Review of the effectiveness of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021

Publication: 17/04/24
Cover of the Review of Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021
Effective collaboration between Police Officers and Prosecutors to enhance the Domestic Abuse legislation implementation.

Domestic abuse is a serious problem in Northern Ireland. It damages people, traumatises children and tears families apart in our community. This Inspection assesses the effectiveness of the new legislation that created a new domestic abuse offence aimed at prosecuting offenders and supporting victims and children.

CJI was appointed by the Minister of Justice in September 2021 to fulfil a requirement under Section 33 of the Part 1 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 (the Act) to provide independent oversight of Part 1 of the Act each year for seven years. This review is the first of these reports and Inspectors looked at how the Department of Justice (DoJ), the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI), the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) had implemented the Act since the legislation was commenced on 21 February 2022.

Domestic abuse is a crime

The Act recognises and criminalises courses of abusive conduct, encompassing behaviours recurring on multiple occasions against intimate partners, former partners, or family members. It introduces a range of aggravating factors that can be considered by Judges when cases of domestic abuse or offences committed in a domestic setting are prosecuted and abusers sentenced.

Implementation challenges

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.
Comprehensive statutory guidance was produced with input from victim support organisations; however, Inspectors found there was limited awareness about its existence.
An extensive information and awareness raising campaign incorporating advertising and social media activity was delivered to increase public awareness about domestic abuse and the new offence. Training was also provided to staff at the PSNI, the PPS and the NICTS on the legislation, however, this was challenging to use.
Inspectors found that Police Officers responded to domestic offences in a proactive and effective way and decision-making by PPS Prosecutors was also sound.

Despite these positive findings, Inspectors identified 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.

Recommendations for improvement

A better collaboration and communication between the PSNI and the PPS are needed to maximise the use of the Act provisions, particularly the use of domestic abuse offences and aggravators when they can and should be, as well as re-visiting the concept of specialist PPS Prosecutors.
Domestic abuse affects children and young people and Inspectors identified that there is more work to be done to improve the use of aggravators that apply to children to fulfil the Act’s intention to better protect children from harm.
CJI has made two strategic and nine operational recommendations to support and assist criminal justice organisations in improving how the legislation is used as intended.


The DoJ and criminal justice organisations have invested resources in making us all more aware of domestic abuse and preparing for the implementation of this important legislation. It is vital that it is utilised as the Northern Ireland Assembly intended and as victims deserve.
Next year, CJI will include a focus on the report recommendations and their implementation, and we 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.

Read the Press Release

Listen to Criminal Justice Unpacked (CJI Podcast), where we discuss the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 with guests from the DoJ, PPS, PSNI and Women's Aid.