A new law making psychological or emotional maltreatment a form of domestic abuse is likely to lead to a rise in cases going to court, Scotland’s top law officer has said.
The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act comes into force on April 1 and makes such abuse of a partner or ex-partner a criminal offence.
It covers behaviour such as controlling a partner’s finances or restricting their movements or activities
Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC said the new specific offence of domestic abuse, previously dealt with under various pieces of existing legislation, will address a gap in the law.
“Given that the Act enables us to investigate and prosecute cases that currently are not criminal, I think it is likely that we will see more cases coming forward and more cases going to court,” he said.
“It will enable the police to take action to protect the victims of forms of abuse that at the moment are not criminal.
“It will enable the police to investigate fully the circumstances of cases of domestic abuse and it will enable prosecutors to prosecute cases that we know cause real, lasting psychological harm both to the victims and also to children.”
He said psychological abuse “can be every bit as damaging as physical harm”, and added: “I think police officers and prosecutors are well aware of the effect that coercive, controlling behaviour can have on victims.
“They are pleased they will be able to investigate the full nature of the offending behaviour and do something about it, do something to keep victims safe.”
He spoke on a visit to Police Scotland’s Domestic Abuse Taskforce in Glasgow where he was given an insight into training for officers on the legislation.
Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said the new law will be “hugely beneficial” and encouraged anyone affected by abuse to report it to police.
She said: “The new legislation is going to allow police to deal with aspects of abuse that we haven’t been able to deal with through the criminal justice process previously.
“Behaviour that people have often suffered for many years that really the criminal justice system just hasn’t been equipped to properly deal with and recognise.”
She said some victims tell officers physical assaults have less impact on them than the psychological abuse they have suffered.