The Scottish Parliament’s Justice Committee has today supported the general principles of a Scottish Government Bill that aims to improve how the justice system responds to abusive behaviour.
The Abusive Behaviour and Sexual Harm Bill aims to prevent abuse, harassment or sexual harm in a number of ways, via both the criminal and the civil law. It also extends the circumstances where courts may grant non-harassment orders against individuals, and updates the law on the prevention of sexual harm by people considered to be at risk of offending.
In its Stage 1 Report, the Justice Committee has endorsed the case for the creation of a new specific offence for the non-consensual sharing of private, intimate images – often referred to as “revenge porn.”
And a majority of the Committee support the introduction of statutory jury directions in sexual offence cases – that is, the proposed obligation on a judge to tell a jury that there can be good reasons why a victim might not report or resist an offence at the time the alleged offence was committed.
Committee Convener Christine Grahame MSP said:
“Everyone agrees that we need strong, tough laws to deal with abuse and sexual harm. New laws should also be flexible enough to respond to new developments and changed circumstances.
“The Committee is unanimously agreed on the need to take effective steps to tackle abusive behaviour. We are therefore content to accept the broad principles of the Government’s proposed legislation.
“Because the Bill has different aspects, it is perhaps not surprising that the Committee has not reached a unanimous view on all of its provisions. For example not everyone agreed that a case has been made for statutory jury directions, and expert evidence was split. But a clear majority of the Committee thought that bringing in these proposals would serve the interests of justice.
“The Committee as a whole was sceptical about extending non-harassment orders to people found not fit to plead at a criminal trial.
“The Committee also agreed that there was a strong case for a new offence of non-consensually sharing intimate images, although we have asked the Government to look again at some of the details of the offence.
“We hope that the Scottish Government considers our report carefully and bring forward recommendations at Stage 2 which address our concerns and reflect our recommendations.”