LAWYERS have warned that a proposed new law to protect victims of psychological abuse is open to "malicious complaints" because it lacks clarity.

The Scottish Government want to introduce a new criminal offence of domestic abuse which would cover both physical and psychological harm, but legal professionals fear that the proposed legislation is too "airy fairy" and will cause confusion in the courts.

Grazia Robertson, from the Law Society of Scotland’s criminal law committee, said: “We don’t dispute that psychological abuse or coercive control can amount to criminal behaviour in the same way as any physically abusive behaviour.

"However we believe there needs to be more clarity on what any gap in existing law might be and need to examine if existing law is working effectively. It will also be essential that any offence extending beyond physical abuse or behaviour currently forbidden by the law, is clearly defined."

The Law Society Scotland was commenting following a consultation on proposed wording for the proposed new domestic abuse offence. The consultation closed on April 1. 

Ms Robertson added that there was a danger that the courts could be dragged into family disputes.

She said: "Flexibility is all well and good, but people really need to know 'how may I fall foul of the law?'

"What if there was a situation where the individual didn't think there was anything wrong but the sister didn't like the boyfriend and thought he was far too controlling and manipulative - then it all becomes very subjective.

"It has to be clear and accurately drawn - it can't be airy fairy or else it's not a good piece of legislation.

"If it's left to people' interpretation, then you are potentially opening up potentially a can of worms of malicious complaints.

"We're talking about personal relationships, family relationships - there can be all sorts of stuff going on as to what people think and how they view things and criminal courts aren't necessarily the best place to deal with these nuances, because if you're dealing with a crime you have to be quite specific about what it is you're aiming to prosecute and how you're going to do it."

Women's rights activists have previously spoken of the need to tackle perpetrators of emotional and psychological abuse, who "control and isolate" partners.

Anne Marie Hicks, the National Prosecutor for Domestic Abuse at the Crown Office, told the Evening Times in 2014: "Somebody might be restricted from having a passport, a bank account, restricted from friends and family, subjected to degrading insults or threatening behaviour, and if that goes on the courts are not getting to hear about that or recognising it."

Currently there is no statutory criminal offence of "domestic abuse", although figures from the Crown Office show that a total of 36,552 charges relating to domestic abuse were reported to them by Police Scotland in 2013/14 as potential prosecutions.

These included 12,680 charges of common assault, 554 charges of serious assault and attempted murder, 430 charges of rape and attempted rape, and 164 charges of sexual assault.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said it was important that the courts were empowered to prosecute "more subtle, but equally damaging, forms of abuse", adding that the new law would make Scotland a "world leader" in the fight against domestic abuse.