- November 16, 2023
- Posted by: Suzanne Dennehy
- Category: News
The Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2023 aims to make significant reforms to Criminal Law in Ireland. Specifically in respect of Irelands National Strategy to tackle Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based violence. The act was enacted earlier this year in July and has made a number of appreciable changes to Irish Law. This article written by Clare Daly, Solicitor gives an overview of the key changes.
Five Key Amendments
Parts 4 and 5 of the Act introduce five key amendments to the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 which are as follows:
1. Recognition of Stalking as a Stand-Alone offence
The stand-alone offence of stalking is recognised as being any conduct carried out by the accused, which either puts the victim in fear of violence, or causes the victim serous distress, having a substantial impact on their day-to-day activities. Amendments to the 1997 Act have meant the new offence of stalking will carry a maximum imprisonment term of ten years, as opposed to the previous maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. The list of conduct which constitutes stalking provided under the Act is extensive, but not exhaustive and includes behaviour such as following, impersonating, or communicating with an applicant. The offence of stalking can be committed by a single act, it does not require a persistent or repeated act, unlike the offence of harassment. The extension of the maximum sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime and offer victims greater protection.
2. Formal Recognition of the Offence of Non-Fatal Suffocation and Strangulation
The Act defines Strangulation as “applying, directly or indirectly, force to the neck of another so as to impede breathing or the circulation of blood”. Suffocation is defined as including, “asphyxiating another and impeding the breathing of another, including by covering the mouth or nose, constricting the chest, or blocking, by means of a foreign object, the airways, of the other”. Under the Act both offences carry a maximum imprisonment sentence of ten years.
3. Criteria for granting a Restraining order.
One of the most notable changes brought in by the 2023 Act is the revision of the necessary criteria to grant a restraining order. Previously under Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, restraining orders could only be granted on foot of a hearing or conviction, in stalking related matters. There was often a lengthy lapse in time from the time of the offence, until a hearing or conviction could take place. The removal of this requirement for a hearing or conviction helps to provide a speedier course of action for victims of stalking related offences. The court must be convinced that the conduct of the respondent must be likely to cause either a fear of violence or cause serious alarm or distress that has a substantial adverse effect on the complaint. Also, the court must be convinced that the order is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of the applicant, as well as being proportionate.
4. Emergency Restraining Order
Under the 2023 Act where there is an immediate risk to an applicant’s safety and welfare, the court can now grant an emergency restraining order. The order lasts a period of eight days, and it can be made on an ex parte application basis.
5. Categories of Eligible Complainants Extended.
The 2023 Act has significantly broadened the categories of complainants, who can seek protection under the Act. Previously such protections were put in place for those who were in an intimate relationship with the accused. However, this is no longer a requirement. This is especially important in cases where the stalker is unknown to the victim. This change has been widely welcomed for this reason.
Overall, the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2023 has positively reformed Irish Criminal law, specifically the areas of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based violence. The changes brought in have made a significant effort to provide protection to victims in a timelier matter, and such protections have also become easier to ascertain for victims.