Justice Committee raises concerns over Domestic Abuse Bill
The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has backed the underlying intentions behind the Scottish government’s new Domestic Abuse Bill, but warned that serious practical concerns raised during the course of its scrutiny need to be addressed.
Both legal bodies and the police signalled outstanding issues with the drafting of the bill, which could mean its powers are not regularly used by law enforcement, or difficult to use in practice. Tensions with suspected perpetrators’ rights under ECHR were also highlighted to MSPs, given the substantial restrictions on liberties and curtailment of rights which can be imposed by powers introduced through the Bill.
While the committee recognised that Domestic Abuse Protections Orders (DAPOs, Sheriff-mandated court orders placing restrictions on suspected perpetrators of domestic abuse), Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPNs, short-term police-ordered restrictions), and measures to allow social landlords to remove suspected perpetrators of domestic abuse from tenancies, could all prove useful tools, it raised a number of issues, including:
- A lack of clarity around proposed thresholds for evidential proof needed to make a DAPN or DAPO, and the decision-making process by police once a situation has been assessed;
- How DAPNs and DAPOs sit within the existing framework of court sanctioned family law interventions, such as child contact provisions, and what would take primacy;
- Questions around what would constitute a breach of a DAPN or DAPO, and how breaches should be dealt with;
- Resource implications for police who have issued a DAPN, with the expectation a DAPO would have to be applied for the next sitting court day;
- That the views of children will be sought in a way that aligns with other recently passed legislation looking at family breakdown and children’s rights.
The committee has asked for assurances that the Scottish government will undertake extensive further consultation with police so that these concerns are addressed, and consequential changes made to the bill as it goes through the next parliamentary stages.
Women’s and housing organisations have also backed the plans.
Committee convener, Adam Tomkins MSP, said: “The aim of this bill, to provide further protection to victims of domestic abuse, is a laudable one, which all Members would support. However, we have significant concerns about how these proposals would work in practice.
“While on balance we believe that DAPOs and DAPNs would be a useful additional tool for the police to have, it is of fundamental importance that this bill fully respects the European Convention on Human Rights.
“And to actually help those it seeks to give better protections to, officers on the ground must be able to use the law with confidence.
“Changes to ensure both of these tests are met must be made before MSPs are asked to pass it into law.
“To achieve this, the Scottish government must engage extensively with law enforcement and bring forward amendments to what it initially set out.”