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Entries in domestic abuse (3)


Domestic Abuse bill could help non-resident parents experiencing 'coercive control'

Families Need Fathers Scotland has submitted its observations  to the Scottish Parliament Justice Committee consultation on the Scottish Government's draft Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill which aims to introduce a new domestic abuse criminal offence of 'coercive control'.

From the perspective of the individuals who ask for our help FNF Scotland gives a qualified welcome to the Bill's proposal to create "a new offence of abusive behaviour towards a person’s partner or ex-partner covering both physical violence and non-physical abuse."

We have drawn the Justice Committee's attention to examples of coercive control exerted over a non-resident parent by the parent with most care. These range from the constructed ambush at handover to the persistent and pervasive controlling of the life of the non-resident parent.  We have listed the following examples from within cases raised with us:

  • Refusing to communicate at all
  • Refusing to communicate unless through (an expensive) solicitor
  • Delaying decisions on arrangements such as holiday dates until the last minute
  • Changing contact arrangements at the last minute without reason or explanation
  • Constantly being late for agreed or court ordered contact
  • Taking children away from school on holiday without notice or agreement
  • Refusing to engage with the non-resident parent on key decisions such as school placements
  • Instructing health providers not to engage with the non-resident parent
  • Demanding “cash for contact”
  • Demanding to know every detail of what the child does when with the non-resident parent in way they would refuse to reciprocate
  • Hiding a tracking or listening device in the clothes or toys of a child when the child is having contact with the other parent
  • Criticising the other parent’s parenting skills
  • Criticising and undermining the other parent in front of their children
  • Criticising the other parent’s choices of clothes or food while the child is with them
  • Demanding the right to withhold contact from a new partner
  • Making unfounded allegations about a range of matters both trivial and potentially criminal to friends, neighbours, family members directly and on social media aimed at isolating and undermining the character of the non-resident parent
  • Making unfounded allegations about a range of matters both trivial and potentially criminal to professionals putting the non-resident parent in the position that he is under constant pressure to prove his worth as a parent.

We reluctantly accept that there is at present a role for the criminal law to help tackle the kind of abusive conduct of ex-partners as outlined above.  In these circumstances we urge that there should be flexibility of sentencing options available to the sheriff or judge to include community disposals as alternatives to imprisonment and/or fines. The aim of sentencing should reflect the seriousness with which the court sees the offence but without inflicting further damage on the victim. We already hear from sheriffs in contempt cases that they don’t want the parent offended against to get the blame in the eyes of the children for “sending the other parent to gaol.”

FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, says: "At present non-resident parents experiencing coercive control feel unprotected by the law. If they report it to police they are told 'There's nothing we can do. It's a civil matter'. Or if there is a court order in place the only option is the slow, unpredictable and expensive route of raising a contempt of court action.

Our preference is for a broader overhaul of family law in Scotland that will give equality of recognition in public policy to the role both parents can play in the lives of their children. Scotland needs to move on from the prevailing acceptance of the adversarial approach in which parents ‘win time’ with their children from each other.

Until then, however, we believe the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Bill may be of use to a substantial number of the parents who ask for our help.

For the sake of clarity, we are focussing on the issues that affect non-resident parents because that is where we have first-hand knowledge and insight. That should not be taken as indifference to others whose experience of coercive control is covered by the Bill."

As the Bill proceeds through Parliament we will report on progress.


Sheriff gaols mother for false allegations of domestic abuse


At Jedburgh Sheriff Court on 29 June 2015, Sheriff Kevin Drummond QC sentenced a mother to two months imprisonment and imposed a Community Payback Order on her mother after the two accused made false allegations of domestic abuse to prevent a father getting contact with his child.

In his sentencing statement Sheriff Drummond refers to the public prosecution policy (joint protocol) relating to domestic abuse: "Where there is a deliberate attempt to manipulate the application of that policy by the making of false allegations of criminal conduct; that is behaviour which strikes at the system of justice itself."

The mother in this case lied to the police, asked her mother to lie to the police to support this original lie, and even stated that her solicitor told her to invent a story.

She only admitted to these lies a number of weeks after the child's father had been detained by the police, interviewed, charged, spent some 16 hours in custody and was brought before the court.

Families Need Fathers Scotland knows that this use of false allegations happens frequently in child contact disputes.  Many fathers find their contact is frustrated for months or years because of such allegations.

Ian Maxwell, national manager of FNF Scotland, said today, “We welcome Sheriff Drummond's robust sentencing decision and clear explanation for it.

This may be an extreme example of a fabricated allegation in order to discredit and criminalise a former partner and the father of their child but, unfortunately, this kind of manipulation of the current public concern over domestic abuse is not rare. We hear similar examples at most of our group meetings in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Stirling and Aberdeen.

Sheriff Drummond commended the Crown Office for its investigation of the facts and circumstances in this case that led to the father being detained, handcuffed, held in the cells overnight and appearing in the dock as an accused person. Unfortunately, we know of many cases where no halt was called to the process and a non-resident father has been convicted for what was in effect no more than protesting at the attempts of his former partner to reduce or deny his time with his children.

The Scottish Government has recently concluded a consultation into whether current laws on domestic abuse are sufficient to incorporate what is known as 'coercive control'. FNF Scotland has urged the government explicitly to include the willful denial or disruption of parenting time as a serious offence within the criteria of coercive control.

We will also be seeking further discussion with the Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service about the joint protocol in relation to malicious allegations of domestic abuse." 

When domestic abuse is committed by fathers or mothers it should be treated extremely seriously, but false allegations of such abuse are just as serious and deserve equally severe treatment.


Comments from a criminal defence lawyer

"The problem is that zero-tolerance policies are not compatible with the exercise of reasonable discretion, which in turn is why every household barney must now be categorised as domestic abuse and why police station cells are too full to house real criminals."

Not our words, although they fit with the experience of many of the fathers who speak to us.  Criminal defence lawyer Willie McIntyre commented in his blog about the Scottish Government's zero-tolerance policy, featured in the daily Scottish Legal News.

He describes the situation as follows:

"I'm a defence lawyer. Commercially, I'd be mad not to encourage more prosecutions, and, yet, where is the public interest in locking up a husband and wife on Christmas Eve, separating them from their child, just so that three days later the Sheriff can admonish him for shouting at her and grant the wife an absolute discharge for giving her husband a push? That was Christmas ruined for one small boy and for a pair of tax-paying, first offenders, their eyes opened to the pettiness of the Scottish criminal justice system. It's also one example from around eighteen similar cases at Falkirk Sheriff Court on 27th December, no doubt repeated across Scotland."

His solution: "What we need are trained, sensible people who can view a situation, assess what's happened and distinguish those who need to be locked up from those who should kiss and make up. We have those people already. Let them do their jobs."