Judge hits out at ‘insidious nature’ of domestic violence

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Judge Barney McElholm

Judge Barney McElholm talks to VIEW editor Brian Pelan about the issue of Domestic Violence

Question: Recently you said that “our politicians seem to feel the most trivial of things are more important than serious things like domestic violence”. Why did you say this?

Answer: I don’t want to intrude into the political end of things but I would like to see domestic violence being addressed in a very serious, co-ordinated and methodical way.

Q: You have called for tougher sentences for domestic violence offences. Is our present sentencing policy inadequate?

A: People interpreted what I was saying too widely. I was speaking specifically about the fact that most domestic violence offences that come through me fall into the realm of common assault. And that has a maximum sentence of six months….You need more specific legislation to deal with this.

Q: Why has the successful domestic abuse court pilot scheme, which was launched four years ago in Derry, not been implemented across Northern Ireland?

A: It’s a matter ultimately for the Department of Justice. And again, that could be another ‘victim’ of a lack of government at the moment. in Northern Ireland.

Q: Can you talk to me about the planned Perpetrator Programme scheme in the north west. What does the perpetrator commit to if they take part in it?

A: It hasn’t commenced yet. What would happen is that if someone appears in my court charged with a domestic violence offence, they can ask or I can offer, for them to be assessed for the perpetrator programme if they are pleading guilty at an early stage. They would commit to doing an intensive six-month course that would examine their motivation and behaviour with a view to changing the way the way they behave towards intimate partners. They would also have to be assessed as being suitable for the programme.

Q: You once quoted from a W.H. Auden poem ‘September 1, 1939’: “I and the public know, what all schoolchildren learn, those to whom evil is done, do evil in return.” What was the meaning behind this reference?

A: I was referring to the insidious nature of domestic abuse. It poisons generation after generation. If you get a child who is subjected to domestic abuse or who witnesses domestic abuse against one of his parents by the other parent, that child will be very emotionally and psychologically disturbed and to the point where they will either become a perpetrator or they could become a victim.

Q, Could our rehabilitation services in Northern Ireland be improved given that we have repeat domestic abuse offenders?

A: Yes. I have sent someone to jail, who was in front of me for a domestic assault, for a six-month sentence. They were out in a couple of months’ time. What has changed? We have to be far more imaginative and innovative. Our legislators need to look at the entire situation. You need a combination of custody and rehabilitation, such as perpetrator programmes, designed specifically for people who have served a period of custody.

Q: What is the scale of domestic abuse like in Derry?

A: I see it every day in my court.

Q: Would you like to comment on the work of Foyle Women’s Aid.?

A: I’m very supportive of their excellent work. They have adopted very innovative approaches to domestic violence and have a great relationship with other agencies

Q:Is it important to listen to the victims?

A: It’s vital that we listen to and support victims of domestic violence.

Q: How important is the role of education in tackling domestic violence in Northern Ireland?

A: Children must be taught to see each other as equals and that domestic violence is never acceptable.

• To view our online issue, go to https://issuu.com/brianpelanone/docs/view_latest-_issue_46_domestic_viol

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