Domestic abuse victims are the collateral damage of “playing political games” with vital legislation, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw has said.
Ms Bradshaw was speaking after Justice Minister Naomi Long was forced to postpone the Further Consideration stage of the Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill in the Assembly. It comes after Ms Long, alongside Finance Minister Conor Murphy, wrote to the Committee over the weekend, asking them to consider not moving amendment 15, concerning the commencement of legal aid provisions.
It would provide for the creation of a waiver of the financial eligibility test that would normally apply in respect of an application by a victim of domestic abuse for legal aid in connection with children order proceedings.
However, the Ministers outlined in their letter while deeply sympathetic to supporting victims in court cases, the potential financial cost to the Executive could be significant, particularly in the absence of an economic appraisal process.
“There is no doubt everyone wants to see victims of domestic abuse supported as much as they can be, particularly regarding stressful court cases,” said Ms Bradshaw
“But as Naomi Long stated today in the Assembly chamber, if moved today, this Bill could have been “RHI on steroids”. It was extremely disappointing the Chair of the Committee, the DUP’s Paul Givan, took to his feet in the Chamber to attempt and blame the Justice Minister, especially as the economic reasoning was first raised by the Department of Finance.
“Nobody wants to see political arguments over this issue but the lack of proper scrutiny of all aspects of a Bill, especially those relating to amendments from a Committee, could have catastrophic implications.
“If the Committee had agreed to remove this amendment, the rest of the Bill could have been moved today. Instead, the result of playing political games from some quarters will be a delay to this vital legislation and therefore the collateral damage will be domestic abuse victims themselves.”