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'Groundbreaking' domestic violence law covers psychological abuse and the views of children

The legislation gives extra support to survivors.

NEW DOMESTIC VIOLENCE legislation has passed through all stages of the Oireachtas.

Reforms included in the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 bring Ireland a step closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention, which aims to combat domestic violence.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan welcomed the passing of the Bill yesterday, calling it “one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the Oireachtas this year”.

“Domestic violence can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims as well as society as a whole. Protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for this government,” Flanagan said.

The main changes to the law include:

  • The Bill will provide for a new criminal offence of coercive control. This is psychological abuse in an intimate relationship that causes fear of violence, or serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on a person’s day-to-day activities.
  • Where a person is convicted of a violent or sexual offence against his or her spouse, civil partner or person with whom they are in an intimate relationship, that fact shall be an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing.
  • There will be an extensive list of factors that a court must consider when dealing with an application for a domestic violence order. The list is not exhaustive and will not limit a court’s discretion to make an order.
  • Victims will be able to give evidence by live television link to avoid the risk of intimidation.
  • Victims will be able to bring a friend, family member or support worker into court to support them during proceedings.
  • Children will be able to make their views known to the court where an order is sought on behalf of, or will partly relate to, a child. The court will have the option of appointing an expert to assist the court to ascertain the views of the child.
  • The requirement for a relationship to be “committed” to enable a person to apply for a domestic violence order has been removed.
  • Where a court is satisfied that the threshold for making an order has been reached, it must make an order.
  • Domestic violence orders will remain in force in respect of dependants after they reach the age of 18, until the orders expire.
  • Safety orders will be available to people who are in intimate relationships but who are not cohabiting.
  • Victims of domestic violence who are cohabiting with, or are parents of, the perpetrator will be able to apply for an emergency barring order lasting for eight working days, where there is an immediate risk of significant harm.
  • When making a safety order or barring order, courts will be able to prohibit a perpetrator of domestic violence from communicating with the victim electronically.
  • The Bill will provide protection against cross-examination conducted in person.
  • Courts will be able to direct personal service by An Garda Síochána of orders on respondents in cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent will try to evade orders.
  • Special out-of-hours sittings of the District Court may be requested by An Garda Síochána where necessary to deal with urgent applications for orders.
  • The Courts Service will have an obligation to offer information on support services for victims of domestic violence.
  • The courts will be able to recommend that a perpetrator engages with services such as programmes aimed at perpetrators of domestic violence, addiction or counselling services.
  • Restrictions will be put in place on media reporting and attendance by the general public at criminal court proceedings for breaches of civil domestic violence orders.
  • The Bill will provide for a new criminal offence of forced marriage.
  • The legislative provisions that enable people under the age of 18 to marry will be repealed.

‘Groundbreaking’

The Bill had received cross-party support and its passing was welcomed by a number of organisations including Safe Ireland, the national agency working to end domestic violence.

The organisation, which works with 40 domestic violence services around the country, said it is hopeful that the Bill will be signed into law by President Michael D Higgins by the end of the month.

“Effectively, from today, and thanks to the extraordinary collective co-operation of Senators and TDs from all parties, women can be confident that coercive control will be recognised as a criminal offence in this country,” Sharon O’Halloran, CEO of Safe Ireland, said.

This is groundbreaking because it means that we will have, for the first time, a robust legislative foundation that recognises and responds to the pernicious pattern of control, dominance, inequality and psychological abuse which is really at the heart of violence within the home.

Safe Ireland said it is “extremely significant” that the Bill recognises violence between intimate partners as an aggravating offence. This, O’Halloran said, will help eradicate the culture of the past that has minimised violence within the home as “just a domestic issue or an issue that is a private one only”.

Women’s Aid, the national domestic violence support organisation, also welcomed the news.

Director Margaret Martin said: “Women must feel change quickly. It must be positive, it must be practical and it must make them and their children safer from abuse.”

Martin said she hoped gardaí would use provisions in the legislation “to offer vulnerable women the chance to apply for immediate protection when it is needed and that this measure is adequately resourced, so that it will work in practice”.

If you have been affected by domestic abuse and would like to talk, contact the below numbers or visit SafeIreland.ie.

  • Women’s Aid: 1800 341 900
  • Amen (for men): 046 902 3718

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About the author:

Órla Ryan

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