Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said new laws on stalking and non-fatal strangulation will “hopefully” be enacted by the end of the year.
Speaking at a Shared Island Dialogue event on Friday on measures to tackle gender-based violence and abuse, Ms McEntee said it is hoped the maximum sentence for assault causing harm – “which is the most common criminal offence associated with domestic violence” – will also be increased before the end of the year,
“Ending gender-based violence falls very much squarely within the vision of the commitment of the [Belfast] agreement, which was wholeheartedly supported north and south of the Border,” she said.
Ms Long said there was a need to deliver a “sea change” in how women are treated on the island
“While the detail of the policy and the approach in the jurisdictions may differ, there is a lot actually where it is very much the same.”
Ms McEntee outlined measures the Government has taken seeking to end domestic and gender-based violence, such as having special judges to deal with domestic and sexual violence.
“And it’s beyond that. It’s bringing forward legislation in the next few weeks on a new family court bill, a new family court structure and the supports that are required there. There are a lot of actions in the plan that are already progressing.”
Speaking at the same event, outgoing Stormont justice minister Naomi Long likened Northern Ireland to a rudderless ship in choppy waters.
Ms Long, leader of the Alliance Party, said she regretted she was no longer able to speak in her capacity as justice minister. “You’ll be aware that as of last Thursday night, I am no longer minister. In fact, we are ministerless; something of a rudderless ship in what are extremely choppy waters,” she said.
After a last-ditch attempt to restore the Stormont Assembly failed last week, a new election is due to take place no later than January 20th. Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris confirmed on Friday that no election will take place before Christmas.
Ms Long said there was a need to deliver a sea change in how women are treated on the island. “We have to have a zero-tolerance approach to abuse, misogyny, and the entitlement culture that exists in many places,” she said.
The issue of gender-based violence was a priority for her during her time as minister for justice, she said.
“I was conscious that our laws and practice in that area had fallen far behind most other jurisdictions. That made it harder for the justice system to be able to prosecute cases, but also eroded confidence in the justice system for victims,” she said.
Ms Long said there is a real cost to the political hiatus in the North.
“The stopping domestic and sexual violence and abuse strategy is a cross-executive strategy. It cannot be finalised without an executive. There is an urgency in this,” she said.