Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill very welcome, say GLC

Lorna Walker is a senior solicitor, and partner, at Govan Law Centre. She specialises in women’s rights

Govan Law Centre (GLC) welcome the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill which passed stage three in the Scottish Parliament this month. The Bill will provide vital new legal remedies to protect women experiencing domestic abuse.

Before lockdown there were almost 60,000 incidents of domestic abuse recorded by Police Scotland each year. But this is the tip of an ugly iceberg; abuse is a hidden and unreported crime. The Scottish Crime and Justice survey estimates only one in five incidents ever come to the attention of the police.

One of the consequences of Covid-19 has been an overall drop in reported crime across the UK; yet we know this belies what is really going on at home. Women’s aid agencies and others have reported surges in the demand for support from vulnerable women and children during lockdown.

The Scottish Government’s own research reveals a number of problems. Lockdown created court delays, which for women who’d reported domestic abuse to the police, undermined faith in the criminal justice system.

Perpetrators employed creative ways to coercively control their victims, including use of the Covid-19 health protection legislation and threats of infection to control their victims.

Since April 1 2019, psychological abuse and coercive and controlling behaviour has become a standalone criminal offence under the 2018 Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act.

Worryingly, many women cited the impact of lockdown isolation, lack of safe childcare options, managing the risk of domestic abuse and the risk of the virus as having had a severe impact on their mental health and resilience.

Mike Dailly, Govan Law Centre solicitor advocate said: The new Domestic Abuse Bill would empower a senior police officer to issue a “domestic abuse protection notice” (DAPN) where they have reasonable grounds to believe a partner or ex-partner had been abusive and the DAPN was necessary to protect the woman.

The DAPN is an emergency measure which can require an alleged perpetrator to leave the home, refrain from future contact and not come near the woman’s home. The DAPN has to then call before a sheriff and can be extended by the court for up to three months on cause shown.

In essence, the DAPN is a safe breathing space so women being abused can consider their housing options. The Bill also creates a new right for social landlords to terminate a perpetrator’s interest in a Scottish secure tenancy to enable a victim to remain in the family home.

I welcome these measures but would sound a note of caution for two reasons. First, the DAPN will only work if we tackle existing barriers preventing abused women from accessing their rights.

My colleagues at Govan Law Centre support many women in Glasgow experiencing violence and abuse from partners or former partners. There are many reasons why they don’t report abuse to the police.

If you’re a woman facing domestic violence please seek support. Knowing your rights will empower you. Anything said is confidential until you’re ready to take the next step. Many organisations can offer support and will assist you and your children to get out of the situation.

Call Scottish Women’s Aid anytime on 0800 027 1234 or Govan Law Centre on 0800 043 0306.

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