Stormont impasse delaying domestic abuse laws, ex-police boss warns

Judith Gillespie
Judith Gillespie

Laws tackling domestic abuse in Northern Ireland have been stalled by Northern Ireland's powersharing impasse, a former senior police officer said.

Draft measures addressing controlling or coercive behaviour and the responsibility to disclose whether a partner has a history of violence have not been introduced.

Former PSNI deputy chief constable Judith Gillespie said more victims were coming forward to report to police.

She added: "It is not all physical violence, much of it involves demeaning the victim to the point where she or he have no self-confidence, their sense of self is undermined, they become a prisoner in the relationship."

She said that kind of emotional abuse, like not being allowed access to friends, can have longer-lasting scars than physical violence.

The former senior officer said legislation had been drafted to go through the Assembly to make that coercive and controlling behaviour illegal, already passed in England, Scotland and Wales.

"Because we don't have an Assembly and Executive the legislation is sitting in draft form, and that is frustrating for those who work in this field."

She said a law would recognise that not all domestic abuse involves violence.

"It would provide the police with a criminal offence that would deal with that insidious form of domestic abuse undermining the victims' self-worth and making it a specific criminal offence."

She said reported domestic abuse was at an all-time high.

"That is not because it is on the increase, it is about more victims are coming forward to report it to the police and that is a positive thing.

"It is indicative of the real scale of the problem of domestic abuse, not confined to a particular strata, it is right across all strands of society."

She said there was other legislation in place in England, Clare's Law, introducing a disclosure scheme whereby people can ask police if their partners have a history of domestic abuse.

The initiative is named after Clare Wood, 36, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.

Ms Gillespie said it was another piece of protection not in place in Northern Ireland because the Assembly is not sitting.