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Lawyers say Domestic Violence Act allows women to ‘arm’ themselves


TWO defence lawyers have pointed to provisions under the Domestic Violence Act which they say allow women to “arm” themselves against violence from spouses and even would-be abusers.

This comes as lawmakers waffle over allowing Jamaicans to legally arm themselves with mace or pepper spray.

“We have been speaking about cases where you are attacked by persons you don’t know but it is important that we speak about the domestic one. Women in general also have legal methods of defending themselves. The Act I am dealing with is the Domestic Violence Act. This is also – in my view as a person who used to work within the family court – a sort of self-defence where you are in the home with your loved ones and they choose to abuse you,” defence attorney Lance Rose said.

According to Rose, if more women were to take advantage of the provisions under this legislation Jamaicans would see less instances of gruesome intimate partner crimes.

“I feel if they use it more often some of these spouse-related murders can be avoided. As a former clerk at the family court I have seen and read of numerous atrocities between spouses – whether they are in visiting relationships, dependents, persons in the house – and this Act makes it so that where you see signs of this [abuse] you cause this Act as a form of self defence against persons close to you who are committing these abuses,” Rose, who was speaking on the virtual Heart to Heart Talk Show said recently.

He said that key provisions allowed for under the Act such as protection orders and occupation orders can make the difference between life and death.

A protection order prohibits a respondent from, among other things, entering or remaining in the household residence of any prescribed person; entering or remaining in any area specified in the order being an area in which the household residence of the person is located; or from entering their place of work or study; making persistent telephone calls and using abusive language to or behaving towards a prescribed person in any other manner which is of such nature and degree as to cause annoyance. It also serves to put distance between the parties. In certain circumstances the order can be set so that individuals are not allowed to communicate via phone calls or come within 500 yards of the aggrieved party’s home, workspace, or place of study. A perpetrator who violates a protection order is liable for a fine not exceeding $10,000 or six months’ imprisonment.

The occupation order allows the individuals to occupy a household together but under conditions prescribed by the court.

Responding to criticisms that the court system has failed women and that the police in instances have not treated reports of domestic abuse seriously, Rose said ignorance is often part of the problem.

“Having worked at the family courts for several years I know there are certain provisions made where it is procedural where a judge, once you go and make a complaint and they are of the view that the person’s life is in immediate danger, the judge will deal with the matter urgently and have a hearing and make an order called an ex parte order, and that order is served on the respondent. So even if the person goes to the police station and they don’t get just [treatment], they can go straight to the courts and make the application. These options are open to the ladies; it is for them to make use of these avenues of protection,” he explained.

An “ex parte application” means an application made without notice to the respondent.

Senior defence attorney Melrose Reid, weighing in on the discussion, said that even in cases where only a threat has been issued, women can make their way to the courts. She, however, despaired that some women, having made all the effort, at the end of the day opt not to go through with the case.

“You can go to the court, and you also have the Petty Session Court where you can go straight to the courthouse, make a report and that matter can be heard. There are several different avenues that women can utilise. What I have found in my years working in the courts is that too often when the women come to court and the matter is ready for trial they say, ‘It’s my baby father. I’m going to forgive him’, and many of those cases don’t go anywhere. And as they leave the courthouse the man batters them again because the women are always sorry for them,” she said.

“Another situation is that women are afraid of embarrassment so they are afraid to make the reports or utilise the court system…we as women are very sympathetic. I would say of the cases that go to the criminal court, 99 per cent of them ask the judge just to warn them and they go right back into a relationship with them and they continue to be battered until one day you hear somebody is dead,” she lamented.

Last January, Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCP) Novelette Grant, in an interview with the Jamaica Observer, declared that the 1996 Domestic Violence Act was “weak”. The former DCP, who served almost four decades in the Jamaica Constabulary Force and spent significant time tackling domestic violence issues, noted also that there was room for improvement in how court-related matters in domestic violence cases are handled. She said the Domestic Violence Act lacks specificity and as such, sometimes labours the process.

She was commenting in the wake of several slayings of women at the hands of enraged male partners at the start of that year.

In 2019 Jamaican women were second on the list of those likely to be intentionally killed, mostly by a partner, according to statistics presented by the United Nations.

Heading the list was El Salvador, with 13.9 out of every 100,000 women murdered in 2017, followed by Jamaica with 11 per 100,000 the same year. The Central African Republic was third, with 10.4 per 100,000 based on 2016 statistics, followed by South Africa with 9.1 per 100,000 in 2011.

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