‘Critical’ need for new domestic violence laws in Northern Ireland

The need for new domestic violence laws is “critical” following the suspension of the Stormont Assembly, an inspector has said.

Police recorded the highest number of domestic abuse incidents to date in 2017/18 – equivalent to one every 17 minutes.

Chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland Brendan McGuigan said there was no excuse for delays in improving the system.

He added: “The need for greater legislative protections to address the issue of coercive control has already been accepted, and work has begun, but the introduction of new laws will be delayed until a devolved government is restored or legislation is introduced in Parliament.

“The systemic failure to deliver faster, fairer justice in Northern Ireland only adds to the levels of attrition normally associated with these crimes and the frustration that victims may feel.

“The need for a response from a functioning legislature is critical.”

In 2017/18 a total of 29,913 incidents were reported in Northern Ireland.

Stormont has been in deep freeze for more than two years.

Mr McGuigan said: “Harnessing the commitment and good intent of the criminal justice agencies despite the legislative deficit and raising their response to domestic violence and abuse to the next level is both desired and achievable.”

Progress has been made through the prioritisation of serious cases and protections provided through the Multi Agency Risk Assessment Committees (MARACs), which showed the positive impact that can be achieved when agencies work together, the review said.

Chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland Brendan McGuigan
Chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland Brendan McGuigan

Mr McGuigan added: “But the unstable funding environment which currently exists leaves their contribution at risk and as a result, a properly funded Independent Domestic Violence Adviser Service (IDVA) which works so effectively in other jurisdictions, has still not been established in Northern Ireland nine years after it was first recommended.”

He said abuse can take many forms, enabled and exacerbated by the use of technology and social media.

“It is therefore incumbent on the criminal justice system to ensure that everything possible can be done to support those victims who seek, or those crimes which demand, a criminal justice sanction.”

Head of PSNI’s Public Protection Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman, said the service was committed to putting victims’ needs at the heart of what it did and anything that can be done to improve their experience within the criminal justice system was a positive development.

“We also welcome recognition within the inspection report of the further steps PSNI has already taken to support and help victims.

“We fully understand how difficult it can be for anyone to come forward to police, especially those who are a victim of domestic violence or abuse.

“We have delivered training to frontline officers as well as specialist officers dealing with victims and this will be kept under review.”