‘A leap forward’? Critiquing the criminalisation of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland
Keywords:domestic abuse, coercive control, criminalisation, restorative justice, transformative justice
Following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions across the UK and Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland is currently taking steps to criminalise ‘domestic abuse’. The proposed offence is strongly influenced by research into ‘coercive control’, a framing popularised by Evan Stark that captures both physical and nonphysical forms of abuse. In this article, I introduce the Northern Ireland Domestic Abuse and Family Proceedings Bill, before analysing its likely impacts on victim-survivors. To do so, I draw from three key critiques of criminalisation that have emerged from both reformist and anti-carceral feminist scholarship: first, that implementation will pose practical challenges; second, that criminalisation will result in a range of unintended harms; and, third, that criminalisation alone is an ineffective response to domestic abuse. In light of these critiques, I argue for a more holistic response, which considers the underlying social structures and dynamics that contextualise the phenomenon of domestic abuse.