Sharp rise in domestic violence offences in past year

‘Enormous increase’ in workload of Office of Director of Public Prosecutions

The backlogs are due to jury trials not happening for long periods this year and last year due to the pandemic. Photograph: iStock

The backlogs are due to jury trials not happening for long periods this year and last year due to the pandemic. Photograph: iStock

 

The Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has experienced an “enormous overall increase in its workload” in the past 18 months, the director, Claire Loftus, has said.

The number of files received by her office across all categories of offence grew by 27 per cent last year, following on from an 8 per cent increase in 2019, she said.

The sharp rise last year in case files concerning domestic violence has continued into 2021.

While there was a doubling in the number of such files submitted for direction in 2020, a further increase of 25 per cent is projected for this calendar year.

“It is truly regrettable that periods of lockdown appear to have increased pressure on domestic victims,” Ms Loftus said in her opening remarks to the annual National Prosecutors’ Conference in Dublin.

The director said she was “very concerned” by the backlog that now exists in relation to the hearing of jury trials at Circuit Court and Central Criminal Court level.

The backlogs are due to jury trials not happening for long periods this year and last year due to the pandemic.

“The length of time that accused, victims, and other parties have to wait for trials to come on has effectively doubled,” she said.

Ms Loftus, who comes to the end of her 10-year term as director on November 7th, welcomed the assignment of additional judges to the Central Criminal Court this term to try and address the backlog.

Dr Sharon Lambert, of the UCC School of Applied Psychology, spoke to the conference about dealing with people who have been affected by trauma, as is the case with many people who end up in the criminal justice system.

She said people who are exposed to stress and trauma in their early years can become “stuck” in the fight-or-flight mode.

When the brain is exposed to stress, the parts of the brain involving in thinking and emotional regulation are underactivated, while the fear centre is over-activated, she said.

“Poverty is one of the biggest predictors of poor mental health and substance abuse in adulthood,” she said.

While citing different groups in Irish society that are associated with trauma, she said the Traveller community is “an extremely traumatised community”, with only 3 per cent of the community living beyond the age of 65. “There are hardly any elderly Traveller people.”

Addressing the conference on the influence of the EU on Irish criminal law, the assistant professor in the Law School of Trinity College, Dublin, David Fennelly, said Ireland was now in a “much lonelier place” following the departure of the UK from the EU.

The Republic and the UK are both common law jurisdictions, whereas most continental European states operate civil law systems.

“We are going to have to find new allies and partners,” Mr Fennelly said, adding that among the other member states there was a “great diversity of approaches” to the law.

Senior counsel Fiona Murphy told the conference that the detection of human trafficking offences is “incredibly difficult”.

The victims of trafficking have “a vulnerability that in effect keeps the people in a cage and makes it very difficult for them to break out of it.”

Prostitution, agricultural work, and nail salons, were among the areas Ms Murphy mentioned in relation to people being trafficked for the purpose of exploitation.

Measures were being taken by the gardaí, NGOs, and others, to try encourage people who had been trafficked to come forward, she said, adding that she believed there was a more general awareness in society to look out for the offence.