Legislation targeting domestic abusers passes final Assembly hurdle
Legislation creating a domestic abuse offence has passed its final hurdle in the Northern Ireland Assembly.
Someone convicted of the worst criminality will face up to 14 years in prison.
No dissenting voices were raised when it came to a vote and the bill will go forward for Royal Assent.
Justice Minister Naomi Long told victims: “Do not be afraid to speak out and to reach out for help.
“Help is there. You will be heard, you will be believed, you will be supported.
“There is a better and a safer future for you.
“Justice can and justice will be done.”
The new law includes the creation of a domestic abuse offence, allowing for heavier sentences where children are involved, and stiffening penalties for any wrongdoing where domestic abuse is associated with it.
During the 12 months to September last year, 32,015 domestic abuse incidents were reported and 18,885 crimes.
The minister paid tribute to the victims and their advocates, adding it presented a new opportunity now the law recognised the harm as abuse.
Mrs Long said: “They are members of our community, we know them and they know us.
“Do not suffer in silence, do not feel guilt or shame.”
The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill has been one of her top priorities since taking office a year ago and was passed with no dissenting voices.
TUV leader Jim Allister raised a point surrounding the prosecution of those with the intention to commit an offence, while others felt the legislation could have gone further in some areas.
The Alliance Party leader said she planned to bring forward proposals for a victims commissioner in future.
Mrs Long also addressed the gendered nature of domestic violence and “toxic masculinity”.
“There is nothing strong or compelling about a man who has to resort to his fists to make his point.
“We need as a society to stop upholding the strong over the thoughtful and considered.
“It is not a healthy place to be in society.”
She said the defence of reasonable chastisement should be removed, but acknowledged strong views on the matter held by some people of faith and articulated by the DUP’s Mervyn Storey on Monday.
The minister also introduced proposals for a stand-alone Protection from Stalking Bill to the Assembly.
It will create a specific offence of stalking and include provision for the introduction of Stalking Protection Orders to Northern Ireland.
Ms Long said: “Today’s introduction of the Protection from Stalking Bill is a major step forward for victims of this insidious crime.
“I have listened to the terrifying and debilitating experiences of victims and am talking action to strengthen the law to protect them.”
Natalie Whelehan, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for NSPCC Northern Ireland said:“This is a landmark moment that creates legislation ensuring children will no longer be the forgotten victims of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland.
“It is an historic change that the NSPCC – with others – has been campaigning to achieve for many years, and we thank MLAs for listening and making a decision that prioritises children’s rights.
“We work with children who have experienced the horrors of domestic abuse and we know the devastating impact it can have on their lives.
“This new legislation will strengthen protection for young people in similar positions and guarantee their voices are finally heard.”