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26 March 2015
Ministers consult on domestic abuse law change

Ministers consult on domestic abuse law change

Proposals to create specific criminal offences for domestic abuse as well as ‘revenge porn’ are to be considered as a part of a government consultation that has been launched.

The Scottish Government is to seek views on whether a specific domestic abuse offence should be introduced after calls from prosecutors.

As it stands, a range of other existing common law and statutory offences are used to prosecute, though the Solicitor General last year warned this fails to encapsulate all types of abusive behaviour.

The Equally Safe consultation published by government also seeks responses on whether an additional criminal offence should be created for the sharing of private or intimate images of other people without their consent, otherwise known as ‘revenge porn’.

Within the consultation paper, the government suggests the maximum penalty for the new offence, if created, should be set somewhere between six months and five years. 

The consultation will also consider the need for jury directions in sexual offences cases amid concerns that preconceptions held by jury members might impact their understanding of victims’ responses to such crimes.

“Domestic abuse in law can be challenging therefore we need to ensure that our legislation commands wide support, anticipates possible pitfalls, and allows us to prosecute the people who perpetrate these crimes,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told a Scottish Women’s Aid conference in Edinburgh. 

“If there is a consensus on what we need to do, we will legislate in this Parliament. But if we need to do further work with stakeholders to ensure we get this absolutely right, we will do so.

“Either way, we will make clear that on-going coercive and controlling behaviour is unacceptable, and that those who commit such crimes will face justice. 

“We know that changing the law isn’t enough on its own – but it can play an important part in the wider social and cultural changes we want to bring about.”

Ministers are seeking responses on whether a trial judge in sexual cases should be required to caution the jury that a time delay between an offence being committed and it being reported “does not, in and of itself, indicate that the allegation is more likely to be false”.

Whether statutory jury directions should apply in the absence of physical force by the alleged attacker or the absence of physical resistance by the alleged victim is also to be considered.

The consultation will seek views on the extension of non-harassment orders to allow use in the absence of a criminal conviction because a person is deemed unfit to stand trial.

Cases of sexual offences against children committed elsewhere in the UK could also be prosecuted in Scotland subject to the outcome of the consultation.

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