To mark the UN International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Minister for Justice and Equality has today published a Command Paper for a Bill for an Act specifically dedicated to offences relating to domestic abuse. The landmark, standalone and consolidated piece of legislation seeks to enshrine in law the protection of victims of domestic abuse.
The consultation process for the Command Paper will run for a period of 6 weeks and will conclude at midday on Wednesday 13th January 2021.
The two most fundamental changes that this proposed piece of legislation will introduce will be the introduction of a definition of domestic abuse in statute and the introduction of domestic abuse protection notices and orders.
The definition of abusive behaviour in the Command Paper includes violence, threats or coercive or controlling behaviour (such as making the person dependent or subordinate, isolating the person, controlling or regulating day-to-day activities or making the person feel frightened, humiliated, degraded, punished or intimidated). This behaviour includes saying something or communicating something as well as doing it (and can include failing to say or do something) and that behaviour can be directed at a person in different ways including conduct towards property and using third parties. The offence of domestic abuse is punishable with up to 14 years’ imprisonment
The scope of those who are captured as victims or offenders in this legislation is also wider and the offence may be committed whether or not the behaviour causes harm or not. Additionally, the fact that harm is not required does not mean that evidence of harm cannot be brought before the court.
The new powers will include domestic abuse protection notices and orders. Notices are issued by police officers of at least the rank of Chief Inspector where the officer believes that the person has been abusive to a personally connected person and that the notice is necessary to protect that person from abuse or the risk of abuse. Before issuing a notice, the officer must take into account a number of issues including the welfare of any child and the opinion of the victim. A domestic abuse protection order is a court issued version of the notice made on application or as a part of other proceedings (including family, criminal and civil actions). The application for an order may be made by the person for whose protection the order is sought or by the Commissioner of Police.
“In-depth training has already been planned and delivered in anticipation of the introduction of the legislation. Every single police officer in Gibraltar has recently undergone this training, this is probably unheard of anywhere else in the world. Investment in training of local trainers means that there is a plan in place to deliver training to other first responders. Training will be made available for the judiciary, prosecutors and the wider Bar.”
The Minister for Justice, Equality, Health and Care the Hon Samantha Sacramento, commented: “Tackling domestic abuse is very much a priority for this Government and the publication of this Command Paper for a landmark piece of legislation in the field of domestic abuse is an important step in moving towards the transformation of the manner in which domestic abuse cases are processed in Gibraltar.
“The draft Bill is a standalone piece of legislation that defines domestic abuse widely to include, for example, coercive and controlling behaviour. It also provides new tools for the RGP and the Courts including domestic abuse prevention notices and orders that prohibit abuse and may prohibit contact or stop the person going within a certain distance of the victim’s home etc.
“The draft Bill was prepared following a long and detailed consultation with stakeholders to ensure achieving a comprehensive and effective regime to protect those facing domestic abuse in Gibraltar. The draft has enjoyed unprecedented focus and collaboration internally and we are now opening up to the public for wider consultation. I very much look forward to receiving submissions on the Command Paper in the coming weeks, whereupon I will consider any necessary changes ahead of publication of the draft legislation as a Bill before Parliament.
“The publication of this command paper is just one part of our wider overall strategy, which is progressing as a result of a strategic collaboration of all stakeholders. The strategy is about building professional capacity so that each organisation can best deal, individually and on a multi-agency basis, with both victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse.
“While statistics show that domestic abuse predominantly affects women, our strategy includes everyone.
“It is vital that victims of domestic abuse speak out and seek help, and that their friends and families support them in calling out their abuse. Our strategy is about victims, their families, children (in particular as the impact on children in abuse households can be long lasting), and finally perpetrators. Above all it is about offering the best protection and support and breaking the cycle.”