Irish Legal System is Failing Women Living with Violence and Abuse – New Research
New research from SAFE Ireland shows that the Irish legal system – at every level – is not working for women and children living with domestic violence and abuse.
The research, called The Lawlessness of the Home; Women’s experience of seeking legal remedies to domestic violence and abuse in the Irish legal system, was launched today by Frances Fitzgerald TD, Minister for Justice and Equality.
Sharon O’Halloran, CEO of SAFE Ireland, described the report as deeply distressing, but sadly not completely surprising. She said that it exposed a system that often regarded domestic violence as a nuisance rather than a crime.
“This research shows that the different layers of the justice system from the Gardaí to the judges often failed to give each woman the time and attention necessary to properly analyse her specific case,” she said. “We need a radical change in culture in the legal system so that domestic violence is treated seriously by everyone.”
She also said that the report documents clearly that there are pockets of good practice where the system is working well, where women are being heard and believed.
‘We are confident that we can work to ensure that these pockets become the norm for women and children, that change in culture and committed leadership can over-ride dismissal,” she said
The research outlines that women are not taken seriously by the legal system, that women generally were silenced in court, that their allegations of domestic violence were not fully investigated or requests to make statements were not facilitated readily. It also shows that breaches of safety and barring orders often went by unpunished. It further documents that there is often no consistency or continuity in the application of the law.
SAFE Ireland makes 34 recommendations. Sharon O’Halloran said that four would make an immediate difference to women. She called for the establishment of a civil and criminal law definition of domestic violence, which includes coercive control. She said that it was vital to introduce risk assessment systems so that risks of violent behaviour are recognised. She also said that it was time to remove some of the barriers for women in the criminal justice system by allowing their identity to be kept anonymous and waivering legal aid fees.
The report highlights that risk behaviours, which are often recognised globally as indicators of violence and control, are often going undetected by Gardai and legal representation, are being dismissed or are being omitted from evidence.
“This report must mark the day when we take this issue seriously, when we stand up and commit to putting in place a legal and statutory infrastructure that does not leave the majority of women more broken, more stressed, more afraid,” she said. “Because at the moment, that is what is happening for women who rely so heavily on the legal system to help them escape the crime that is domestic violence.”
A major European survey published last year showed that 79% of Irish women who had experienced violence or abuse did not contact any service or organisation, including the police, following the most serious incidence of violence. The European average was 53%. The survey also showed 25% of Irish women felt that they did not receive support to protect them from further violence or harassment.
The research centres on the narratives of 13 women living in rural and urban areas. It also includes an analysis of all research carried out in this area to date, and looks at international law, experiences and best practices in a variety of other jurisdictions.