New laws to protect battered partners
BATTERED partners will be spared having to relive their ordeal in open court in a bid to secure more successful prosecutions.
It is hoped that the measure, which will allow cases to be heard in private, will encourage more victims of domestic violence to press charges against their attackers.
A large number of criminal prosecutions in the courts arising from attacks in the home are either dropped at the last minute or not pursued because the victims fear details of their private lives being made public.
But changes to existing legislation will now allow the court case to be heard in private.
Under the existing law, a wife could secure a barring order against a partner on the grounds of violence and the application would be made in private in a civil court.
However, if the partner breaches the barring order, returns to the home and beats up his wife again and she then calls in gardai, the subsequent criminal prosecution is likely to be held in open court.
The change, which is included in the new Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill -- currently being drafted after receiving the go-ahead from the Cabinet -- will allow the criminal case to be held in private.
This will amend the current Domestic Violence Act, 1996, which allows certain cases to be heard in public.
Justice Minister Dermot Ahern said last night there was general agreement among the agencies involved in dealing with victims of domestic abuse that the measure would lead to more successful prosecutions for breaches of barring orders.
"This change is necessary to protect victims, as well as address the inconsistency between the public nature of the breach proceedings and the private nature of the related civil proceedings," he said.
The minister admitted that the current legislation in this area was far from satisfactory.
He believed that it discouraged victims of breaches of barring orders from co-operating because they did not want sensitive details of their private lives disclosed to the public in open court.
"Victims frequently withdraw their co-operation on the day of the hearing when they become aware of the public nature of the proceedings," Mr Ahern said.
It is also intended that the barring orders will in future apply where incidents have occurred in same-sex partnerships.
Earlier this year, the minister launched the first strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, which is intended to co-ordinate the Government's response to this specific type of violence.
It followed extensive consultation with groups in the justice, health, education and housing sectors, as well as non-governmental agencies.
Mr Ahern said these types of crimes took place behind closed doors, where there were no witnesses or, worse still, where the only witness was a child.
The minister said the implementation of the strategy was aimed at reducing the prevalence of these domestic crimes, including physical and sexual violence, and providing greater protection and support for the victims and survivors.
It would also ensure the accountability of those responsible for the violence, he added.