Non-Molestation Order applications in Northern Ireland
Carla Fraser examines the Law in relation to extensions of Non-Molestation Order applications in Northern Ireland.
What is a Non-Molestation Order?
A Non-Molestation order is a special civil injunction issued by the Family Proceedings Court to prevent a partner or former partner from causing further harm. The end date for a non-molestation order can be daunting and cause a lot of anxiety. This is especially the case when there are overhanging criminal proceedings. For example, you may find yourself having the protection of a non-molestation order against your harasser or abuser for a period of time whilst a trial or court date in criminal proceedings is a further period of time down the line.
Non-Molestation Order – Northern Ireland
Previously, the law in Northern Ireland was that Non-Molestation orders were not able to be extended beyond a period of 12 months. Following this, a fresh application was required for a new non-molestation order if there happened to be a new set of incidents/course of conduct that occurred and could be defined as ‘molestation.’
In July 2020, The High Court delivered an important Judgment in relation to the issue of whether the Domestic Proceedings Court has the power to extend Non-Molestation Orders.
A challenge had been made by way of Judicial Review by a victim of domestic abuse who stated that the Court Service of Northern Ireland had acted unlawfully by refusing to extend an emergency Non-Molestation order that had been put in place to protect her against her perpetrator.
In particular, the challenge related to a District Judge’s refusal to extend a non-molestation order against P, her abuser, who had overhanging criminal proceedings against him, notably, allegations of rape and extreme abuse of the applicant over a period of 10 years. The nature of the allegations were particularly harrowing and it was recognised the threat ‘P’ posed to ‘AS.’
The Judgement for Non-Molestation Order
The Judgment delivered by the High Court ruled that the actions taken by the District Judge in his refusal to extend the victim’s Non-Molestation Order were wrong in law and declared that Article 24 of the Family Homes and Domestic Violence (NI) Order 1998 Order empowers a Court to vary a non‑molestation order by extending the date to which it has effect.
While the judgement made it clear that Court has the power to extend Non-Molestation Orders, it further recommended that when considering whether to do so, the Court must apply a two-strand test: –
Firstly, the Court must consider what has happened in the period since the Non-Molestation Order was initially made; and
Secondly, the Court must consider what the overall context of the application is.
Reference was made to coercive conduct over a long period of time being in itself “enough to persuade the Court to extend the order for a further short period”.
There seems to be a strong judgement here to support the extension of non-molestation orders in certain cases, especially where criminal proceedings are ongoing and have not yet been concluded or even reached the final stages. This brings the law in Northern Ireland into with the English system.
How We Can Help
If you require any advice or assistance in relation to Non-Molestation Orders and protection from Domestic Abuse, please do not hesitate to contact our legal team at PA Duffy & Co.