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Domestic abuse a major problem for our society

The scale of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland is quite appalling with police called out to an incident every 20 minutes.

We often think of drugs as being a major policing problem in the north but in fact it is domestic abuse that accounts for more than twice as many crimes as drugs.

These offences are amongst the most serious in the criminal calendar. In 2014/15 there were six murders which had a `domestic abuse motivation' while more than 700 rapes were reported.

Tackling this massive problem is no easy task and a range of agencies are involved in dealing with abusive relationships and violence in the home.

These include the police, social services, healthcare staff, Women's Aid, Victim Support, lawyers and judges.

But there is also a recognition of the difficulties facing many victims in coming forward to report abuse by a partner and in pursuing a case through the justice system.

As we report today, an initiative is currently being piloted in Derry and could soon be adopted across Northern Ireland courts.

Under this scheme, domestic violence cases are all heard by a single judge on a particular day of the month in a special listing. Crucially, victims have access to support services and arrangements are made to ensure victims and alleged attackers do not see each other before hearings.

This sounds like a practical and pro-active project which hopefully will encourage more victims to stick with the process of justice.

Meanwhile, there is a Stormont strategy aimed at stopping domestic and sexual abuse which has been waiting for executive approval for almost six months.

Justice minister David Ford has insisted the delay does not lie with his department which suggests the issue has been held up elsewhere.

However, it is important that any measures which can help tackle this significant problem in our society are allowed to move forward without further delay.

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