Reviews into domestic violence killings must be independent – Women’s Aid

Gender-based violence plan proposes reviews to identify if red flags are being missed

Reviews into future cases of domestic violence killings, due to be proposed as part of the Government's upcoming plan to address gender-based violence, must be independent, Women's Aid has said.

The national strategy for domestic, sexual and gender-based violence, to be published next month, includes the introduction of domestic homicide reviews.

Previously introduced in Britain, the reviews would take place in cases where a woman was killed by her partner or ex-partner, or where a family member kills their partner and children.

A draft of the gender-based violence strategy, seen by The Irish Times, proposed to “resource and implement multi-agency domestic homicide reviews”, which would investigate if State bodies missed any previous red flags in a case. The reviews would ensure that “all agencies are accountable for the protection of victims”, the draft states.

Sarah Benson, chief executive of Women's Aid, which campaigns against domestic violence, welcomed the proposed introduction of domestic homicide reviews.

The reviews needed to be led by an “independent chair” if they were to be successful, and should focus on gaining insight into why a killing happened, rather than apportioning blame, she said.

The investigations would help point out potential improvements for statutory agencies, she said.

Women’s Aid had been calling for the reviews to take place for “a long, long time”, Ms Benson said. “It is something we didn’t have before that we think could be very important to mitigate risk.”

Orla O’Connor, National Women’s Council of Ireland director, said the reviews would be “critical for the future safety of women” and would help support families after “the trauma of the murders of their loved ones”.

The Department of Justice previously commissioned research into familicide and domestic homicide reviews in 2019. The study, which has been finished in recent weeks but not yet published, examined how the reviews worked in other countries.

The draft strategy on gender-based violence agrees to "progress as appropriate" the findings of the study, which was initially led by the late Norah Gibbons, and later taken over by solicitor Maura Butler.

Schools

The strategy will also commit to updating the school curriculum. This would see primary and secondary school pupils being taught about consent, domestic violence, coercive control and internet and social media use in an “age-appropriate manner”.

The draft proposed funding extra lighting in public areas and the introduction of “safe spaces” where people can wait for public transport.

The plan includes a previously approved commitment to set up a new statutory body to oversee the State’s response to domestic violence, which would be responsible for increasing the number of refuge spaces in the country.

The draft document proposes that more support be provided to victims and survivors as they navigate the courts and criminal justice system, and for improvements in the prosecution of those who breach barring orders.

The draft was circulated to several civil society organisations for feedback in recent weeks and a finalised strategy is expected to be published by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee in mid-April.

A department spokeswoman said the new strategy “will be the most ambitious to date and will have a particular focus on prevention, and on ensuring victims are better supported”.