Men who abuse partners ‘manipulate court systems to escape conviction’

MEN who abuse their partners are manipulating the court system to escape convictions, according to the project piloted to tackle the problem.

Don Hennessy, director of the National Domestic Violence Intervention Agency, says it would cost nothing to dramatically reform the sector but to do so would require a fundamental shift in how domestic violence is treated.

He said judges are currently making decisions on scant information read to the court without any independent third-party opinion.

This plays into the hands of perpetrators who Mr Hennessy feels are exploiting the information deficit in a system biased against the victim.

“There is a real dearth of information available in the whole area of intimate partner violence which makes it easy for people to say they are doing something when in fact they are doing nothing at all.

“In court it is up to the victim to gather, collect and present all the evidence on abuse and very often when they get into court they are not skilled in how to articulate it.

“All of the perpetrators I have come across are very devious people and they are very good at getting people to think the same way as them and they go into court and present themselves in whatever way it takes.”

When it was launched in 2003 the NDVIA was promised €3 million to run a three-year pilot perpetrator programme in the Bray/Dun Laoghaire area.

It gathers information from every occasion when a particular case of domestic violence catches the attention of a public service.

Ideally the programme would pool reports from the Health Service Executive, the Gardaí, education services, refuges and the Probation Service.

So far it has only received €450,000, with a top up grant of €90,000 this year, with limited resources and slow cooperation hampering its work.

It was given a positive independent review from Farrell Grant and Sparks but Mr Hennessy’s gut-feeling is funding will not be provided next year nor will it be rolled out to other district court jurisdictions.

He says: “The system just cannot work and it is frustrating to the well-meaning people in the system.

“It is a human thing that we attempt to solve relationship issues as if they were just relationship issues but there is a lot more than that and you have to start looking at the criminal issues and include all of the criminality involved in cases of intimate partner violence.”

Until that happens he says all of the agencies and public servants who are not fulfilling their duty to victims of domestic violence will continue to dodge the issue.

“It would cost nothing extra. If everybody who has a role to play in the recording of information on intimate partner violence did their job and gathered all of the information that would be it.

“But, yes, that is an institutional thing and it probably goes further than that,” he said.

Accepted practice in other countries is for the probation service to gather data and present a report to judges. This tracks cases of domestic violence and allows for informed decision on barring orders.

He says in Ireland the service is best placed to carry out this service but the decision taken in the 1990s to remove the Probation Service from the civil courts would have to be reversed.

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