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Revised joint protocol on domestic abuse

The Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS) and Police Scotland have today (Friday 10 May) published the revised 5th edition of their Joint Protocol on Domestic Abuse.

The Joint Protocol has been revised in light of new legislative changes and improvements in practice by police and prosecutors. The Protocol now includes:

  • Enhanced provisions on the reporting of cases by the police to the Procurator Fiscal, particularly in relation to children impacted by domestic abuse, to reflect the new provisions in the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018;
  • Information on the new provisions in the 2018 Act on Non-Harassment Orders (NHOs) to enhance the safety of victims and children experiencing domestic abuse; .
  • New guidance on police powers of ‘Investigative Liberation’, enabling the police, when further investigation is required before reporting to the Procurator Fiscal, to liberate a suspect from custody and impose such liberation conditions as are necessary and proportionate for the purpose of ensuring the proper conduct of the investigation.  This guidance covers the need for a full risk assessment and outlines the new offence of failing to adhere to investigative liberation conditions;
  • Sections on safeguarding children during the investigation and child witnesses which detail the police and prosecutors’ approach to children at different stages of the criminal justice process;

The Lord Advocate, James Wolffe QC said:

“COPFS takes a rigorous approach to crimes of domestic abuse and we are committed to prosecuting these crimes effectively and fairly, using all of the tools at our disposal.

“Significant legislative developments have driven these most recent changes to the Protocol.  

“The Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 creates a new offence of engaging in a course of abusive behaviour towards a partner or ex-partner. The Act will enable charges to reflect the full ambit of such behaviour, including physical, sexual, verbal, psychological and financial abuse. It also recognises the harmful impact of domestic abuse on children, providing a mechanism for this to be recorded and reflected by the court in sentencing following a conviction and it introduces important safety measures for the protection of adult victims and children. 

“The Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 introduced new powers to the police allowing, among other things, conditions to be attached to a suspect’s liberation when cases are being investigated. This will be particularly useful in domestic abuse cases, given the particular risks which can arise for the victims of such abuse.  

“The Protocol highlights the continuing commitment of police and prosecutors to a consistent, effective and rigorous approach to crimes of domestic abuse and to supporting victims and children through the criminal justice process.  

“COPFS will continue to work closely with Police Scotland, and other partners, including Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and ASSIST, to tackle and prevent domestic abuse and the Service strongly encourages anyone who has been a victim of any such offending to report this to the police and to seek support.” 

Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald, Crime and Protection, Police Scotland, said:

“Police Scotland is committed to reducing the harm caused by domestic abuse and working with partners to eradicate it. Effective collaboration is key and the Joint Protocol between Police Scotland and COPFS clearly sets out the procedures and practices we will follow when dealing with domestic abuse maximising use of new legislative provisions.

"The Joint Protocol, which was agreed following consultation with a number of victim support and advocacy services, is another way in which we demonstrate our commitment to victims of abuse by tackling it together using all possible means."

Mhairi McGowan, Head of ASSIST and Domestic Abuse Services for Community Safety Glasgow, said: 

“ASSIST welcomes the new Joint Protocol and believes it provides a framework that will enable those who experience domestic abuse to report to the police with confidence that their circumstances will be dealt with sensitively and that their risk and safety will be at the centre of any intervention.

"With Scotland’s new law criminalising psychological and emotional abuse, it is crucial that all victims are aware that both Police and Prosecutors will spend the required time to ensure their safety and well-being.”

Dr. Marsha Scott, Chief Executive of Scottish Women's Aid, said: 

“Scottish Women’s Aid is happy to see this new Joint Protocol. Collaborative working like this is critical as we all strive to realise the potential of our new “gold standard” legislation.

“Making the law work requires that child and adult victims/survivors are confident that they will be taken seriously, responded to in a timely fashion, and reassured that their courage in disclosing coercive control and other aspects of domestic abuse is reflected at all levels. 

“This protocol paves the way, and we look forward to working with both COPFS and Police Scotland on further efforts to support implementation of the new law.”  


A copy of the new Joint Protocol on Domestic Abuse can be found in the Publications section of the COPFS website