Covid-19 has heightened concerns about gaps in the protection available to domestic abuse victims
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf has announced that a Bill will be considered by Parliament in the coming weeks which, if passed, would give the police and courts new powers to prevent someone suspected of domestic abuse from entering the alleged victim’s home.
The COVID-19 lockdown and subsequent continuing restrictions have put concerns into sharp focus about gaps in the protection available to domestic abuse victims. Over the last 6 months, the number of reported offences, arrests, calls and access to online support resources for victims have all increased. But what protections are there for victims of domestic abuse? What are the gaps? And will the proposed new measures give sufficient safeguards?
As things stand, a victim of domestic abuse, whether physical or psychological abuse or coercive controlling behaviour, is reliant on the police bringing charges against their abuser (most commonly breach of the peace or assault) but even with bail conditions this only offers limited protection. It is currently left to the victim to apply for a civil order from the court if they want the protection of an order excluding the abuser from their home. This takes time (usually weeks) and comes at a high cost, both financially and emotionally. The onus is also on the victim to prove to the court, by giving and lodging evidence, that the abuser’s behaviour warrants an order being granted. This can be an extremely challenging process for someone who is vulnerable and at risk.
These concerns, amongst others, led to the Scottish Government publishing a consultation in 2018 on the introduction of emergency protective orders which would see the police and the courts given additional powers to remove a person suspected of domestic abuse from the victim’s home. These “barring orders” would give immediate protection and will lift the burden from victims by eradicating the need for them to apply to the court themselves, with it falling to the police to make the application. The consultation also sought views on how these new powers would operate.
The vast majority of respondents to the consultation supported the proposal and also wanted to see powers to prevent the alleged abuser from attempting to contact the victim or approach them at home, work or place of study. Opinions were mixed, however, when it came to the detail of how the powers would operate. The indication from the Scottish Government at this stage is that the police will be able to bar suspected abusers from the house for a short period, during which time they could apply to the Court for an order that would last for a longer period, perhaps up to 2 months. The stated aim of the Bill is to give victims “vital breathing space, free from the abuser’s coercion and control, to decide the best future option for them”.
Although the details of the Bill are yet to be seen, what is clear is that the aim is to make a substantive change that will have real, tangible benefits for domestic abuse victims.
We will be issuing regular updates on our website and social media channels as the Bill progresses through Parliament.
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