Editor's Viewpoint: New coercive control laws to be welcomed
It was inevitable that plans for Westminster to introduce legislation in Northern Ireland liberalising abortion and legalising same-sex marriage would be controversial. But no one would oppose the Government's decision to extend protection for those in abusive relationships.
Laws to outlaw a form of bullying known as coercive control is included in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which came before Parliament yesterday. Coercive control includes psychological abuse and non-violent intimidation and is frequently a forerunner of violent abuse.
This law has been in force in England and Wales since 2015 but has never been extended to Northern Ireland because of the lack of a functioning Assembly and Executive.
Domestic abuse is one of the most prevalent crimes in the province, with the PSNI dealing with 31,000 cases of domestic violence last year.
Earlier this year chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland Brendan McGuigan said there was no excuse for long delays in extending the law to the province, and it is to the credit of those at Westminster who have brought the new legislation forward in relatively quick time.
Domestic abuse is one of the most corrosive crimes constantly eroding victims' belief in their self-worth and leaving them fearful of the consequences of almost any action. It takes many forms and often begins with controlling how people dress, where they go, who their friends are and what way they are expected by their partner or spouse to behave.
The last Stormont Justice Minister Claire Sugden was among the first to praise the move by Westminster. It had been one of her priority policies during her term of office, but the Assembly and Executive were often involved with more contentious issues which sidelined the work of the Department of Justice, the only office not in the hands of either Sinn Fein or the DUP.
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For many women, and some men, news of the new planned legislation is very welcome. They have had to live with the torment of having their lives controlled and unable to find any redress. It is only when the abuse turns violent that police have been able to intervene and bring the abusers to justice. Now they will be able to bring the force of the law to bear at an earlier stage and at least rescue victims from their life of torment. The new laws cannot be introduced a moment too soon to bring relief to those suffering abuse.