Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill passes NI Assembly Final Stage

08 February 2021

On 18th January 2021,  the Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Bill passed its Final Stage in Northern Ireland Assembly.

The Bill was introduced to the Assembly in March 2020 and is expected to receive Royal Assent by March 2021.  It is hoped that the new domestic abuse offence will thereafter be operational by the end of 2021.

The most significant aspect of the proposed Bill is the introduction of coercive control as a criminal offence in Northern Ireland.  As well as violent or threatening behaviour, the following behaviour would be punishable in law:-

  1. Making a victim feel dependent on, or subordinate to a perpetrator
  2. Isolating a victim from friends, family members or other sources of social interaction or support, 
  3. Controlling, regulating or monitoring a victim's day-to-day activities, 
  4. Depriving a victim of, or restricting their freedom of action, 
  5. Making a victim feel frightened, humiliated, degraded, punished or intimidated

The Bill includes provisions for the effect that domestic abuse can have on children, with enhanced sentences possible in cases where a child is exposed to an incident of domestic abuse.  Convictions for the most serious domestic abuse offences will carry a penalty of up to 14 years imprisonment. 

Non Molestation Orders 

Currently, those suffering from domestic abuse in Northern Ireland can to seek protection from the Courts by way of a Non-Molestation Order if they are a person associated to their perpetrator. Applications can be made on an emergency basis if there has been a recent incident of abuse (usually within the past 7 days). Some Legal Aid assistance is available to anyone applying for a Non Molestation Order.

If a Non-Molestation Order is granted by the Court, the perpetrator cannot molest, harass, pester, use or threaten violence against the victim. It means that they cannot harass the victim directly (in person, by text, phone, email or social media) and they also cannot get someone else to harass them on their behalf. An Order is usually made for a specified period of time and if breached amounts to a criminal offence.

Civil Injunction

Where the victim and perpetrator are associated with one another via blood or marriage or if the perpetrator is not known to the victim, the Protection from Harassment Order (NI) 1997 provides a victim with the ability to apply to the Court for a Civil Injunction against their perpetrator. Civil Injunctions can be applied for on an emergency basis without the perpetrator being notified and dependant on a victim’s income, they may be entitled to Legal Aid assistance.

If granted, a Civil Injunction stops a person from harassing, assaulting, molesting or otherwise interfering with the victim, including restraining that person from being able to communicate or contact the victim and, in some cases, prohibiting them from being able to enter a certain property or area.

While protection is available under current law, it has long been thought that it is outdated and not fit for purpose.  The need for more thorough legal protections to be put in place was further heightened during 2020 when the PSNI reported a 15% increase in the number of reported domestic abuse crimes, the highest figure recorded in Northern Ireland for the last 15 years. The new legislation and the extension of the protection that it will provide to victims of domestic abuse will be welcomed by family law practitioners throughout the jurisdiction. 

For assistance in relation to securing protection against domestic abuse, contact Claire Edgar via email on or by telephone on 028 9024 3901.