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Domestic Violence Bill 2017

 

Second Stage - Seanad Éireann

 

Speech by Ms Frances Fitzgerald, TD

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality

 

1 March 2017

 

A Chathaoirligh,

 

I am very pleased to introduce the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 in this House and I look forward to our discussion of its provisions here today.

 

Tackling domestic violence has been a priority for me throughout my career, going back to my days as a social worker in inner city Dublin and London.

 

What was true then is true now -

 

Domestic violence is a pernicious evil that has devastating physical, emotional and financial consequences for victims as well as society as a whole.

 

It is not acceptable that anyone in Ireland is subjected to abuse, fear and intimidation. 

 

The purpose of this Bill, which has been a key priority for me,  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 Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, more commonly known as the Istanbul Convention. These include a new provision for emergency barring orders and a new offence of forced marriage.

 

The Bill is part of a larger package of measures aimed at dealing with the scourge of domestic violence in our community.  As Senators will be aware, I am also funding a major national awareness campaign on domestic and sexual violence called “What would you do?” which is a part of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2016-2021.

 

This campaign calls on us as relatives, friends, neighbours, bystanders and witnesses to collectively say that domestic violence is not right and it must stop. It is an opportunity for each of us to start a conversation about what we would do if we came across situations such as those in the TV and radio ads.  It is not enough for us to turn a blind eye – we must all step in to support victims and make domestic violence unacceptable in a civilised society. 

 

I would now like to outline the main provisions of the Bill.

 

Part 1 of the Bill contains standard provisions regarding commencement, definitions, repeals and expenses.

 

Part 2 of the Bill provides for the different orders that can be applied for under the Bill.  It also deals with procedural matters for court proceedings under the Bill.

 

Section 5 provides for the making of safety orders to prohibit violent and threatening behaviour.  Safety orders were first introduced in the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and section 5 largely re-enacts those provisions.

 

The main change is that the scope of the safety order will be expanded to allow a court to impose a prohibition on electronic communication where necessary.

 

Safety orders can remain in place for up to 5 years and a further safety order can be made for a subsequent period of up to 5 years.  Where a safety order is made for the protection of a dependent child, it will remain in force after the child reaches the age of 18, until the order expires.  

 

I intend to bring forward an amendment to section 5 at Committee Stage to ensure that persons in intimate and committed relationships, but who are not cohabiting, can also avail of safety orders.

 

Section 6 provides for the making of barring orders to direct a person to leave a place where the victim resides, or not to enter that place.  

 

Statutory barring orders were first introduced in Ireland by the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976.  Those provisions were replaced by the Family Law (Protection of Spouses and Children) Act 1981.  The Domestic Violence Act 1996 further strengthened the law in this area.

 

The main change being introduced in this Bill is the removal of the 6 month minimum cohabitation requirement in cases involving persons in cohabiting relationships.  The scope of a barring order will also be expanded to allow the court to impose a prohibition on electronic communication where necessary.

 

Barring orders can remain in place for up to 3 years and a further barring order can be made for a subsequent period of up to 3 years.   Where a barring order is made for the protection of a dependent child, it will remain in force after the child reaches the age of 18, until the order expires.  

 

Section 7 provides for the making of interim barring orders in cases where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is at immediate risk of significant harm.  Interim barring orders were first introduced in the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and this section largely re-enacts those provisions, which have been amended by the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Act 2002. 

If an interim barring order is granted without notice having been given to the person against whom it was sought, it will have effect for up to 8 working days. In all other cases, an interim barring order will continue to have effect until the application for a barring order has been determined.  

 

Section 8 provides for a new emergency barring order which will put life and limb ahead of property and allow a person in a dangerous situation to get a temporary barring order even if they have no rights to the property. This is an important new provision which must be enacted to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention.

 

A person can apply for an emergency barring order where he or she has lived in an intimate and committed relationship with the perpetrator without being their spouse or civil partner or where he or she is the parent of an adult perpetrator.

 

The most significant element of this new provision is that a person can apply for an emergency barring order even if they have no legal or beneficial interest in the place concerned, or if they have an interest which is less than that of the person against whom the order is sought.

 

Emergency barring orders will only be granted where there are reasonable grounds to believe that a person is at immediate risk of harm.  An emergency barring order may be granted without notice having been given to the person against whom it is sought and will have effect for up to 8 working days.

 

Once the emergency barring order has expired, another emergency barring order may not be made until one month after the expiry of the previous order, unless the court is satisfied that there are exceptional circumstances.  This is to ensure that this order will operate as an emergency, temporary measure only.

 

Section 9 provides for the making of protection orders pending the determination of an application for a safety order or barring order. A protection order can be made where there are reasonable grounds to believe that the safety or welfare of the person who applied for the order or a dependant are at risk.  

 

Sections 10 and 11 contain provisions relating to the making of applications by the Child and Family Agency for safety orders, barring orders and emergency barring orders. These sections re-enact the provisions of section 6 and section 7 of the Domestic Violence Act 1996.

 

Sections 12 and 13 provide protection to spouses and civil partners against disposal of household effects in the period between the making of an application for a safety order or barring order and the determination of that application.

 

Sections 14 to 20 contain provisions relating to the hearing of applications, the date on which orders take effect, the delivery of copies of orders to certain persons, appeals from orders, discharge of orders, jurisdiction of the courts and the hearing of proceedings in private.

 

The Bill includes new provisions aimed at making the court process less difficult for victims of domestic violence when they are applying for civil orders under the Bill and also in cases where an order is breached and a criminal prosecution follows. 

 

These provisions complement the protections that the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill 2016 will provide for victims giving evidence in criminal proceedings.

 

Section 21 provides for the giving of evidence through live television link where an application is being made to court for an order under the Bill.

 

Section 22 is a new provision which allows a person who applies for an order under this Bill to be accompanied in court by a person of his or her choice, in addition to any legal representative.

 

Section 23 is an important new provision which will enable the court to seek the views of the child when certain orders are being sought on the child’s behalf. This will help to make the court process more child-centred. The court may also appoint an expert to ascertain and convey the child’s views.

 

My Department is currently finalising regulations which will set down the criteria for appointing child view’s experts under the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964.  Those regulations will also apply to the appointment of experts under this section.

 

Section 24 is a new provision which requires the Courts Service to provide information on domestic violence support services to victims.  Specialised services for victims of domestic violence can play an invaluable role in providing support during the court process. 

 

Section 25 provides that the court may direct a person against whom it makes an order under the Bill to engage with a programme or service to address issues relating to their behaviour. This could be a programme for perpetrators of domestic violence, an addiction service, or a financial planning service.  

 

Part 3 of the Bill provides for offences under the Bill.

 

Section 29 provides that it is an offence to breach a safety order, barring order or any other civil order under the Bill.  It is also an offence to refuse to permit a person who applied for a barring order to enter in and remain in a place where the barring order is in force.

 

Section 30 provides for the giving of evidence through television link in proceedings for an offence under section 29.

 

Section 31 is a new provision to provide privacy for victims in cases where there is a criminal prosecution for breach of an order.  The judge will be required to exclude all persons from the courtroom except persons directly involved in the case, court officials and bona fide members of the Press.

 

Section 32 provides for arrest without warrant where a Garda has reason to believe that a breach of an order is being, or has been committed, under section 29, following a complaint from, or on behalf of, the person who applied for the order in question.

 

Sections 33 and 34 provides that where proceedings are brought for an offence under section 29, it will be an offence to publish or broadcast any information or photographs which could lead to identification of the victim or the person charged or a dependant of either of them.  Anyone who breaches this anonymity requirement faces strong penalties.

 

Section 35 is an important provision which creates a new offence of forced marriage. While the inclusion of this provision is necessary to enable Ireland to ratify the Istanbul Convention, I believe that it is important to send out a message that such behaviour is not acceptable in 21st century Ireland.

 

It will be an offence to use violence, threats, undue influence, duress or coercion to cause another person to marry. It will also be an offence to remove someone from the State with the intention that they will be forced into a marriage abroad.  

 

I will bring forward an amendment to this section at Committee Stage to clarify the jurisdiction of the forced marriage offence.  The amendment will make it clear that a forced marriage offence committed outside the State against an Irish citizen can be prosecuted in Ireland, provided that the act in question is also an offence in the place where it was committed.

 

Sections 36 and 37 are transitional provisions which allow orders or applications made under the Domestic Violence Act 1996 to continue as if they were made under this Bill.

 

Section 39 amends the Family Law Act 1995 to remove the exemption for underage marriage. At present, section 33 of the Family Law Act 1995 allows an application to court for an exemption to the requirement that a person must be over 18 to marry. 

 

Removing the underage marriage exemption should help to protect minors against forced marriage, as requiring both intended spouses to be at least 18 should assist in ensuring that potential spouses have the maturity to withstand parental or other pressure to marry a particular person. 

 

It will also be necessary to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004 and section 42 provides for this.  The validity of marriages which have already taken place under the exemption will not be affected.

 

The remaining sections in Part 4 amend other legislation to take account of this Bill.

 

In conclusion, following a career where I have encountered cases of domestic violence again and again, I believe that the battle against domestic violence is one that will never end and can never end.

 

However, 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.  This Bill will help in tackling the horror of domestic violence and I intend that it will be enacted as early as possible. 

 

I commend the Bill to the House.