Claire Sugden: Abuse victims abandoned because of Stormont failure

Justice Minister Claire Sugden said domestic abuse victims have been abandoned by the collapse of Stormont. Picture by Mal McCann
Deborah McAleese, Press Association

THOUSANDS of domestic abuse victims have been abandoned because of Stormont's failure to bring forward proposed new laws, justice minister Claire Sugden has claimed.

As police recorded the highest level of domestic abuse crimes in more than a decade, Ms Sugden warned she had been unable to introduce new legislation to better protect victims because of the collapse of the powersharing government.

New PSNI statistics show that, on average, 38 crimes of domestic abuse were reported every day last year.

Last year saw the highest level of recorded domestic abuse crimes in more than a decade, with 14,161 reports.

In addition, police recorded more than 29,000 domestic abuse incidents last year, an average of 118 every day.

Ms Sugden said she had planned to introduce a new domestic abuse offence of coercive and controlling behaviour to bring the north into line with Britain.

The first stage of the new legislation, which was introduced in England and Wales in December 2015, was due to have been on the north's statute books by October.

Ms Sugden said: "Thousands of victims of domestic abuse have been left suffering and abandoned because Stormont collapsed and I have been unable to complete my job".

She said the legislation should have been brought before the Assembly this month.

"We would have had that on its first stage in the floor of the house by now had the government not collapsed," she said.

Plans to overhaul committal proceedings within criminal court cases in a bid to speed up the justice system have also been stalled by the political crisis, the Independent unionist Assembly candidate added.

Ms Sugden said she felt "so angry and frustrated" by the collapse of the institutions in January that she had considered quitting politics.

"I had considered not running again but I made a promise to my constituents when I got elected last year and I have a commitment to them," he said.

"To this day I still don't really know why government collapsed. RHI (the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal) should not have been the reason it collapsed. We could have found a solution.

"But had it not been RHI it would have been something else," she said.

Ms Sugden said she agreed with Sinn Féin's claim of "DUP arrogance".

"In my experience working with them there was certainly a lethargy," she said.

"They would do it in their own time, rather than actually try and work together as a government to get things done. If that is what Sinn Féin mean by arrogance then I agree."

However, she disagreed with Sinn Féin's insistence that DUP leader Arlene Foster should not take up a Stormont post again until an investigation into the RHI scandal is complete.

"If people don't take their seat with her in the executive then they don't respect democracy," she said.

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