Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “I remain committed to delivering legal protections to those facing domestic abuse but today I was forced to defer the further consideration stage of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill because of potentially significant financial implications that became apparent during discussions between my officials and the Department of Finance, as a result of amendments brought forward by the Justice Committee.
“The proposals made by the Justice Committee were much wider ranging than victims getting access to legal aid and would have brought many others within scope for legal aid including those who perpetrated the violence.
“Those amendments, relating to legal aid provision, need to be examined in much greater detail to establish whether there is any risk of incurring very significant financial consequences for the NI Block. The risk emanates from Treasury budget guidance which states that the entire cost of doing something that has repercussions for other parts of the UK falls onto the originator – which in this case would be onto the Northern Ireland Block.
“A further amendment to be moved by the Committee today would have prevented the domestic abuse offences being created unless the legal aid provisions were commenced at the same time, irrespective of the outcome of that assessment. At best this could significantly delay the creation of the offences while due diligence is continued: at worst, it could prevent the offences ever being commenced, if the Committee legal aid amendments as drafted are repercussive. In light of these significant concerns I jointly wrote with the Finance Minister to the Committee to request that the amendment not be moved so the Further Consideration stage could proceed: unfortunately, as that option was declined, I had no alternative but to delay the next stage of the Bill.
“It is imperative that we take time now to ensure whatever legislation is passed does not have unintended consequences.”
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