The Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill 2020 was introduced to the Northern Ireland Assembly on Tuesday 31st March, aimed at bringing the laws here into line with the rest of the UK by widening the definition of domestic abuse.

Lenore Rice, Family Law Solicitor at Wilson Nesbitt Solicitors says:

“The term ‘domestic abuse’ has deliberately been employed in recent years to move the focus away from the need for physical violence to have occurred in the relationship. The previous terminology of ‘domestic violence’ ignored other patterns of abusive behaviour and coercive control, and the legislation required an element of violence to constitute a criminal offence.”

Legislation was introduced in England and Wales, and subsequently Scotland, to expand the type of behaviour that would constitute a criminal offence, and the Bill introduced by Naomi Long MLA on Tuesday would create a new domestic abuse offence that captures patterns of controlling and coercive behaviour, as well as physical abuse, against a partner, former partner or family member.

Naomi Long commented:

“From speaking to victims and survivors it is clear that psychological abuse in a domestic setting can be as damaging as physical abuse, if not more so.  This new domestic abuse offence will send out a clear message that domestic abuse will not be tolerated in any form.”

The Bill also recognises the impact of suffering or witnessing domestic abuse on a child by allowing for an enhanced sentence if the victim in a relationship us under 18, of if a child witnesses an incident of abuse, or where the child is used to abuse the victim.

The introduction of the legislation is greatly welcomed by family law solicitors in Northern Ireland who have long campaigned for the changes to how domestic abuse is criminalised.

The announcement is very timely given the sharp rise in calls to domestic abuse helplines during the Coronavirus lockdown, and the concerns at how incidents of abuse leading to violence will escalate as the current restrictions continue.

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