Domestic Abuse Bill Northern Ireland

Published 20 January 2021 – Family Law

The landmark Bill, which was first introduced to the Assembly on 31 March 2020 to strengthen Northern Ireland’s domestic abuse legislation, was made legislation on 18 January 2021. Royal Assent is still required and Justice Minister, Naomi Long, is hopeful that this can be obtained by March.

This long-awaited legislation means domestic abuse offences in Northern Ireland will no longer be limited to physically violent or threatening behaviour. Coercive control has become an offence in Northern Ireland for the first time, with convictions for the most serious offences carrying a penalty of up to 14 years in prison. It is now crucial for the Police and justice system to ensure this new legislation is fully implemented for the protection of the victims.

The Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill NI captures patterns of psychological, emotional, or financially abusive behaviour which is controlling and coercive in nature against a partner, former partner or close family member. It makes clear that coercive control is equally devastating and intolerable in its impact on the victim and children who witness same.

Coercive control can now be plead and relied upon in your statement in support of your application for Protection Orders. These applications can be made on an emergency basis without the perpetrator having notice of it if required. The legislation also prevents perpetrators of domestic abuse directly cross-examining their victims in criminal and family proceedings and ensure that special measures are available to them. These provisions will give greater protection to victims in court proceedings across the criminal and civil jurisdictions.

While the legislation is momentous and there is no doubt that authorities will be in a better position to tackle the heinous crime, the victim should also seek support to facilitate their exit from a relationship and maintain their safety. The figures from the PSNI show that domestic abuse is ripe and prevalent. This is entirely unacceptable, however with the introduction of the new legislation, this will not be tolerated by our community or the Law.

The Family Law team at MKB Law provide advice on applications for Protection Orders in cases of domestic abuse of whatever nature, i.e. physical, emotional and psychological which includes coercive control. We can support you in filing your statement of evidence and explaining the processes of the Court. Applications are currently conducted on the papers submitted. If further legal submissions are required, those are conducted via ‘Sightlink’ because of Covid-19 restrictions.

There are support groups throughout Northern Ireland for all victims both men and women. No one should suffer in silence. For further advice or support on domestic abuse or any other family related matter, please contact the Family Law team MKB Law.

This article is for general guidance only and should not be regarded as a substitute for professional legal advice.

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