Northern Ireland

Domestic abuse law: 'No excuse' for Northern Ireland delays

Woman stretches out arms to protect herself Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption NI domestic abuse incidents hit a record high of almost 30,000 last year

There is "no excuse" for long delays in implementing measures to help victims of domestic violence and abuse in Northern Ireland, a report has found.

Police figures show one incident being reported every 17 minutes.

The chief inspector of criminal justice said there were "frustrations" that new legislation is on hold without a functioning assembly.

Brendan McGuigan added that other "key initiatives", suggested nine years ago, have not been acted upon.

Kelly Andrews, of Belfast and Lisburn Women's Aid, said families were "living in terror" while Northern Ireland's domestic abuse legislation lagged behind the rest of the UK and Ireland.

Mr McGuigan's report noted there had been a focus on the issue in early 2017, before Stormont collapsed, with legislation discussed to create a new offence of domestic abuse.

"Without a functioning assembly, or in its absence a response from Parliament, this important new legislation cannot be introduced and the frustrations of many victims remain unaddressed," Mr McGuigan said.

Image copyright Getty Images

The report praised the "excellent work" of voluntary and community groups, such as Women's Aid, in helping victims in the face of funding pressures.

But it should not be seen as an alternative "to a formalised support scheme".

Nine years ago, the inspector recommended a properly-funded service be established "as a matter of urgency" and also endorsed grouping domestic offences together in court on specific days.

"Neither of these key initiatives have yet been implemented. In my view there is no excuse," said Mr McGuigan.

Specialist training

According to police figures, domestic abuse incidents hit a record high of almost 30,000 last year.

But the report said three in five offences were not prosecuted due to "evidential difficulties" and more needed to be done by the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland).

"With more victims coming forward, we recommend improvements be made to enhance the response provided by frontline officers and ensure consistency in their approach."

The PSNI said it welcomed the report.

"We fully understand how difficult it can be for anyone to come forward," said Det Ch Supt Paula Hilman.

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

'Matter of urgency'

Kelly Andrews added that victims in Northern Ireland deserved the same protection as that offered across the rest of the UK and Ireland, but said it would take a minimum of two years for legislation to be implemented once passed.

She said particular attention should be paid to legislation around coercive control and stalking.

She added: "Families in Northern Ireland are living in terror, children are living in terror.

"Northern Ireland is lagging behind the rest of the UK and there is a gap in the legislation - it does not cover the full breadth of domestic abuse, which is not just physical.

"We have been lobbying for the secretary of state or Home Office to bring this legislation forward as a matter or urgency."

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