SOME WOULD ARGUE it has been long time in coming. Today we welcome the first changes to a 23-year-old law with the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Bill 2016 which is expected to provide more protection for victims of domestic abuse.
Police officers will be able to issue protection orders on the spot, enter homes without warrants and seize weapons of suspected offenders.
The amendments were clearly articulated in the House of Assembly on Tuesday by Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett who recognised that the police have a greater role to play in dealing with this societal ill. Of particular interest is the fact that the new bill mandates police officers to respond to every complaint about domestic violence. Added to that, the police commissioner is expected to keep a domestic violence register to record information obtained by officers who respond to complaints.
In essence, police officers must leave no stone unturned when it comes to dealing with cases of domestic violence.
There is no sound argument that can be advanced to discredit the fact that this is a social scourge that requires the attention of our Government and lobby groups. For too long there have been complaints and concerns expressed about the police not paying enough attention to reports made about domestic abuse.
Some have spoken publicly about a “hands-off” approach by officers as they seemingly did not want to get involved in such matters. Victims have come forward and shared their harrowing experiences, not only of the abuse, but detailed how powerless they felt when calls made to the police brought a less than satisfactory response.
Women’s groups have also come out and cried shame by those who have taken an oath to serve and protect the public. These groups, especially the National Organisation of Women, have advocated over the years for police to be appropriately trained to handle domestic issues.
It was an effort worth fighting for, especially since domestic violence has been in the national spotlight for some time now.
Back in 2011, Minister Blackett, who holds the portfolio for Social Care, Constituency Empowerment and Community Development, quoted police statistics which showed that domestic violence had accounted for 21 per cent of all murders that took place between 2000 and 2007. These statistics have no doubt increased over the years and it is time that Barbados moves to deal seriously with this issue.
While many will laud the new measures, there has been some caution raised by former attorney general Dale Marshall that some provisions of the new legislation could be “unconstitutional”. He specifically raised concerns about the power of arrest which is usually connected to a criminal act.
While we do not want to debate the law, it is of paramount importance to ensure that whatever is done to protect victims of domestic violence, is by the book. In short, police officers must never appear to be abusing their power in these circumstances.
As with any new piece of legislation, kinks will have to be ironed out to facilitate smooth functioning.
Still, we welcome these amendments, which should offer some measure of comfort for those who suffer at the hands of others.