Specialist domestic abuse prosecutors proposed in Northern Ireland

Specialist domestic abuse prosecutors proposed in Northern Ireland

Jacqui Durkin

Specialist domestic abuse prosecutors could be introduced to help make Northern Ireland’s new domestic abuse law more effective, a report has suggested.

Jacqui Durkin, the chief inspector of criminal justice in Northern Ireland, yesterday published her review of how Part 1 of the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 has been implemented by police, prosecutors, the courts and the Department of Justice.

As well as engaging with stakeholders, inspectors reviewed 70 police investigation files and 98 prosecution files to understand how the Act is being applied to relevant cases.

Ms Durkin said: “Inspectors found that police officers responded to domestic offences in a pro-active 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.”

The report said 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.

One of the report’s two strategic recommendations is for the PSNI and the PPS to “further develop and embed the prosecution team approach for cases involving domestic abuse, focusing on the issues highlighted in this review, within six months of the publication of this report”, and that this “should include re-visiting the concept of specialist domestic abuse prosecutors”.

In total, the report makes 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.

Speaking after the publication of the report, justice minister Naomi Long said: “I welcome the comprehensive report, which is largely positive in terms of the first two years since the Act became operational.

“Following the implementation of the Act there was a three per cent increase in the number of domestic abuse crimes recorded in 2022-23. Whilst 22,343 domestic abuse crimes in one year is still too high, the figures indicate the legislation is having an effect.”

The Department of Justice has commenced work on advancing the relevant recommendations contained within the report, she said. The DoJ and the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) will take forward four of the report’s 11 recommendations.

Mrs Long said: “We will continue to work with criminal justice partners and stakeholders to raise further awareness of the domestic abuse offence.

“As the figures show, too many women, men and children continue to experience patterns of abusive behaviour including physical, emotional and financial abuse, therefore it is crucial we utilise the legislation to hold perpetrators to account.”

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