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Women’s Aid slams judges for not jailing abuser

A women’s charity has criticised a decision to uphold a sentence that meant a domestic abuser avoided jail.

Scottish Women’s Aid said if such assaults had been committed against anyone outside the home, the punishment would have been very different.

The organisation said the case illustrates the “chasm between rhetoric and practice” in Scottish courts in domestic abuse cases.

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The case centres on a man who this year pled guilty at Aberdeen Sheriff Court to three charges involving assaults on his wife and two daughters over a 17-year period.

The former fisherman admitted punching and kicking his wife, hitting her head against a floor and brandishing a knife at her, as well as attacking his daughters when they tried to intervene.

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The man and his wife split up in 2015 and a victim statement revealed 
she has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the abuse.

The sheriff imposed a Restriction of Liberty Order, confining him to his home between 8pm and 8am for 11 months, and he was handed a probation order involving two years supervision and 220 hours of community work.

The Crown appealed against the sentence, which it regarded as “unduly lenient”, but this was refused by a panel of judges led by Lord Justice General Lord Carloway.

Scottish Women’s Aid chief executive Marsha Scott said: “Despite the mantra of ‘domestic abuse – there’s no excuse’, sentences like this implicitly invoke every possible excuse.

“Had this case involved similar repeated assaults over seven years on a neighbour’s children, co-workers, public servants or anyone else, the sentencing outcome would likely have been very different.

“We are extremely frustrated that the courts continue to treat violence that happens within the family less seriously than violence that occurs in every other context.”

Lord Carloway said in a judgment published on Tuesday that the sheriff had followed the Scottish Sentencing Council’s guideline which states “sentences should be no more severe than is necessary to achieve the appropriate purposes of sentencing in each case”.

He said it was clear the sheriff had taken all relevant factors into account, including the seriousness of the offences, the impact on the victims and the circumstances of the accused.

The judge said: “The sheriff’s balancing of the relevant factors, which was firmly based on a proper consideration of the sentencing guideline, may be seen as producing a lenient sentence.

“That sentence is, however, well-reasoned. It cannot be regarded as ‘unduly lenient’ in terms of section 108(2)(b)(i) of the 1995 Act. The appeal is therefore refused.”

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Ms Scott said: “Custodial sentences provide windows of safety for victims and they send a message about how seriously the state takes certain crimes.

“Sadly, the message given in this case is clear: multiple incidents of vicious assault and abuse of small children and their mother – not a big deal.

“Handing down such a sentence may have been technically correct, but we cannot agree that it is fair or just.”

 

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