Legislation to criminalise abusive behaviour in domestic and close family relationships will be brought forward in the Northern Ireland Assembly.

The UK government had come under pressure to legislate in Northern Ireland before the restoration of Stormont, but Justice Minister Naomi Long said she now intended to draft legislation meeting “the specific needs of Northern Ireland”.

Under her plans, unveiled today, it will be an offence for a person to engage in a course of abusive behaviour (on two or more occasions) against someone who they are personally connected to.

Ms Long said: “I want to send a clear message that domestic abuse in all its forms, including both physical and non-physical controlling and abusive behaviour, is wrong. No longer will those who abuse a partner, former partner or close family member be able to evade justice.

“Too many people, both men and women, suffer from abusive behaviour on a daily basis. The new offence will recognise that domestic abuse is not only physical but can be much more insidious.

“For many, for too long this has been a hidden problem. We can, and will, bring it out into the open and shed light on what can often be a dark secret.”

The new offence will close a gap in the law around patterns of abusive behaviour, allowing the criminal justice system to better protect victims who are subject to this. The offence will allow earlier identification of abusive behaviour, intervention and prevention as well as access to information and advice.

The offence will cover behaviour that is abusive because it is controlling or coercive or amounts to psychological, emotional or financial abuse of the other person. Abusive behaviour will also include behaviour that is physically violent, threatening or intimidating.

The minister added: “I want to legislate for the new offence in a way that provides the best outcome for victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.

“I want to pay tribute to our statutory and voluntary sector partners who have, and continue, to work with my Department to ensure that the domestic abuse offence provisions locally will be as robust as possible and meet the specific needs of Northern Ireland.”

The courts will be provided with new powers to increase the sentence imposed, up to the maximum that would otherwise be available, where the domestic abuse offence involves a child as a victim under 18, they see, hear or are present for the abuse or where they are used in order to abuse another person. This will also apply where another offence is committed and the commission of that offence would cause the other person harm.

For the most serious offences the penalty will be significant, up to a maximum of 14 years.

Credit: Irish Legal