Ahead of Consideration Stage of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill being debated in the Assembly, writing in the Belfast Telegraph, Chair of the Justice Committee Paul Givan outlined how the Bill and the Committee's input to it will help address the very real pain felt by victions of domestic violence and abuse.
‘There is no one who would argue that this legislation is not an urgent priority. It is clear that the current law in Northern Ireland does not adequately recognise that domestic abuse is not limited to physical violence and psychological abuse is just as harmful, if not more so. Too many women, men and children have had their lives impacted by domestic violence. The evidence received of the destructive effects on victims of psychological abuse was powerful and persuasive.
The Committee amendments to the Bill will ensure effective implementation of the legislation to achieve better protection and criminal justice outcomes for victims of domestic abuse. They provide for regular, mandatory training for all Police, Public Prosecution and Courts staff who are involved in taking these cases forward and robust data collection and reporting on the implementation of the new offence including independent oversight until the new offence is well bedded in.
We want to place a duty on the Department to improve the short term protection available to victims within 24 months of this legislation taking effect. This amendment will address gaps caused by the current absence of domestic abuse protection notices and orders in Northern Ireland. We are also enabling schools to be in a better position to understand and be supportive of a child’s needs and possible behaviours by providing for them to be notified where a domestic abuse incident has occurred the night before in which police have been called out. This approach has been adopted very successfully in England and Wales and helps to safeguard children against the short, medium and long-term effects of domestic abuse.
This Bill, and the Committee’s input, will help address the very real pain felt by victims of domestic violence and abuse. Having a Northern Ireland specific bill, rather than being part of the Westminster Domestic Abuse Bill, has allowed organisations and victims to help shape the legislation and enabled detailed scrutiny of it to take place. I pay tribute to the organisations and individuals that gave evidence to the Committee. The Bill is now on track to complete its passage through the Assembly ahead of the Westminster Bill. Not only does this highlight the strength of our local processes, it will ensure that the necessary protection for victims of domestic abuse is available quicker - something that we all want to see.’