‘No excuse’ for delays in improving criminal justice system response to domestic violence and abuse
The Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland (CJI) has today (Wednesday, June 19) called for further action to be taken by the criminal justice system to improve how cases of domestic violence and abuse are handled.
Speaking following the publication of the CJI’s third inspection report on the issue, Brendan McGuigan said there was “no excuse for incidents of domestic violence; and no excuse for the criminal justice system not to turn positive rhetoric and a desire for change into reality”.
“Domestic violence and abuse can occur in any relationship. It transcends gender, class, religion, race, age, disability and sexuality and its destructive impact can have far reaching physical, emotional and mental implications for victims and those closest to them,” said Mr McGuigan.
In 2017/18, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) recorded the highest number of domestic abuse incidents to date with 29,913 incidents reported in Northern Ireland, which equates to one incident being reported approximately every 17 minutes.
Mr McGuigan says the lack of a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly had delayed the progress of legislation that would have benefitted victims of domestic violence and abuse.
“The need for new legislation to create a new offence of domestic abuse has been accepted and a significant amount of preparatory work undertaken by the Department of Justice and other partners,” he said. “But without a functioning Assembly or, in its absence, a response from Parliament, this important new legislation cannot be introduced and the frustrations of many victims and criminal justice agencies who seek a justice sanction, remain unaddressed.”
In the absence of this legislative progress, Mr McGuigan welcomed the commitment to domestic violence that has been shown by the criminal justice agencies, and the PSNI in particular, to investigate and bring forward prosecutions using the tools available to them.
“However more needs to be done. With more victims coming forward to report domestic incidents that have occurred, we recommend improvements be made to enhance the response provided by frontline police officers and ensure consistency in their approach,” said Mr McGuigan.
He added: “We have also recommended that additional work be undertaken by the PSNI and the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland to develop the case-building ‘prosecution team’ approach advocated in our recent inspection of sexual violence and abuse in relation to cases of domestic violence and abuse.”
Mr McGuigan said the provision of appropriate and timely support for victims who choose to pursue a criminal justice sanction also needed to be improved.
“This inspection report recognised the excellent work carried out by the voluntary and community sector to support victims of domestic violence and abuse in the face on ongoing funding pressures, but it is not an alternative to a formalised support scheme,” he said.
“Nine years ago, the CJI recommended a properly funded Independent Domestic Violence Adviser (IDVA) service should be established as a matter of urgency. Likewise, we have endorsed the practice of listing or grouping domestic offences together at court on a specific day, as piloted in Londonderry Magistrates’ Court since 2011, and support its roll-out across Northern Ireland to speed up the progress of domestic abuse cases and offer a more appropriate environment for victims attending court.
“Neither of these key initiatives have yet been implemented across Northern Ireland. In my view there is no excuse why victims of domestic violence and abuse in Northern Ireland do not have access to a properly-funded IDVA scheme similar to those which have been operating in England and Wales for the last 15 years.
“Nor where a sufficient number of domestic offence cases exist, they cannot be grouped together in all court divisions in this jurisdiction.”
Mr McGuigan has called for progress on the issues raised in the inspection report to be made within the next six to nine months.
“Sustained political and social pressure must be maintained in the coming weeks and months to ensure the issue of domestic abuse remains to the forefront of all our minds and improvements are delivered for the benefit of all victims,” he added.
The report: ‘No Excuse’ Domestic Violence and Abuse inspection, is available from the CJI website at www.cjini.org