Holyrood unanimously backs further measures to protect domestic abuse victims

Holyrood has unanimously backed the principles of new laws aimed at tackling the “scourge of domestic abuse” despite widespread concerns about the proposed Bill.

Scotland’s Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf (pictured) said the legislation would create domestic abuse protection notices and orders that could be used to try to protect people from abusive behaviour by a partner or ex-partner where there is an “immediate risk”.

Senior police officers would be given the power to remove someone suspected of domestic abuse from their home and ban them from approaching or contacting the person at risk.

The short-term measures would not require a court order and the suspect would not need to have been found guilty of a crime.

While the general principles of the Domestic Abuse (Protection) (Scotland) Bill were agreed unanimously in parliament at stage one of the parliamentary process, MSPs from all parties raised concerns about aspects of the proposed legislation.

Opening the debate, Mr Yousaf said the Bill would be “an important additional piece of the Scottish Government’s overall approach in improving how Scotland deals with the scourge of domestic abuse”.

He acknowledged the “operational challenges” the new measures would create for Police Scotland if they were given the power to evict people without a crime having been proven.

Addressing the question of the threshold required for such an order, he told MSPs: “In discussions with Police Scotland, I can advise we are looking at whether the test of future harm required before a notice or order can be imposed should be set as ‘significant’ harm and we will keep parliament updated as this consideration continues.

“Given the seriousness of removing a perpetrator from a home, it may be that the threshold should appropriately be set at this level.”

Mr Yousaf added: “There is a careful balancing act with these timescales to keep them as short-term protections – sufficient to give a necessary breathing space to the person at risk – while respecting the rights of the person who is subject to the notice or order.

“I consider the Bill strikes an appropriate balance.”

Victims of domestic abuse could also apply for the tenancy of shared social housing to be transferred into their name in an attempt to prevent them potentially becoming homeless to escape an abuser.

Mr Yousaf said: “Enabling social landlords to end a perpetrator’s tenancy in domestic abuse cases also seeks to address the very real issue of why victims and their families – rather than the perpetrator – should have to leave their homes, belongings and community to seek safety, with the perpetrator remaining undisturbed in the family home.”

Justice Committee convener Adam Tomkins said the legislation was a “simple Bill that raises quite complex problems”.

Although he said the committee “supports the underlying policy intentions wholeheartedly and unanimously”, Mr Tomkins said there were questions about whether the further measures were necessary given the “plethora of other powers which the criminal justice system already has”.

He also relayed concerns raised by the police about how they should deal with cases where there are both domestic abuse allegations and counterclaims and whether officers making decisions about orders and restrictions would be liable if they are issued wrongly or future abuse occurs where they are not imposed.

Raising issues about the relationship between the proposed measures and custody of children, Scottish Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “We often hear of terrible cases where child custody and access rights are imposed by the court and that they leave the victim of domestic abuse in life-threatening situations.

“Access arrangements are often used to continue the abuse, using children as weapons, which not only damages the victim but also the child.

“And that is yet another reason for a child to have those protections in their own right.

“All this needs to be very clear on the face of the Bill, it needs to be clear that these notices and orders take precedence over any contact or custody rights of the person subject to them.”

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