ new law, say MSPs Getty Images

Progress on tackling domestic abuse has been too slow despite the positive impact of legislation, a Holyrood committee has said.

The Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee has been undertaking post-legislative scrutiny on the Domestic Abuse Bill which was passed in February 2018.

The Bill created a new offence around non-physical forms of abuse such as coercive control and where children see, hear or are present during an incident.

The report notes strong support for the legislation among prosecutors, law enforcement and women’s groups.

However the committee has called for a short-life implementation group to be set up to accelerate progress.

The report highlights delays in specialist Police Scotland training for officers on domestic abuse cases and calls for all officers to be trained in recognising non-physical violence.

The current sentencing regime was also criticised in the report, particularly on what more can be done to prevent non-harassment order breaches.

The committee also voiced concern over evidence received by Claire Houghton, a social policy lecturer at Edinburgh University, who said survivors of domestic abuse described the process of reporting crimes and participating in court trials as “unremittingly grim”.

However, the introduction of the recent Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform Bill, which aims for a victim-centred approach in the justice system, has been welcomed as a way to tackle the issue.

Following the report’s publication, committee convener Audrey Nicoll said: “It’s clear the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 is supported across the sector and is an important part of efforts to tackle all forms of domestic abuse in Scotland.

“However, there are undoubtably still issues which need to be addressed. Evidence we have gathered has highlighted issues with implementing provisions in the Act, particularly across the police service, the Crown Office and the courts.

“We have concerns over the sentencing of crimes of this nature and on ensuring there is adequate and ongoing training so all police officers responding to domestic abuse cases can do so effectively.”

The committee has also urged the Scottish Government to consider running an updated communication campaign around the domestic abuse legislation, particularly targeting children, to continue to highlight the issue.

Ms Nicoll added: “Domestic abuse as well as violence against women and girls is completely unacceptable and it is clear that more should be done to tackle this issue and support both victims and survivors.”

Detective chief superintendent Sam Faulds, head of public protection at Police Scotland, said: “Domestic abuse remains a significant priority for Police Scotland and we are determined to continually improve our response, especially from that crucial first point of contact.

“Our strategy to tackle violence against women and girls set out our commitment to ensuring all officers and staff are trauma-informed.

“We have been clear that training delivery was impacted by external factors such as the Covid pandemic and are working to ensure our domestic abuse matters training is back on track post the pandemic.

“This includes in-depth, face-to-face training for probationers and all frontline officers to ensure they identify the full spectrum of abusive behaviours, including coercion and control, as well as additional training for our domestic abuse champions who provide support to front-line officers in every division.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said it was “absolutely clear that any form of abuse is unacceptable and the new domestic abuse offence, which has been heralded as gold-standard legislation, has given more powers to police and courts to punish perpetrators of abuse and protect people at risk”.

“However, as this report highlights, there is still more that needs to be done to improve the justice response to domestic abuse and we will work with justice agencies to consider the recommendations,” the spokesman added.

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