Guest piece by Monica Mazzone on pro bono and the road to the Domestic Violence Act 2018

Monica Mazzone is Policy Consultant with Women’s Aid, formerly its Policy and Communications Manager.

Women's Aid had sought changes to the Domestic Violence Act 1996 for many years, in particular in relation to extending eligibility for orders and providing guidelines to the courts for orders being granted or refused. These efforts were partially successful and eligibility for orders was increased by the Civil law Miscellaneous Provisions Act 2011. However, other issues were not addressed at all and even eligibility remained limited to certain categories of intimate partners, with other categories remaining unprotected.

In 2011 the new government included in their Programme for Government the review and consolidation of the Domestic Violence Act. Women's Aid took this opportunity to review the Act in light of our experience on the ground supporting women going to court and identified key areas needing change:

  • Further extension of eligibility, in particular for partners in dating relationships (with no cohabitation) and for some categories of cohabitants.
  • Protection for children when orders are granted and more generally in Family Law proceedings in cases of domestic violence.
  • Need for guidelines for the court.
  • Access to orders in an emergency when the courts are not sitting (out of hour).
  • Stalking in domestic violence.

After doing some preliminary work, Women’s Aid realised that professional legal advice was needed to research how these issues were dealt with in other jurisdictions and to develop recommendations that were relevant to the Irish context.

With this in mind, in 2012 Women's Aid approached PILA to ask for pro bono legal research in relation to seven legal questions on the above issues. PILA responded promptly and enthusiastically with a group of pro bono barristers taking up the work, each answering one or two of the legal questions. The barristers were all very helpful and committed to the project and produced excellent legal analysis with reference to other jurisdictions and suggestions for improvements in Ireland.

As a result of this legal work, Women's Aid was able to develop a paper with twelve recommendations which has formed the basis of our lobbying on the reform of the Domestic Violence  Act and other relevant legislation since late 2012 (e.g. Children and Family Relationship Act and stalking legislation).

Many of these recommendations were successful in total or in part and have been included in the Domestic Violence Act 2018. Other recommendations we hope to have included in forthcoming legislation, notably the ones in relation to stalking or harassment.

This was not the only time when we needed the help of PILA during this journey. As the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 was going through the legislative process, we needed legal advice on the wording of the then proposed offence of coercive and controlling behaviour and again this advice was provided quickly and efficiently by another PILA pro bono barrister, whose analysis helped us campaign for a much improved wording of said offence in the final Bill.

In our long quest to improve legal protection for victims of domestic violence, Women's Aid found the assistance of the PILA pro bono legal advice scheme invaluable.

The Domestic Violence Act 2018 includes a number of significant changes, many of which have been the subject of our work with PILA, such as for example the extension of eligibility for Safety Orders to all partners in an intimate relationship and improved eligibility for Barring Orders for cohabitant partners. The legal advice that PILA provided was a key component of our work and will make a real difference on the ground when the Domestic violence Act 2018 is commenced.

For this we wish to thank PILA and all the lawyers that offered their work pro bono to us over the last few years, including Lynne McDonagh BL, Aoife Mooney BL, Katie Dawson BL, Michael Kinsley BL, Elizabeth Mitrow, Solicitor and David Perry BL.

Click here for Women Aid’s ‘Recommendations for Review of the Domestic Violence Legislation, November 2012.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

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