Domestic abuse survivor urges courts to ‘step up’ on domestic abuse

A domestic abuse survivor has said courts need to “step up” in tackling the problem as she called for judges to be retrained.

Elaine Maclennan said when her case went to court she was left frustrated and that myths around domestic abuse need to eradicated.

Speaking at a fringe event organised by Scottish Women’s Aid at the SNP spring conference in Edinburgh, Ms Maclennan praised Scotland’s new domestic abuse law but stressed without a change in attitudes, abuse would continue to occur.

The Domestic Abuse Act came into force last month, creating a specific offence of domestic abuse and incorporating patterns of coercive control such as financial restrictions and psychological maltreatment for the first time.

“This law is amazing, it’s going to change people’s lives but the courts need to step up big time for the outcome,” she said.

“We can’t have the courts letting us down time and time again.”

She said she left court “very disheartened with the whole process”.

Ms Maclennan said: “More than anybody that needs retraining, it’s the judges.

“They need to now enforce tougher sentences.”

Ms Maclennan added: “I had a voice and I wanted to tell my story and nobody was interested in the whole background of it, it was just they picked certain incidents and that was tough, especially in court because you’re trying to get the judge and the jury, everybody, to listen to what happened to you.

“Most importantly people’s attitudes have to change.

“We can have all the legislation in place but the attitudes have to change and we need to eradicate myths.

“Without eradicating these myths surrounding domestic violence it’s just never going to change and the abuse will just be allowed to continue.”

She said the system had changed dramatically since she first became involved around 20 years ago.

Previously, asking for help she was “hitting a brick wall” as “people don’t want to know, they can’t be bothered” and she said she struggled to secure a court order to keep her safe but the introduction of agencies working together had “changed the whole system for the better”.

Linda Rodgers, of Edinburgh Women’s Aid, said: “It’s absolutely right you have an independent judiciary but at the same time we need to have maybe stricter guidelines and better understanding and changes in attitudes.”

Equalities Minister Christina McKelvie said training has taken place for the new law coming into force and there are “high hopes and great expectations” for it.

She said: “We’ve been doing a lot of work with the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service.

“1,400 police officers have now been trained and the training delivered by our partner organisations, in coercive control and behaviour so that they know what to look for.

“All of our sheriffs, all of justice – the Crown Office and the Procurator Fiscal. That’s a huge undertaking.”

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