Northern Ireland news

Justice Minister Naomi Long criticised after Domestic Abuse bill postponed

Justice Minister Naomi Long postponed the passage of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill

A LANDMARK bill to strengthen domestic abuse legislation has been postponed.

The Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill will now not finish its legislative process this year.

Justice Minister Naomi Long said she had no choice.

She told the assembly there were potentially significant financial ramifications for the Executive from amendments on legal aid.

Mrs Long said an amendment to widen legal aid access in some domestic abuse cases had not received "due diligence".

The impact on the Executive's budget, she said, was potentially catastrophic, adding "this would be RHI on steroids".

The assembly last month passed an initial proposal from Green Party MLA Rachel Woods, which would effectively widen access to legal aid for victims and survivors in child contact cases.

During almost 12 hours of debate, MLAs also backed several other amendments.

Mrs Long said in November while she believed the proposal was "well intentioned", she could not support it as part of the bill.

Yesterday, she told the assembly that guidance from the Treasury was that this could have a "repercussive effect". There was a risk the executive would be liable to bear financial costs in other parts of the UK, if the legal aid amendment was not withdrawn.

Justice committee chairman Paul Givan of the DUP claimed the minster's decision was a shameful course of action.

"The minister should be moving the Further Consideration Stage. It is for the assembly to decide whether it votes for amendments that are tabled. The actions of the minister today do not bode well for the way in which she has conducted herself in respect of this legislation."

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