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New legislation to address domestic violence matters

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The Parliament of St Vincent and the Grenadines has passed into law a Bill to ensure that matters of domestic violence are dealt with in as efficacious and as strict a manner that is required of such acts.

The Domestic Violence Bill 2015 was presented by Minister of National Mobilization Frederick Stephenson and is part of a series of OECS family laws that are being implemented throughout the region. It was successfully passed during a sitting of Parliament on April 30.{{more}}

Stephenson declared that the bill was a timely and important piece of legislation for St Vincent and the Grenadines, particularly since acts of violence have been on the rise. The bill contains four sections which comprise 39 clauses.

Included in the bill are explicit definitions of “domestic relationship” and “domestic violence.”

While referring to clause three of the bill, Stephenson noted that police officers arriving on the scene of domestic violence have the duty to inform the victim of his or her rights, while clause four provides for a police officer to make an arrest without a warrant, once that officer has reasonable cause to believe that persons are engaging in or attempting conduct which amounts to physical violence and failure to act immediately may result in serious physical injury or death.

Clause 19 of the Domestic Violence Bill 2015, according to Stephenson, states that it is mandatory for police officers to respond to every claimant or report alleging domestic violence, whether or not the person making the complaint or report is the victim.

Also of note is that there are provisions of protection in place for all victims of domestic violence, specifically in cases where victims need to be separated from the perpetrator.

Senator Camillo Gonsalves, making his contribution to the debate, noted that the House was enjoying, “a rare moment of consensus,” as both sides were in agreement on the passing of the bill.

“It befits the seriousness of the legislation that we are contemplating today and I have no doubt that that spirit of consensus and cooperation will continue as we try to do our part to change the legislation and sometimes the culture that surrounds the issue of domestic violence in St Vincent and the Grenadines, in the wider Caribbean,” he said.

Given that the bill provides for police officers and other members of the public to report on domestic violence cases, Gonsalves pointed out that there has been some consideration if the person accused is blameless and a false report is given.

He noted, however, that the decision has been made by society to capture the information, as it is better to address the issues rather than leave it to the “usual cut and thrust of the adversarial system.”

“The day after this bill is passed, the reportage can increase for St Vincent and the Grenadines, not because of any increase in illegal activity, not because more persons are raped, but because there is a broader definition of what the offense is; there is a broader definition of what the relationship is between people and there is a reporting obligation that has been imposed on members of society and on the police. It will be expected, it will be strange; in fact, it might be a measure of the failure of the legislation if there is not an uptick in the reporting numbers simply because of the change in definitions and the changing requirements that we are placing on the police and on the society,” Gonsalves said.

Opposition Leader Arnhim Eustace expressed his satisfaction with the bill for several reasons, one of them being that the legislation provides a strengthening for the Family Court where the presentation of evidence in domestic violence cases are concerned. Eustace admitted that before he went to Select Committee meetings, he was concerned about the clause which indicated that evidence is provided by victims through affidavits. His concern arose because it would mean that persons would need to hire lawyers to create such documents.

“I was therefore very pleased when the select committee agreed that this matter will be put back to the OECS and you heard the minister a while ago indicating that there’s an agreement that legal services will be provided to those who bring these matters to the Family Court,” the Opposition Leader said.

Opposition senator Vynnette Frederick also gave a presentation on the topic in which she gave graphic examples of domestic violence and rape to send home the importance of the passage of the Domestic Violence Bill, but most importantly, the implementation of the clauses in the legislation.

She also recommended that the public and all the relevant authorities should be properly educated about the content of the bill.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves; parliamentary representative for West Kingstown Daniel Cummings; parliamentary representative for Central Leeward Maxwell Charles; and Senator Jomo Thomas also contributed to the debate on the bill. (BK)

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