New Domestic Abuse Bill On Way

New domestic abuse offence to be introduced in Northern Ireland.

A new domestic abuse offence for Northern Ireland is included in the Home Office Domestic Abuse Bill, which was introduced in the House of Commons today.

This will ensure that further protection is provided for victims and survivors of domestic abuse, reflecting the policy intent that was previously agreed by the Northern Ireland Executive and devolved Ministers and which the Department of Justice subsequently prepared. 

It’s black and white… a domestic abuse bill is on its way.

Peter May, Permanent Secretary, Department of Justice said: “Any form of domestic violence is completely unacceptable.

“The new domestic abuse offence will criminalise patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour. This will make it an offence for someone to engage in a course of abusive behaviour (on at least two occasions) against a partner, ex-partner or close family member.  The Department has worked closely with the voluntary, community and statutory sectors to prepare an offence that meets the specific needs of people in Northern Ireland.” 

In the absence of an Assembly, a Northern Ireland Bill cannot be brought forward locally.  While the preference would always be to legislate locally, the new offence is being brought forward through Westminster to ensure the continued protection of victims and survivors of domestic abuse locally, and to secure compliance with the Istanbul Convention (through also providing extra-territorial jurisdiction for this and other offences). 

Progress on the way forward will be kept under review in the context of the local talks and any return of the Assembly.

Key Northern Ireland elements of the Bill are set out below.

  • It will cover behaviour that is abusive because it amounts to psychological, emotional, or financial abuse of the other person as well as behaviour that is physically violent, threatening or intimidating.
  • The abusive behaviour may not be direct and could be carried out with or through a third party. It could apply where a child sees, hears or is present during a single incident of domestic abuse.  Where a child is involved, the sentence could be increased up to the maximum available.
  • The provisions will apply where the behaviour is intentional, or reckless, as to its effect.  Importantly, harm will not have to be caused and the provisions will apply where a reasonable person would consider the behaviour likely to cause harm.

Further key Northern Ireland elements of the bill include:

Those similar to other UK jurisdictions, abusive behaviour committed abroad may be dealt with under the domestic abuse offence to further protect victims.

The Bill provides for a range of measures associated with the offence in Northern Ireland, to reduce the potential for an individual to be further victimised, as regards the domestic abuse offence.  This includes:

  • the personal relationship between two individuals being taken as established unless it is challenged;
  • prohibiting cross-examination of a victim by the accused;
  • automatic eligibility for consideration of special measures (assistance to give evidence at court, including screens and giving evidence from a remote link); and
  • providing that the accused cannot ask for trial by jury (for the case to be taken to Crown Court) in proceedings that could be dealt with at magistrates’ court.

The Istanbul Convention is the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.

The Bill and explanatory note can be viewed at: