Domestic Violence Bill to be amended

VICTIMS of domestic violence will soon be able to apply again for temporary barring orders against an abusive partner, after the Government introduced an amendment to the law yesterday.

Justice Minister Michael McDowell said he hoped the changes would become law within the next week.

Introducing the Domestic Violence (Amendment) Bill 2002, he said courts will be able to grant an interim barring order for eight days to an applicant without the defendant having the right to be heard.

He said the Supreme Court had ruled last October that ex parte barring orders (ie, where respondents are not heard) were unconstitutional.

The court had found that, in failing to define a fixed period of relatively short duration during which the barring order would be in force, respondents were deprived of a fundamental right of natural justice - the right to respond to allegations.

There was an outcry following the ruling, with claims that it threatened the lives of women.

The Minister yesterday said he was fulfilling a promise he made at the time that he would close the loophole in the law and ensure that people in domestic violence situations would be adequately protected.

He said that the courts could extend interim barring orders beyond eight days so long as the respondent had been given an opportunity to be heard.

“Under the Bill now published an interim barring order granted ex parte will lapse not more than eight days from the date of its making unless continued in force by the court following proceedings at which the respondent has been given an opportunity to be heard,” said a spokesman for the Minister.

He added that when an order is made the evidence upon which it is based must be sent to the person barred so that he or she has notice of what is alleged against him or her.

The Minister indicated that he hoped the Bill would pass through all the legislative stages before the Christmas recess on 18 December.

Gráinne Healy of the National Women’s Council gave the Bill an initial welcome.

“The Minister promised to respond to the court ruling and we welcome that he has moved. We were very concerned if it remained unaddressed, particularly coming up to Christmas, when there is a huge increase in domestic violence.

She said she was concerned at the short period of the interim order - eight days - particularly in light of the backlog in the courts.

John O’Shea of AMEN, a support group for male victims of domestic violence, also welcomed the Bill.

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