Thursday 29 September 2016

Domestic violence a true horror, but new measures will give fresh hope to victims

Frances Fitzgerald

Published 24/07/2015 | 02:30

'The bill puts the needs of victims at the heart of our justice system'
'The bill puts the needs of victims at the heart of our justice system'

We all know the sayings "There's no place like home" and "Home sweet home".

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For many of us these are truisms we cherish. But for too many women and men in Ireland, home is not what it should be: it is not a safe haven of comfort and intimacy.

For too many, home is the frightening arena in which they face verbal abuse, psychological manipulation, financial abuse and physical attack.

When we juxtapose this personal abuse of power with the legitimate and modest expectations we have of our intimate partners to be good enough in caring, supporting and cherishing, the true horror of domestic violence becomes clearer.

Survey results issued in March 2014 by the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights indicate that more than one in seven Irish women reported experiencing physical and/or sexual violence from a partner from the age of 15 in their lifetimes.

While what we know of domestic violence may be stark, what is more stark is what we don't know, because too many incidents still go unreported. Too many victims are afraid to come forward.

Domestic violence is a complex phenomenon. As Minister for Justice and Equality, I have to accept that I can't abolish it.

Violence is a grim reality of our humanity and likely always will be.

But as Minister I can and I will do all I can to seek to foster a culture and to implement meaningful changes which can help reduce the incidence of domestic violence, better support victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.

As part of this effort I am today publishing the heads of an important new Domestic Violence Bill.

This new legislation delivers on a key commitment in the Programme for Government.

It will introduce a single consolidated and reformed statute to address all aspects of domestic violence and to provide better protection and support to victims of domestic violence.

The new bill will particularly improve the protections available to those victims in crisis situations, making it much easier for them to obtain interim barring orders.

The bill will remove the requirement that a person must have at least an equal interest in a property to apply for an interim barring order (for eight working days) in an emergency or crisis situation.

It further introduces a range of reforms aimed at helping a victim through the court process. A victim will have the right to be accompanied to court by a family member or friend.

A victim or a witness will also be able to give evidence by televisual link so as to reduce the risk of intimidation.

There will be limits on those entitled to attend the court proceedings so as to make it easier for a victim to give evidence and to reduce the risk of intimidation.

The victim's anonymity will be protected except where the victim chooses otherwise.

The bill also recognises the new reality of online abuse.

The bill provides that a victim would be able to apply for an order to prevent the perpetrator from following or communicating with the victim, including by electronic means, other than for communications specifically specified by the court.

The Domestic Violence Bill builds on the broader Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill which I announced last week and demonstrates the commitment of the Government to putting the needs of victims at the heart of our justice system.

Enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill will also represent a major step forward on the road to Ireland's ratification of the Council of Europe's convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention.

It is my intention to seek government approval for Ireland to sign the Istanbul Convention in the autumn.

But I am absolutely determined that signature of the convention will not simply be an empty gesture. I intend to seek government approval for an action plan with time scales which will enable Ireland to ratify the convention in full. The provisions of the Domestic Violence Bill will form a key plank of this action plan.

As Minister for Justice, I am also concerned with ensuring that the policing response to domestic violence is more than sufficient, both in terms of supporting the victims and pursuing the perpetrators.

Responding to the concerns expressed in last year's seminal Garda Inspectorate report on crime investigation, An Garda Síochána has recently established a new dedicated national unit to deal with domestic violence cases. It has also introduced a nationwide network of Victim Services Offices in every garda division.

The new Victim Services Offices will provide a central point of contact for all victims of crime, providing advice, information and support.

I welcome these proactive initiatives by the gardaí.

Domestic violence persists as a true horror in too many homes in 21st Century Ireland.

I hope my new Domestic Violence Bill will help in tackling this horror head-on and giving fresh hope to victims that they are not alone.

Frances Fitzgerald TD is Minister for Justice

Irish Independent

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