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Tough new domestic abuse law in Northern Ireland 'will make a tangible difference'


Justice minister Naomi Long (NI Assembly/PA)

Justice minister Naomi Long (NI Assembly/PA)

Justice minister Naomi Long (NI Assembly/PA)

The creation of tough new legislation targeting domestic abusers shows victims they are not alone, Justice Minister Naomi Long has said.

The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill is due to have its final reading at the Assembly today and if passed will become law soon afterwards.

A person convicted of the worst offending will face up to 14 years in prison.

The draft law includes the creation of a new domestic abuse offence, allowing for heavier sentences where children are involved, and stiffening penalties for any wrongdoing where domestic abuse is associated with it.

Mrs Long said: "It will make a real and tangible difference to people who are abused.

"It recognises that not all domestic abuse is physical.

"That is an important change in the law; emotional, financial, sexual, technological and digital abuse can have an effect on someone through coercive and controlling behaviour."

According to PSNI statistics, 591 domestic abuse calls are received by police each week on average, based on analysis dating back to last March.

On Christmas Day and Boxing Day 2020, a total of 250 domestic abuse calls were made to officers.

Some 31,817 domestic abuse incidents were recorded in 2019/20, the highest level recorded since the data series began 15 years ago. Incidents have increased by 52% in that time.

Mrs Long said some people had suffered increasing levels of abuse over a long time and noted that Stormont powersharing was suspended for three years.

Ms Long said: "It seems like they have waited a very long time.

"We now have this legislation passing its final reading hopefully on Monday, allowing us to completely transform how we deal with domestic abuse."

She said she wanted to raise awareness of the criminality.

Ms Long said: "We are encouraging the public not to see it as a private and behind-closed-doors matter.

"It is a crime and needs to be reported for the sake of those suffering abuse.

"It is important to speak up."

The law has been one of the minister's top priorities since taking office a year ago.

She paid tribute to the victims and their advocates, adding it presented a new opportunity now the law recognised the harm as abuse.

Belfast Telegraph