Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if domestic violence legislation will be amended to increase eligibility for domestic violence orders; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question number 46 of 1 December 2011, in which I indicated the following:
“The Programme for Government commitment – to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation, in a way that provides protection to victims – will be progressed as soon as possible having regard to the need for consultations and the need to dispose of urgent legislative matters in my Department under the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for the State.
I am considering making suitable measures available for applicants who are or have been in relationships but who may never have cohabited with the person causing the risk. While there are already measures available under section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences against the Person Act 1997, the criminal threshold of proof applies in those cases. Accordingly, I am considering whether persons in non-cohabiting relationships may be included in the category of people who may apply for a safety order.
In relation to the cohabitation requirements to obtain a barring order, it should be noted that there is a constitutional impediment to removing that requirement entirely where the respondent has any interest in a shared property. This is because the order may have the effect of restricting the property rights of the respondent. However, I will give full consideration to any measures which may enhance protections for an applicant while respecting the respondent’s constitutional rights.
In advance of wider reform, I introduced reforms to domestic violence legislation by means of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. That Act removed the minimum required period of cohabitation before one of a cohabiting couple may apply for a safety order (previously, the applicant was required to have resided with the respondent for at least six of the previous twelve months) and gave equal access to the protections of the Domestic Violence Act to opposite-sex and same-sex couples (the relevant provision previously referred only to couples “living together as husband and wife”). The 2011 Act also widened the scope of section 2 of the 1996 Act, which specifies who may apply for a safety order, to enable a person to obtain a safety order against a person with whom they have a child in common. This is the only exception to the general rule that the protections available under the Domestic Violence Acts are for the benefit of persons who have lived together in the same household.”