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Steps to tackle domestic violence are welcome

It is not only about the bruises covered by long sleeves and the vicious blows delivered to parts of the body hidden from public view.

Domestic abuse can take the form of relentless control over the victim's life, regulating and restricting every aspect of it so that, in the end, they scarcely have an identity of their own.

It is therefore welcome news that a new offence of domestic abuse that broadens the definition to include a pattern of coercive behaviour as well as assaults has been proposed by solicitor-general Lesley Thomson QC and is now under careful consideration by ministers. It has the potential to improve justice for victims. Too often at present, because of the courts' focus on specific incidents of physical abuse, women and men are seeing their partners convicted of minor assaults when the impact of years of psychologically, emotionally, sexually and financially controlling behaviour goes unrecognised.

At the same time, a new disclosure scheme, dubbed Clare's Law, which would allow men and women to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence, is also to be piloted in Scotland and it cannot begin soon enough. It has the potential to save lives. Because it has been implemented already in England and Wales, the multi-agency teams taking it forward in Scotland have a wealth of experience to draw upon.

In spite of that, it is important to get it right in a Scottish context and that is why the pilot is crucial. While those who have served sentences for crimes have a right in general not to spend the rest of their lives stigmatised by those offences and should in most cases be free to choose whether to disclose to friends as they see fit, the welfare of potential victims must be given far greater weight. Many perpetrators of domestic violence do, sadly, reoffend, but their new partners are often completely unaware of their violent pasts. That was the case with Clare Wood, 36, from Manchester, who gave her name to the disclosure scheme. Ms Wood's body was discovered at her home in February 2009 - she had been strangled and set on fire by her ex-boyfriend, George Appleton. Ms Wood had no idea that he had been jailed twice previously for offences against other women.

In England and Wales, the scheme gives the police the power to disclose if a person of concern has a record for abusive offences, but also gives officers leeway to disclose other information that could indicate they could pose a risk to their partner. If police are to have this power in Scotland, it must be approached with the greatest care. Were the police to open themselves up to defamation claims, it would undermine the whole system. At the same time, however, officers must have the discretion to warn a man or woman if they have serious grounds to fear that person might be at risk. It will be important to ensure there is legal oversight of such decisions.

These two measures have the capacity to give existing and potential victims of domestic violence in Scotland greater protection and access to justice. Along with Scotland's domestic abuse courts, they send the message that this crime, whatever form it takes, will not be tolerated.

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