Misogyny: Stand-alone Legislation

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:15 pm on 22nd March 2022.

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Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin 2:15 pm, 22nd March 2022

4. Ms Ennis asked the Minister of Justice whether she will introduce stand-alone legislation to address misogyny. (AQO 3320/17-22)

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

As you will be aware, I have been very clear in calling out and recognising the need to tackle misogyny, including in public life. That, as well as addressing violence against women and girls more widely, is an important issue that we all have an interest in. The new laws that I am bringing forward will protect those at most risk of violence, which all too often is women and girls. Those include a Protection from Stalking Bill and a Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill. Taken together with the new domestic abuse offence, those three pieces of legislation represent a step change in support for vulnerable women and girls in Northern Ireland, though not exclusively for vulnerable women and girls.

A number of consultations are under way. Those are seeking views on the issue of violence against women and girls in all its forms; domestic and sexual abuse; and misogyny as a hate crime. I will want to take account of the views expressed in those consultations before reaching any final decisions on how best to deal with the matter. It is also important to remember that legislative change alone will not tackle the underlying issues of entitlement, misogyny and violence. The issue is broader than justice and requires societal and cultural change from the roots up; tackling the root causes of aggressive behaviours at an early stage through preventative initiatives, education and relationship awareness. We need to tackle underlying issues of entitlement to focus on dealing with unacceptable behaviour.

Photo of Sinéad Ennis Sinéad Ennis Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for that answer. Minister, you will be aware of the recent Scottish Government report that proposes new misogyny-specific legislation, with offences to tackle misogynistic harassment, incitement of hatred against women and threatening to rape or assault women. Will those be some of the new offences that you will look at for inclusion in any proposed hate crime Bill?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

As the Member will be aware, we are at the first consultation stage of a hate crime Bill for Northern Ireland, which we hope will be able to be introduced in the next mandate. That is based on Judge Marrinan's report, and there were two options, essentially, available to us. One was to include gender as a specific characteristic within the hate crime legislation, and that would be added to the characteristics to which hate crime would apply. The second was to specifically add misogyny as one of the issues, and I think that we need to have further consultation. We are doing the call for views on that now. There are pros and cons to both approaches. Whilst adding misogyny has the benefit of putting a name to the particular issue and highlights its prevalence, there are wider issues with respect to gender that might also lead to hate crime. We need to consider which is the more appropriate way forward. Before the second consultation, which would be on a draft Bill, that will have been decided by me or a future Minister in the shaping of the legislation, and the Assembly and, indeed, the public will be consulted before any changes are made in that regard. We will, of course, take, as we always do, any progress that has been made in other jurisdictions into account as we draft any new Bill.

Photo of John Blair John Blair Alliance

I thank the Minister for the updates and the insights from a Justice point of view on the issue of misogyny. Further to that, I will link that to the issue, which is obviously related, of violence against women and girls. Given the work that has been commenced by the Department of Justice and by the PSNI, which I am aware of as a Policing Board member, does the Minister share my concern that access to legislative process could be seriously hindered by the absence of a working Executive and that that could cause a serious hindrance, therefore, to progress on the issue of tackling violence against women and girls?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

First, we can, of course, continue to make progress on non-legislative measures to tackle culture and attitudes. It is important, I think, that all of us show leadership on those issues. When it comes to providing legislation and legislative protection and, in particular, to updating our very out-of-date hate crime laws in Northern Ireland, we will require there to be a functioning Executive and a functioning Assembly. We have passed five Bills from the Department of Justice in this mandate, and the Assembly has worked very hard with me and with the Department in that regard to ensure that we were able to make significant changes. Those represent a step change in the protection that is available to particularly vulnerable victims and witnesses. However, we will not be able to do so without an Executive and an Assembly, so, given the amount of work that I can see in the future for the Justice Department and, indeed, any future Justice Committee, it is imperative that there is no lag in re-forming an Executive and moving forward with these kinds of very important proposals.

Photo of Justin McNulty Justin McNulty Social Democratic and Labour Party

Does the Minister agree that the Member who brought this topic to the House should put on record an apology for her vile, misogynistic and misandrist tweets and recognise her role in promoting toxic discourse?

Photo of Naomi Long Naomi Long Alliance

Wow. That is not a question for me. That is a private exchange that the Member should, perhaps, take up with the Member who asked the question rather than politicking and expecting me to be involved in it during Question Time.