Violent partners face stricter rules under proposed laws

VIOLENT and neglectful partners are to face stricter rules in laws to be brought in by the Government.

Proposals will also provide a boost to businesses and the wider economy by slashing the term of bankruptcy from 12 years to five years.

Wide-ranging legislation published yesterday by Justice Minister Alan Shatter will:

- Provide legal protection from liability for the actions of good samaritans and people doing voluntary work for charities.

- Provide free legal aid to alleged victims of human trafficking.

- Increase the maximum awards available in the Equality Tribunal to €40,000.

- Rectify flaws in the law covering the power of gardaí to arrest foreign nationals who fail to produce a passport at entry into the state.

Mr Shatter said the bill will amend the Domestic Violence Act 1996 so that a parent may now apply for a safety order against the other parent of their child, even if they do not live together or have never lived together.

"This ensures that the full protection of the law is available where access to a child is an occasion of intimidation or even violence between disputing parents," Mr Shatter said.

Other amendments to the act will mean that protections under the legislation are "available on the same basis to unmarried opposite-sex couples and same-sex couples who have not registered a civil partnership".

The minister said he was changing the Family Law (Maintenance of Spouses and Children) Act 1976 to make it clear that a spouse is in contempt of court if he or she fails to provide the maintenance ordered.

"The amendment to the law is based on the premise that a court has already deliberated in setting an appropriate level of maintenance and that if the debtor breaches that order without a significant change in his or her circumstances, that breach will constitute contempt of court and can be punished by imprisonment."

Mr Shatter said he was reducing the length of time bankruptcy orders applied, from 12 years to five.

The Irish Small & Medium Enterprises Association welcomed the move, saying being declared bankrupt was like a "millstone around the neck" of businesses affected.

Mr Shatter said the bill would provide "protection from liability" for good samaritans who provide help during an accident or emergency and people doing voluntary work for charities, including sports, recreation and rescue.