Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland needs tougher penalties for domestic violence, says judge

By George Jackson

A judge has called for heavier sentencing powers in Northern Ireland when it comes to domestic violence.

Barney McElholm made the comments at the Magistrates Court in Londonderry yesterday after sentencing a man who grabbed two women and threw them to the floor.

Michael Paul James McIntyre's behaviour was described by his own defence barrister as "neanderthal".

Judge McElholm said legislation should be introduced immediately to give judges enhanced sentencing powers.

But he added that in the absence of an Executive with legislative powers and while politicians were bogged down in other matters, the new tougher sentencing guidelines soon to be made available in England and Wales won't be available here.

Appearing via video-link from Maghaberry Prison, McIntyre (45), from Maureen Avenue in Derry, pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-girlfriend and another woman and to causing criminal damage to his ex's table by punching it with his fist.

Mr McElholm said the maximum sentence he could impose for the domestic violence assaults was six months whereas the maximum sentence for the criminal damage offence was two years. The assaults on the two women took place in a neighbouring house in Maureen Avenue on January 12 last year.

A barrister for the Public Prosecution Service said the women told the police they were the victims of sustained violent assaults by McIntyre during which he grabbed them by the hair and throat and threw them to the floor. One of the women was unable to breathe for a short period and the other victim was kicked and punched to the body as she lay on the floor.

Defence barrister Stephen Mooney said his client had behaved "like a neanderthal" and that one of the aggravating features of the offences was the degree of degradation involved.Mr Mooney said because of his guilty pleas, McIntyre was entitled to some credit as the two women did not have to give evidence in open court against him.

Judge McElholm described McIntyre's behaviour as "thuggish and disgraceful" but said it was also disgraceful that under current legislation the defendant could only be charged with common assault. "I have said before and I will continue to say - we have long passed the point where there needs to be separate domestic violence legislation with enhanced penalties", he said.

"The sentencing guidelines for domestic violence in England and Wales are to be changed and they are going to be heavier, and there should be new legislation and enhanced penalties in Northern Ireland of up to twelve months for violent domestic assaults on women and children.

"The current maximum of six months is not a deterrent. Of course, if we had a government maybe these matters could be addressed," he said.

The judge jailed McIntyre for eight months for punching the table with his fist and also fined him £200.

He also imposed a five-month concurrent jail sentence for the assaults on the two women and imposed a Res training Order on McIntyre for five years.

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