Some perpetrators of domestic violence will be offered a chance to avoid jail through a new scheme aimed at reducing reoffending.
The pilot project in Londonderry will see convicted offenders engage in an intensive therapeutic programme designed to alter their behaviour.
A judge will select eligible candidates to participate in the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) scheme before passing sentence.
Successful completion of the initiative will then be factored in as a mitigating factor in the judge’s final deliberation on sentence.
Derry Magistrates’ Court has already earned a reputation for taking an innovative approach to domestic violence crimes, having created a dedicated court sitting for such offences.
Stormont’s Department of Justice hopes the latest initiative will encourage more victims to report such crimes, as they will know their partners may be given an opportunity to get help.
To avail of the programme, offenders must accept that their behaviour is “harmful, unacceptable and needs to change”.
Department of Justice permanent secretary, Nick Perry said: “This innovative pilot is designed to challenge individuals to truly confront their offending behaviour.
“It will allow the judge to hold offenders directly accountable for their actions, to challenge them, and to support them to change.
“This new pilot will undoubtedly supplement the excellent work already being undertaken in Londonderry Magistrates’ Court through the domestic violence and abuse listing arrangement.
“Ultimately, this programme, working alongside a number of other problem solving justice initiatives, will help to create a safe community for Northern Ireland where we respect the law, and each other.”
Offenders participating in the scheme will be required to update their judge on a monthly basis on their progress.
A maximum of 30 offenders will be able to participate in the pilot, which is expected to run for approximately nine months.
Dr Geraldine O’Hare from PBNI, said: “We must work with perpetrators of domestic violence if we are to challenge their behaviour and the choices they make, in order to reduce the number of victims in our society and make Northern Ireland a safe place to live.
“This innovative problem solving programme, allows us to work intensively with offenders, to address the root causes of their behaviour and the crimes committed, and to rehabilitate them in the community.”
A specialist link worker from Women’s Aid will provide victims with practical support whilst their partner is engaged with the programme.
Marie Brown, director of Foyle Woman’s Aid, added: “A key aspect of the programme is to ensure that the victims of abuse within the family are supported.
“The protection of victims is paramount within this programme and the role of the link worker is specifically designed to carry out this task.”