Domestic violence law still useful
Even though it is apparent that changes need to be made to the domestic violence legislation, it must not be thought that the current law is ineffective. For it does contain several provisions which in my view have been useful in reducing the amount of domestic violence.
For example, the court is given fairly wide powers with respect to the scope of the orders it can make and it may, among other things, require the respondent to leave the premises.
Section 6 of the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act prescribes the form and scope of the orders that the court may give. These may include provisions restraining the respondent (i.e., the person who has inflicted or threatened to inflict the violence):
“(a) from being on premises on which the complainant for the protective order or the child in respect of whom the order was made, resides;
(b) from being on premises that are the place of work of the complainant or the place of education or work of the child in respect of whom the order was made;
(c) from being in a specified locality, being a locality in which premises as mentioned in paragraph (a) or (b) or any other premises the court deems it necessary to specify are situated;
(d) from approaching within a specified distance of the complainant or the child in respect of whom the order was made;
(e) where the person continues to reside with the complainant or the child in respect of whom the order was made, from entering or remaining on premises, while intoxicated or under the influence of a drug.”
Additionally, a protective order may require the respondent to leave the premises.
It may also require the respondent to continue any legal or other obligation the respondent may have to pay the rent, mortgage, utilities or taxes relating to the premises that the person has been asked to quit.
Furthermore, the protection order may also restrain the respondent from, among other things, taking possession of personal property of either the complainant or the respondent, being property that is reasonably needed by a member of the respondent’s household.
It may also direct the respondent to give possession of that property to a specified member of the household; and it may prohibit the person from damaging property of the complainant or a child of the complainant or the respondent.
Therefore, if for example, a person has been ordered by the court to leave the household, the court could restrain him from taking what he considers to be his personal possessions, if these are reasonably needed by a member of the household.
When relationships disintegrate, it is not unusual for one party to decide that the items that he has paid for are his. Clearly if a party could take away key items like, the refrigerator, washing machine or furniture, this would disrupt the household and frustrate the purposes of the order.
A breach of a protective order is a criminal offence which is punishable on conviction by a fine of $5 000 or imprisonment for 12 months.
Additionally, where a power of arrest is attached to a protection order, a police officer may arrest without a warrant a person whom he has reasonable cause for suspecting of being in breach of a provision of the protection order by reason of that person’s use of violence or of his entry into any premises or area.
A protection order may be made for any period of up to one year as the court determines.
Legislation is not a panacea for the problems caused by domestic violence.
However, there are always ways of improving it where experience has demonstrated that there are deficiencies.
In future articles I will consider some of the shortcomings of the legislation.
• Cecil McCarthy is a Queen’s Counsel. Send your letters to Everyday Law, Nation House, Fontabelle, St Michael. Send your email to [email protected]