Minister Flanagan announces passage of Domestic Violence Bill 2017
- Landmark Bill provides new legal protections for victims of domestic violence.
- Reforms will bring Ireland a step closer to ratifying the Istanbul Convention.
2 May 2018
The Minister for Justice and Equality, Charlie Flanagan, this afternoon announced that the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 has now passed all stages in the Oireachtas.
Speaking following the passage of the Bill in the Seanad, Minister Flanagan said:
“I am delighted that the Domestic Violence Bill has now been passed by both Houses of the Oireachtas. This is one of the most important pieces of legislation to come before the Oireachtas this year.
Domestic violence can have devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims as well as society as a whole. Protecting and supporting victims has been a key priority for this Government. The enactment of the Domestic Violence Bill is a key part of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence.
The Bill will allow us to proceed further on the important issue of ratifying the Istanbul Convention. I want to see the Convention ratified as a priority. The Bill before the House today will help us meet many of the requirements of the Convention. A final piece of the legislative jigsaw will be a short technical bill dealing with extraterritoriality aspects. On Tuesday I received Government approval for the Heads of the Criminal Justice (Istanbul Convention) Bill and it is my hope that this legislation can be advanced quickly.
I was pleased to ensure that from the 1st of January this year the financial contribution required from applicants for civil legal aid in domestic violence cases in the District Court was removed. This practical change will help ensure that victims of domestic violence feel confident about turning to the courts and removes a barrier to access to justice.
In marking the passage of this Bill today, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Minister of State David Stanton and former Tánaiste, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald. Minister Stanton successfully brought the Bill through Committee and Report Stages in the Upper House, during which many important amendments were made. As Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald made tackling domestic violence a personal priority, published the General Scheme in 2015, brought forward the published Bill last year and introduced it in the Seanad.
Indeed, I want to take this opportunity to say that throughout her life Frances has worked to advance the cause of the vulnerable in society and been particularly active in advancing women’s rights - as a social worker, as an advocate and as a politician. And she continues to do great work and I thank her for that. Minister Stanton is an exceptional colleague and an invaluable help to me in our busy department bringing an understated compassion and sincerity to the many challenging issues on his desk. I am very pleased that Minister Stanton and Deputy Fitzgerald were present today to see the Bill complete its remaining stages in the Houses.”
The Programme for a Partnership Government includes a commitment to implement in full the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (the Istanbul Convention) and the commitments contained in the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence 2016-2021.
The purpose of the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 is to consolidate and reform the law on domestic violence to provide better protection for victims. The Bill also includes provisions to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention.
Minister Flanagan added:
“In developing the Bill, my Department and my colleague Minister Stanton have engaged closely with groups who support victims of domestic violence. I would like to acknowledge the work being done by these organisations, some of whom I have met very recently, and their contribution in strengthening the provisions of the Bill.
For too long, domestic violence has been seen primarily as physical abuse. The new offence of coercive control sends a clear, consistent message that non-violent control in an intimate relationship is criminal. The effect of such behaviour may be as harmful to victims as physical abuse because it is an abuse of the unique trust associated with an intimate relationship.
Another important provision will ensure that an intimate relationship between victim and perpetrator must be regarded as an aggravating factor in sentencing for a wide range of offences. This new provision sends a message that society will no longer tolerate the appalling breach of trust committed by one partner against the other in an intimate context.
I believe that this legislation will help to improve the protection of the law for victims of domestic violence, as it puts the needs of victims first and foremost. I look forward to its enactment and implementation.”
The main improvements to the law contained in the Domestic Violence Bill are as follows:
- There will be an extensive list of factors that a court must consider when dealing with an application for a domestic violence order. The list is not exhaustive and will not limit a court’s discretion to make an order.
- The requirement for a relationship to be “committed” to enable a person to apply for a domestic violence order has been removed.
- Where a court is satisfied that the threshold for making an order has been reached, it must make an order.
- Domestic violence orders will remain in force in respect of dependants after they reach the age of 18, until the orders expire.
- Safety orders will be available to persons who are in intimate relationships but who are not cohabiting.
- Victims of domestic violence who are cohabiting with, or are parents of, the perpetrator will be able to apply for an emergency barring order lasting for 8 working days, where there is an immediate risk of significant harm. Emergency barring orders may be granted even if the victim has no legal or beneficial interest in the property or an interest which is less than the perpetrator’s.
- When making a safety order or barring order, courts will be able to prohibit a perpetrator of domestic violence from communicating with the victim electronically.
- The Bill will provide protection against cross-examination conducted in person.
- Courts will be required to give reasons for decisions relating to applications for orders under the Bill.
- Courts will be able to direct personal service by An Garda Síochána of orders on respondents in cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the respondent will try to evade service.
- Special out-of-hours sittings of the District Court may be requested by An Garda Síochána where necessary to deal with urgent applications for orders.
- Victims will be able to give evidence by live television link to avoid the risk of intimidation.
- Victims will be able to bring a friend, family member or support worker into court to support them during proceedings.
- Children will be able to make their views known to the court where an order is sought on behalf of, or will partly relate to, a child. The court will have the option of appointing an expert to assist the court to ascertain the views of the child.
- The Courts Service will have an obligation to offer information on support services for victims of domestic violence.
- The courts will be able to recommend that a perpetrator engages with services such as programmes aimed at perpetrators of domestic violence, addiction or counselling services.
- Restrictions will be put in place on media reporting and attendance by the general public at criminal court proceedings for breaches of civil domestic violence orders.
- The Bill will provide for a new criminal offence of forced marriage.
- The Bill will provide for a new criminal offence of coercive control. This is psychological abuse in an intimate relationship that causes fear of violence, or serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse impact on a person’s day-to-day activities.
- Where a person is convicted of a violent or sexual offence against his or her spouse, civil partner or person with whom they are in an intimate relationship, that fact shall be an aggravating factor for the purposes of sentencing.
- Part 3 of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, which relates to special protective measures for giving of evidence by victims and witnesses in criminal proceedings for violent or sexual offences, will apply to the offences of breaching a domestic violence order, coercive control and forced marriage.
- The legislative provisions that enable persons under the age of 18 to marry will be repealed.