“When I became Minister of Justice in 2016, I vowed to tackle domestic abuse. The PSNI report approximately 30,000 incidents of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland each year. It’s government’s hidden shame for allowing it happen and doing little to tackle it before now. During my time in office, I made tackling domestic abuse my overarching priority. My biggest regret of the Stormont collapse is not fulfilling my promise to get domestic abuse law onto statute while Minister.
I promised to create a domestic abuse offence for Northern Ireland which would outlaw patterns of coercive control in domestic relationships. Coercive control is constructed through psychological abuse. It’s usually the reason why victims don’t just leave and also the beginning of physical violence. An accurate description is feeling like always ‘walking on eggshells’.
Despite political stalemate, I have continued to lobby and work with the Department of Justice alongside voluntary groups to encourage this offence be brought into law via Westminster in the absence of a functioning government in NI. The Department of Justice in NI has confirmed to me today that Westminster will extend their legislation to Northern Ireland to ensure that coercive control becomes a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. We are the last regions of these islands where perpetrators can now be prosecuted for a coercive control offence.
I would prefer that a functioning Northern Ireland Executive create this law because there are other elements in the NI version which cannot be taken through Westminster at this time. We are, however, long past wishing for an Executive to uphold their responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland; long past allowing victims to continue to suffer. The time was yesterday, but I’m pleased it’s today.
I dedicate this outcome to survivors of domestic abuse. It’s their honesty of horrific experiences and their strength telling their stories that will hopefully stop others becoming victims. They have started the journey of eradicating domestic abuse in Northern Ireland. Thank you so much.”