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The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has provided Advice to the Department of Justice: Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill.

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  • Government Departments

Advice to the Department of Justice: Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill

Last Updated: Monday, 19 April 2021

Read the Commission’s advice to the Department of Justice on the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill.

Date produced June 2020.

Below is a summary of the recommendations.

You can also download the full document through the links provided.

The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (NIHRC):

  • 2.8 continues to call on the UK Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention and advises the Department to continue to work with the UK Government on achieving this goal, including ensuring that the resulting Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Act is comprehensive and compliant with the Istanbul Convention.
  • 2.13 advises that the Department considers Article 8 of the Istanbul Convention when allocating financial resources to combat domestic abuse. The NIHRC recommends that the Department ensures that the protection and support for victims in Northern Ireland adopt a victim-centred approach and do not create an inequality in provision across jurisdictions.
  • 2.14 advises that without providing provision for a Domestic Abuse Commissioner, the Department needs to find alternative ways of fulfilling obligations contained within the Istanbul Convention concerning data collection and research, awareness-raising, education and training of professionals.
  • 2.18 recommends that the Department commits to reviewing the introduction of Domestic Abuse Protection Notice and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders within an agreed timeframe and that the Department continues to engage with the voluntary and community sector on these matters. The NIHRC further recommends that the Department continues to monitor all additional measures in place in the rest of the UK, for possible implementation in NI through the future Miscellaneous Provisions Bill.
  • 2.21 recommends the Department introduces a specific criminal offence of stalking and ensures effective protection for victims or potential victims of stalking in Northern Ireland without further delay, to ensure compliance with the Istanbul Convention.
  • 2.25 recommends the Department introduces a specific criminal offence of up-skirting in Northern Ireland and ensures effective protection of victims or potential victims without further delay, to ensure compliance with the Istanbul Convention.
  • 3.7 advises the Department to ensure that the Bill specifically states that the provisions within apply, regardless of an individual’s immigration status.
  • 3.12 recommends the Department consider including reference to gender-based violence in clause 1 as a form of domestic abuse.
  • 3.16 recommends that the Department widens the definition of clause 5 to include for example individuals living together without the need for any form of intimate relationship, live-in carers within a private home and guardians.
  • 3.17 advises that clause 5(3) be extended to unequivocally include family relationships such as an uncle, aunt, niece, nephew or cousin.
  • 3.23 recommends that safeguards are introduced to ensure clauses 8 and 9 are implemented in such a way that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration. This includes only requiring that evidence is obtained directly from the child victim or relevant child when necessary and that it is obtained in a child friendly manner. It includes the child victim or relevant child only providing evidence directly to the court when it is necessary, that it is set up in an age-appropriate manner and that consideration is given to alternatives such as live links where appropriate. It also includes providing age-appropriate psycho-social counselling to the child victim or relevant child before, during and after the trial.
  • 3.26 welcomes the extra-territorial application of the Bill regarding perpetrators, as set out in clause 10, and advises that this provision is retained, in line with the Istanbul Convention.
  • 3.33 advises the Department to be cautious regarding clause 10 and to ensure that effective safeguards are in place to prevent misuse of this clause by perpetrators, to the detriment of the victim. This requires particular consideration of the potential vulnerabilities of the victim that require special protection, such as women, children and persons with disabilities. It also requires consideration of whether the burden of proof should instead rest with the defence to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the utilising the defence is necessary and proportionate. The NIHRC recommends consulting with sector experts and victims on this specific issue.
  • 3.36 advises the Department that it should be satisfied that in providing for this exception that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration and that it contains sufficient safeguards to ensure that this exception cannot be misused in cases of family breakdown and disputes around child contact, where the child may be used as a weapon in such cases.
  • 3.44 advises that, in line with Article 6 ECHR and Article 14 UN ICCPR, clause 21 should only be utilised in exceptional circumstances. The NIHRC recommends that clause 21 is amended to reflect this by referencing necessity and proportionality, with the legitimate aim of protecting the victim, as guiding principles for when this clause can be utilised.
  • 3.50 welcomes the provision for special measures in clause 22. The NIHRC recommends that the principle of reasonable accommodation is inserted into clause 22 and implemented in consultation with the individual victim, when determining what special measures are appropriate in each case.
  • 3.53 continues to call on the Department to progress implementation of the Gillen Report Recommendations. The NIHRC recommends the Department consider facilitating, where necessary, pre-recorded cross-examination outside court settings for vulnerable individuals and include provision for this within clause 26.
  • 4.3 recommends that the Department works with the relevant public authorities and civil society organisations to systematically collect and publish data on domestic abuse that is disaggregated by sex, gender, ethnicity, disability and age. It should also record the journey of abuse investigations through the criminal justice system, including number of initial reports, number of referrals to the Public Prosecution Service, how many reach different stages of the court process, how many prosecutions, what is the resulting remedy and how many repeat offences.
  • 4.5 recommends the Department provide emergency funding to organisations supporting domestic abuse victims in accordance with the recent surge in cases, as a result of lockdown and in line with the rest of the UK.