Less than 20% conviction rate in domestic violence cases before Dublin courts

Analysis of data on alleged offences before Dublin Metropolitan District courts in 2019 and 2020

More than two-thirds of orders made in domestic violence cases in District Courts outside Dublin were to strike out, withdraw or dismiss the charges, figures show. Photograph: iStock

More than two-thirds of orders made in domestic violence cases in District Courts outside Dublin were to strike out, withdraw or dismiss the charges, figures show. Photograph: iStock

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Less than one in five people accused of a domestic violence offence before the Dublin Metropolitan District (DMD) courts in 2019 and 2020 were convicted, according to an analysis of Courts Service data.

There were also significantly more applications to strike out or withdraw domestic violence proceedings before the Dublin courts those years than for other types of offences, said barrister Emer Ní Chúagáin, who represents defendants in such proceedings.

Figures for such offences before the District Courts outside Dublin also show more than two-thirds of orders made in such cases were to strike out, withdraw or dismiss the charges.

The data concerns summary prosecutions for offences under section 33 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 for breaches of safety, protection, interim barring, barring and emergency barring orders, punishable by a fine and/or a maximum prison term of one year.

Having obtained the data, Ms Ní Chúagáin analysed it in a paper published last month in the Criminal Law & Evidence Update booklet by Irish Rule of Law International, an initiative established by the Law Society and the Bar of Ireland.

Her paper focussed on data regarding prosecutions in the Dublin Metropolitan District area. In 2019, the number of section 33 charges before the DMD courts was 428, involving 296 persons. That more than doubled in 2020 to 968 section 33 charges against 644 persons.

There were 430 orders made in relation to the 2019 cases and 973 orders in the 2020 cases. Strike out/withdrawal applications were made in 65 per cent of cases and less than one in five, 17 per cent, of accused were convicted, Ms Ní Chúagáin noted. Dismissal orders were made in 14 per cent of such cases. In contrast, dismissal orders were made, on average, in four per cent of all other types of cases.

In district courts outside the DMD area, Courts Service data shows that 973 section 33 orders were made by those courts in 2019. More than half the orders (550) involved striking out, dismissal or withdrawal of the complaint. Some 50 defendants were imprisoned, 19 got partly suspended prison sentences and some 80 got fully suspended sentences. About 50 defendants were fined and the remainder were dealt with via other remedies.

Dismissal orders

In 2020, 1,802 section 33 orders were made by the District Courts outside the DMD area, almost twice the 2019 number of orders. Those included some 1,275 strike out, withdrawal and dismissal orders. Almost 120 imprisonment orders were made, including imprisonment with partial suspension of sentence. More than 160 cases resulted in fully suspended prison terms.

A 2014 report of the Garda Inspectorate discussed an inconsistent approach among gardaí to domestic violence cases where a complaint is made but the complainant later decides they do not want to go to court, Ms Ní Chúagáin said. While some gardaí were providing a very service to victims, others displayed a lack of awareness around the complex reasons why victims return to an abusive partner.

In 2020 gardaí began Operation Faoiseamh to reach those at risk of domestic violence while Garda Divisional Protective Service Units,with officers trained to deal with domestic violence, have been rolled out across the State.

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