Against Domestic Violence
The Family Court has the responsibility of dealing with matters which touch and concern members of the family, whether it is in a common law or matrimonial relationship. It grants injunctive relief to a party for his or her own protection or on behalf of any member of the family. The law provides for protection, occupation and tenancy orders. This week we will take a close look at the main features of protection orders.
Where any member of the family whether common law or married spouse is experiencing or is threatened violence in the home by another member of the household that person (the applicant) could apply to the Family Court for an order of protection. An application could be made on his own behalf or that of another member of the household. Where a child or dependent is concerned, the application could be made by a police officer, a social worker, a probation office, the Solicitor General, parent or guardian. An application for protection order could also be made by a parent or relative of a spouse who is not a member of the respondentâs household.
Prospective applicants could go to Family Court Office and fill out the relevant form to have their matters heard by the President of the Family Court. A date to attend court is usually given and the respondent (the person against whom the action is taken) would be served. The applicant could also retain a lawyer to represent him or her in court.
Section 4 of the Domestic Violence (Summary Proceedings) Act, No.13 of 1995 empowers the Court to make an order to prevent the respondent who is causing or threatening violence to be excluded from the home; or from entering the applicantâs work place; or any specified place. If the application relates to a child who is at school then the order will be in such terms to prevent the respondent from entering that institution.
The Court may also order the respondent to cease from molesting the applicant or from making persistent telephone calls. It could also order the respondent to refrain from annoying or ill treating the applicant or from using abusive language to the applicant.
Power of arrest
Where the respondent has used violence or has threatened violence against the applicant and is likely to do it again, the court may attach a power of arrest to the protection order. Where the protection order has a power of arrest attached a police officer may arrest the respondent without a warrant if he or she breaches the order by committing an offence.
The police officer has to assess the situation and must make sure that the arrest is reasonably necessary. In doing so, he has to look at the seriousness of the breach and whether or not there is a cooling off on the part of the respondent. If the respondent is taken into custody the cooling off period must not be for more that twenty-four hours. Even though a power of arrest is not attached to the protection order, a police officer could arrest the respondent based on the gravity of the situation.
A protection order may be made ex parte, that is, in the absence of the respondent if the Court is satisfied that delay would cause hardship or injury or jeopardize the safety of the applicant. The order must be served on the respondent.
If the respondent breaches a protection order, he is liable on conviction to a fine of not more than $5,000 or imprisonment for a term of not more than six months.
You do not have to endure domestic violence; seek help immediately.
Ada Johnson is a solicitor and barrister-at-law.
E-mail address is: [email protected]