The number of domestic violence charges before the District Courts doubled between 2019 and 2020, however few resulted in convictions.
As reported in The Irish Times, 1,394 charges were prosecuted in the District Courts in 2019 in relation to 973 accused people for offences under section 33 of the 2018 Act which covers breaches of safety and protection orders, interim barring, barring and emergency barring orders.
In 2020, the number of charges almost doubled to 2,763 in respect of 1,829 accused.
Offences under section 33 of the Act can only be prosecuted summarily, with a maximum custodial sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment.
Despite the high number of charges, most prosecutions for the offences were struck out, withdrawn or dismissed.
Orla O’Connor, director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland said she was not surprised by the increased number of charges under section 33 of the Domestic Violence Act 2018.
According to Ms O’Connor, the low number of prosecutions “shows a real failing in terms of supporting women who come forward to report abuse”.
“There is a pressing need for wrap-around supports for complainants from the outset, including legal, psychological and refuge supports.”
Data concerning section 33 prosecutions in the Dublin Metropolitan District (DMD) courts shows there were 428 charges before the DMD courts involving 296 persons in 2019. A year later, there were 968 section 33 charges against 644 persons.
According to barrister Emer Ní Chúagáin, who represents defendants in section 33 prosecutions, 82 per cent of the DMD cases in 2019 and 2020 resulted in no conviction.
Of 1,802 of the section 33 orders made in 2020, an estimated 1,275 were struck out, withdrawn and dismissed orders.
“There are many reasons why people choose not to carry on with a section 33 complaint,” Ms Ní Chúagáin said.
Some reasons include the nature of the relationship between the applicant and defendant and views of some applicants that court proceedings would not improve their situation.
Some evidential difficulties have also arisen in relation to making out a prima facie case for some section 33 prosecutions, she said.
Gardaí often choose to prosecute the cases themselves instead of instructing a solicitor from the DPP’s office, she noted.
Prosecuting gardaí are sometimes unaware of the precise legal proofs required and information on the Garda website concerning proving the existence of an order appeared to be inaccurate and/or incomplete, she added.