Scottish police did not use 'full extent' of law on domestic abuse, MSPs told

Police have not previously made full use of the law to crack down on domestic abuse in Scotland but the approach is now "shifting" after improved training, a leading officer has said.

New "barring orders" to tackle domestic abuse are being considered by MSPs
New "barring orders" to tackle domestic abuse are being considered by MSPs

It came as MSPs heard that plans to introduce "barring orders" to target perpetrators of domestic abuse need to be made clearer amid questions about whether any gap exists in the current law.

The orders would allow restrictions to be placed on the suspected abusers forcing them to leave the home - instead of the victim who may then become homeless.

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Women’s campaign groups say the Domestic Abuse Protection Notices (DAPNs) are necessary and backed the change as they appeared before Holyrood's justice committee today. But the plans met with a more guarded response from Police Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland.

Committee convenor Adam Tomkins said police already have powers to restrict the movements of perpetrators of domestic abuse and questioned if there was a "gap" in the current powers.

Detective Chief Superintendent Samantha McCluskey, Head of Public Protection in Specialist Crime Division at Police Scotland said police would support any measures which provide more protection for victims.

But she added: "We don't necessarily see the gap, but I think there is a real acknowledgement from us that we could make better use of existing powers.

"I think the change in legislation recently, for example the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act and the training that officers have now had to recognise coercive control and the dynamics of domestic abuse might actually start to impact on that."

She added: "We've seen a shift in attitudes in how we actually approach domestic abuse from a policing perspective.

"I think that previously it would be fair to say that we haven't used existing powers that we do have to their full extent in terms of domestic abuse, but hopefully that is changing now and what we see this as, this legislation, as an exceptional tool for use in exceptional circumstances."

Gillian Mawdsley of the Law Society of Scotland said it was not clear if an existing gap exists in the current law.

"The difficulty is that there isn't a substantial gap that we can see," she said.

"The circumstances in which it would appear that the notice can operate is a short term situation where there is insufficient evidence for the police to arrest somebody - a perpetrator - and in these circumstances it seems that these notices would be viewed as a means of protection.

"In that very limited circumstance there is perhaps an immediacy or a short-term measure that is not currently covered but how often or where that would exactly occur, I think there's a lack of clarity within the Bill that needs to be resolved.”

But Professor Mandy Burton, Professor of Socio-Legal Studies, University of Leicester said the plans did address an existing shortfall in legislation.

"I think there is a gap in the protection that is offered that is short-term protection that can be provided by the police,” she said.

"At the moment the police have powers under the criminal law, but these orders are civil orders and that's where the gap can be filled."

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