House Okays Amendments to Domestic Violence Act


The House of Representatives yesterday (Dec. 7) gave its unanimous support of proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act.
National Security Minister Dr. Peter Phillips, who tabled the Bill, said that, “the amendments reflected an awareness by the government of the increased incidents of acts of domestic violence within the household setting and the need to ensure that all victims were afforded the appropriate remedies irrespective of the nature of the domestic relationship”.
The amended legislation extends the range of persons granted protection under the Act, admits third party applications, and provides for the granting of concurrent maintenance orders.
Explaining, the Security Minister noted that the coverage of the current Act was considered inadequate as it excluded persons involved in a visiting relationship and also denied the provision of relief to persons who shared a common household but whose relationship to the respondent was not one stipulated by the legislation. According to Dr. Phillips, “this deficiency in the existing Act could be considered a serious one.”
With the amendments, the category of applicants covered has been extended to include persons in visiting relationships with the respondent and widens the group of persons to be given protection to individuals related to the respondent by blood, marriage (legal or de facto) or dependency.
Furthermore, the Act now defines domestic violence. Minister Phillips told the House that while there were allowances in the current legislation for damage to property to be acknowledged as domestic violence, to remove uncertainty, the provision identifying damage to property as a specific act of domestic violence, has been included. “Experience has shown that damage to property, deprivation of the use of personal property and the destruction to property are prevalent in the domestic setting and therefore amount to a form of mental abuse in the domestic setting,” he noted.
The proposed amendments also seek to remedy the situation where persons being battered may refuse to come forward out of fear, by allowing for a third person to initiate proceedings on behalf of the victim with the leave of the court.
“This is a major step forward because it establishes the principle that peaceful, harmonious social relations are the responsibility of all members of society and allows for persons, who have an interest in ensuring that there is no violence caused in households, which may be within their view, to act with the permission of the court to prevent the abuse of other citizens,” Dr. Phillips stated.
The amended legislation also allows for the granting of a maintenance order in favour of an individual, who has received a protection or occupation order. This, the Minister said, is to remedy the situation where a male spouse withholds maintenance to the wife or child as a result of an order being made against him, making it necessary for the wife to return to court to apply for a maintenance order.
Meanwhile, the definition of “child” as used by the Act, has been clarified to mean a person under the age of 18 years, who has never been married, bringing the legislation in line with the recently approved Child Care Protection Act.
Members of the Opposition were fervent in their approval of the amendments noting that it was hoped that the enforcement of the provisions would be a deterrent to the rising levels of violence and more so violence against women.
They however called for accompanying social programmes to ensure that the provisions of the Bill would be fully enacted and offer support to battered women and children. They also called for a special cadre of security officers to be specially trained and educated to assist in the process.
Replying to this, Minister Phillips said that effort was being made to examine more effective ways of administering the changes in the legislation, as although the Act provided a framework within which to address the problem there was more to be done.
He noted that there was a cadre of specially trained officers in conflict resolution and persons, who have also been trained to respond in cases where there are sexual offences. “We are examining within the Ministry, ways of making a more effective response to the issue of domestic violence,” he informed. As such, he said, the possibility existed that specially designated units would be established to deal specifically with reports of domestic violence.
The principal Domestic Violence Act has been in force since 1995.

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