A sheriff yesterday warned Scotland’s courts could be “awash with schoolchildren” as he threw out a psychological domestic abuse charge against a 15-year-old boy.
The boy – who was the youngest person to be prosecuted under new legislation aimed at targeting psychological bullying in relationships – was cleared at Perth Sheriff Court.
Sheriff Keith O’Mahoney said: “I have to have regard to the fact this involves a 15-year-old accused and a 14-year-old complainer. There were elements of the behaviour I would not be prepared to criminalise.
“I have to be cognisant of their ages and that they will have emotional reactions to certain events that perhaps a fully developed adult wouldn’t.
“You have to apply common sense. It appears they had an argument with one and other and there was a minor physical interaction.
“I am not prepared to criminalise a 15-year-old boy in respect of that, otherwise the courts would be awash with children involved in playground disputes with minimal physical altercations.”
He said the decision was taken by the Crown to prosecute under the 2018 Domestic Abuse Act when several other options were open to it.
Solicitor Paul Ralph, defending, described the Crown’s prosecution as using “Howitzer legislation” to “crack a very small nut” by intervening in a teenage tiff.
It emerged during the trial – held in a specially convened room to avoid putting a child in a proper courtroom – that the “victim” had not made any complaint about her boyfriend’s behaviour. She said she would still be in a relationship with him if his bail conditions did not prevent them being with each other.
The boy was lifted by police outside school after pushing past the girl and was held in custody overnight. The incident had been reported by a teacher.
Sheriff O’Mahoney cleared the boy of the psychological domestic abuse charge but found him guilty of smashing a window and kicking a door on 17 October last year.
The boy also admitted having cannabis and the case was passed to social workers and the Childrens Panel for them to report back to the sheriff.
The boy was allowed to have his father by his side throughout the trial.
Sheriff O’Mahoney removed his formal wig and gown and explained to witnesses the reason for the trial taking place in a unique setting.
The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is the youngest person to face prosecution so far under new laws to tackle coercive and controlling domestic abuse.
He was alleged to have engaged in a course of behaviour which was abusive towards the S3 pupil at a Perth secondary school between 17 and 22 October last year.
It was alleged his aim was to “control, regulate and monitor her day-to-day activities and to frighten, humiliate, degrade and punish her.”
The boy, who spoke only to confirm his name, denied the behaviour.
A depute head teacher told the trial on Tuesday afternoon that he had called in the police after seeing the couple clash outside school at the end of the day on 22 October.
The 59-year-old teacher said: “There were a number of people gathered and it looked like two people were having an altercation.
“I saw him arguing with her and her arguing back and I saw him take his two hands and push her on the shoulders and she staggered back.”
The girl told the trial that they had initially argued in a house on 17 October as they watched a Disney film and the boy had injured his hand punching a glass panel on the way out.
She said the confrontation at school had taken place after she sent him a SnapChat confessing that she had “gone to the shows” with one of his best friends.