Independent review of new domestic abuse legislation published

CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin has published the first in a series of reviews assessing the effectiveness of new legislation that created a new domestic abuse offence and aimed to better support victims and children affected by domestic abuse.
Inspectors looked at how Part 1 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 (the Act) have been implemented by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS), the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) and the Department of Justice (DoJ) since February 2022.
Inspectors undertook fieldwork in PSNI, PPS, NICTS and DoJ to inform the review and spoke to a wide range of stakeholder organisations including Women’s Aid, Men’s Advisory Project, the NSPCC and Victim Support Northern Ireland to secure their views.  A case file review of 70 police investigation files and 98 prosecution files was also carried out to understand how the PSNI and the PPS were applying the Act to relevant cases.
“Inspectors found the DoJ and its partners in the criminal justice system had done a lot of work individually and collectively to prepare for and implement this important legislation. An extensive information and awareness raising campaign incorporating advertising and social media activity was also delivered to increase public awareness about domestic abuse and the new offence,” said Ms Durkin.
“The proactive public information campaign is welcome and an important step in implementing the Act; having raised awareness it also raises expectations of an effective response when domestic abuse is reported.
“Inspectors found that Police Officers responded to domestic offences in a proactive and effective way and decision-making by PPS Prosecutors was also sound.  However, Inspectors identified there were some delays in the PSNI response provided to emergency and priority incidents and the quality of risk assessments completed by Police Officers could be enhanced with greater detail shared with statutory and voluntary partners,” said the Chief Inspector.
Improvements are required in how Police Officers and Prosecutors apply the domestic abuse offence and there was need for PPS Prosecutors to better record the reasons for their decisions to prosecute or not prosecute within their prosecution case files. 
“More work also needs to be done to improve the use and application of the aggravators by police and prosecutors, that can be brought to the Court’s attention and considered by Judges when cases of domestic abuse or offences committed in a domestic setting are prosecuted and abusers sentenced. This is important particularly when they apply to children and fulfil the Act’s intention to better protect children from harm,” she said.
Inspectors have made two strategic and nine operational recommendations where improvements can be made to improve how the legislation is used as intended.
“Our review next year will include a focus on the report recommendations and their implementation, and I would encourage criminal justice organisations to take action on the recommendations we have made to ensure this legislation is implemented with the same energy and drive needed to create it,” concluded Ms Durkin.