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Equally Safe - Reforming the criminal law to address domestic abuse and sexual offences

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Equally Safe: Reforming the criminal law to address domestic abuse and sexual offences

Introduction

On 25 June 2014, the Scottish Government published Equally Safe: Scotland's Strategy for Preventing and Eradicating Violence Against Women and Girls. The strategy was co-produced with COSLA and sets out our ambition to create a strong and flourishing Scotland where all individuals are equally safe and respected and where women and girls live free from abuse and the attitudes that help to perpetuate it.

Equally Safe identified four key priorities to achieve this aim:

1. Scottish society embraces equality and mutual respect, and rejects all forms of violence against women and girls;

2. Women and girls thrive as equal citizens: socially, culturally, economically and politically;

3. Interventions are early and effective, preventing violence and maximising the safety and wellbeing of women and girls;

4. Men desist from all forms of violence against women and girls and perpetrators of such violence receive a robust and effective response

Equally Safe notes that the justice system has a key part to play in addressing priorities three and four above, by keeping women and girls safe from violence and abuse and supporting their recovery when such violence and abuse takes place. The justice system is also central to how we respond to perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence.

A commitment was given to a 'whole systems' review of the approach taken to these issues within the justice system. This review includes consideration of the criminal law relating to sexual offences and domestic abuse; the support available for victims; the time taken to complete cases through the justice system and the impact of justice interventions in changing perpetrator behaviour and wider public attitudes.

This consultation is concerned specifically with issues relating to the aspects of the current criminal law and criminal procedure, which apply both to female and male victims and perpetrators of sexual offences and domestic abuse. However, it is clear that the specific policies contained within this consultation relate to issues of criminal law and procedure concerning sexual offences and domestic abuse, and we know that women and, to a lesser extent children, are much more likely to be victims of these crimes.

Our consideration of the criminal law and criminal procedure in discussion with stakeholders has raised five specific issues which we are seeking views on at this time:

  • The question of whether the current criminal law reflects the true experience of victims of long-term domestic abuse, including coercive control, and whether a specific domestic abuse offence would improve the ability of people to access justice through effective prosecution of domestic abuse;
  • The need for a specific new criminal offence to address the sharing of private intimate images without permission from the subject of the images (often referred to as 'revenge porn');
  • The need for jury directions in sexual offence cases to provide guidance on how juries should consider:
    • The fact that a significant period of time elapsed between the time the offence occurred and the reporting of the offence to the police
    • the absence of the use of physical force by the alleged attacker or the absence of use of physical resistance on the part of the alleged victim;
  • Changes to the disposals available to a court where a person is found unfit to stand trial due to a mental or physical condition but an examination of facts finds that they did commit acts constituting an offence; and
  • Extension to the extra-territorial effect of the law concerning sexual offences against children to include offences committed elsewhere in the United Kingdom.