Domestic abusers are responsible for one in seven crimes in Londonderry, according to new analysis by the Northern Ireland Assembly’s Research and Information Service, and a special court piloted in the city is making it easier for victims going through the process of prosecution.
In 2014/15, there were 1,049 offences with a domestic abuse motivation, 13.6 per cent of all crimes recorded in the Londonderry area, the Assembly research shows.
This is higher than the Northern Ireland average of 12.8 per cent.
But according to a recent briefing of the Stormont Justice Committee by Minister Claire Sugden, good work is being done in the Londonderry area to accommodate victims going through the trauma of a domestic case.
Ms Sugden expalined: “A court in Derry has a specific timetable to deal with domestic violence cases so that they feel more comfortable when they come into the courts system.
“It is one of those issues that I do not think can be only down to either Department. I have had a conversation with the Health Minister, and she is keen to work with me on that and, indeed, other issues that I am quite enamoured with. I would not say that I am disappointed that it sits with Health.
“I would be disappointed if Health wanted to do it on its own and could not do it with me.
“That is not the case. It is very much a case of collaborative working. Domestic violence is an example of where that needs to happen.”
The Justice Minister went on to underline the importance of Foyle Women’s Aid’s involvement in the process.
She said: “I spoke about the court in Derry and the relationship with Women’s Aid up there, but it has to be much wider. Whilst it can be the police, it can also be the community and voluntary sector trying to bring those people into it.
“I suppose victims of domestic violence need that support. Sometimes they are not confident with the police handling it or dealing with it, so we have to look at alternatives so that they can feel as comfortable as possible. Any approach to domestic violence has to be very centred on the victim.”
David Lavery, Director of the Access to Justice Directorate at the Department of Justice also spoke of the importance of the court pilot here.
He said: “It is very encouraging, but it also says that we need to make sure that the police are quick to bring in organisations like Foyle Women’s Aid and so forth, which have a support facility in place, and to put in place an offender programme.
“It is one thing to support the victim, but we need to address offending behaviour, so we are working with the probation service to put that in place.”