Justice Minister to bring domestic abuse legislation through Assembly

Date published: 28 January 2020

Justice Minister Naomi Long will bring legislation forward, through the Northern Ireland Assembly, making abusive behaviour in domestic and close family relationships a criminal offence.

The legislation will make it an offence for a person to engage in a course of abusive behaviour (on two or more occasions) against someone who they are personally connected to.   

Naomi Long said: “I want to send a clear message that domestic abuse in all its forms, including both physical and non-physical controlling and abusive behaviour, is wrong.  No longer will those who abuse a partner, former partner or close family member be able to evade justice.

“Too many people, both men and women, suffer from abusive behaviour on a daily basis.  The new offence will recognise that domestic abuse is not only physical but can be much more insidious. 

“For many, for too long this has been a hidden problem.  We can, and will, bring it out into the open and shed light on what can often be a dark secret.”

The new offence will close a gap in the law around patterns of abusive behaviour, allowing the criminal justice system to better protect victims who are subject to this.  The offence will allow earlier identification of abusive behaviour, intervention and prevention as well as access to information and advice.

The offence will cover behaviour that is abusive because it is controlling or coercive or amounts to psychological, emotional or financial abuse of the other person. Abusive behaviour will also include behaviour that is physically violent, threatening or intimidating.

The Minister added: “I want to legislate for the new offence in a way that provides the best outcome for victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.

“I want to pay tribute to our statutory and voluntary sector partners who have, and continue, to work with my Department to ensure that the domestic abuse offence provisions locally will be as robust as possible and meet the specific needs of Northern Ireland.”

The courts will be provided with new powers to increase the sentence imposed, up to the maximum that would otherwise be available, where the domestic abuse offence involves a child as a victim under 18, they see, hear or are present for the abuse or where they are used in order to abuse another person.  This will also apply where another offence is committed and the commission of that offence would cause the other person harm. 

For the most serious offences the penalty will be significant, up to a maximum of 14 years.

Notes to editors: 

1. Other provisions of the draft bill, which is subject to the agreement of the Executive, are:

  • Harm would not have to be caused, rather an offence will be committed where a reasonable person would consider the behaviour likely to cause harm.
  • A defence may be that the behaviour in the particular circumstances of the case is deemed to be reasonable (for example, to ensure the safety of an individual).
  • An aggravation will apply to the domestic abuse offence where the victim is under 18 or a child is involved – where they see, hear or are present or they are used to abuse the connected person – enabling the sentencing to be increased up to the maximum available.  An aggravation will also apply where another offence is committed and the commission of that offence would cause the other person harm.
  • Abuse against a child by a person who has parental responsibility for that child is excluded from the scope of the offence, but an offence may be committed where a person makes use of a third party (including their child) to abuse another person.
  • The offence will otherwise apply to both adults and those under 18.
  • The provisions will apply where the behaviour is intentional, or reckless, as to its effect.
  • Extra-territorial jurisdiction will apply, meaning that abusive behaviour committed abroad may be brought within the remit of the domestic abuse offence locally to further protect victims.
  • The legislation will also provide for a range of measures associated with the offence in Northern Ireland, to reduce the potential for an individual to be further victimised during criminal proceedings.

2. The Department of Justice publicly consulted on a proposed model for the introduction of a domestic abuse offence in Northern Ireland from 5 February 2016 to 29 April 2016.  The consultation document and summary of responses document is available at www.justice-ni.gov.uk/consultations/domestic-abuse-offence-and-domestic-violence-disclosure-scheme.

3. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office, 028 9052 6444.  Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer on number 028 9037 8110.

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