NI: Domestic abuse bill delayed over legal aid row

NI: Domestic abuse bill delayed over legal aid row

Naomi Long

Landmark domestic abuse legislation has been delayed by Justice Minister Naomi Long due to a row over legal aid and is no longer expected to become law by the end of the year.

The Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill was due to be debated at the further consideration stage by MLAs yesterday but Mrs Long said was “vital that further time is taken”.

MLAs last month supported an amendment conferring confers a discretionary power on the Legal Services Agency to waive the financial eligibility test in private family law cases in circumstances where the applicant has been the victim of a domestic abuse offence.

The amendment was brought by Rachel Woods, Green MLA for North Down, in the face of opposition from Mrs Long and passed with 44 votes in favour, seven against and 25 abstentions.

Mrs Long said this amendment and a further expected amendment on legal aid from the Stormont justice committee had given her “no choice but to postpone the further consideration stage of the bill”.

She said an expansion of access to legal aid without due diligence would be “potentially catastrophic” and would be “RHI on steroids”.

Justice committee chairperson Paul Givan criticised the minister’s decision as “an abuse of the democratic process”.

In a statement, Ms Woods said: “It’s right that if the minister has concerns around amendments to the bill, she explains her concerns to the Assembly where MLAs can debate the relevant issues. Instead, the minister’s decisions mean that the bill is unlikely to become law before the end of the year as she had previously and repeatedly indicated.”

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