Definition of 'domestic abuse' to be expanded

The definition of 'domestic abuse' is to be extended to include threatening or "coercive" behaviour with effect from March 2013, meaning new classes of behaviour will be categorised as domestic abuse and punishable in the same way.

People who are subject to strict controls by their partners over their finances, social contact or behaviour, or are in other ways controlled emotionally, will be classed as victims of domestic abuse, and their partners will be subject to the current legal measures and punishments. The other significant change is that the law would apply to under 18s, as accounts of abusive relationships involving teenagers have been on the increase.

Suzanne Scott, a solicitor specialising in domestic violence and other family law issues at Wilson Nesbitt in Belfast commented:

"There is currently no criminal definition of domestic abuse, though in 2004 the government did produce a fairly narrow definition that strictly applied to adults.

"The traditional approach to domestic abuse has always emphasised violence and/or physical harm, but it is often more complicated and subtle than that. We are long overdue a new interpretation to abuse that includes coercion by one partner, or otherwise limiting the freedom of movement, action and speech, or control over their finances and other decisions they make. Such an interpretation will afford protection to hundreds of people each year that are not currently viewed by the law as victims of domestic abuse."

If you live in Northern Ireland and have suffered domestic abuse and require legal advice in respect of the options available to you, contact one of the solicitors at Wilson Nesbitt by calling 0800 840 1363. They can assist you to apply for emergency and subsequent Court Orders including Non-molestation and Occupation Orders, Injunctions and Matrimonial Home rights to protect you and your children's interests.

To read more information about domestic abuse click here.