The Domestic Abuse Act 2023 which was passed in Parliament in January this year has come into force today.
This legislation radically reforms domestic abuse in Gibraltar. It consolidates existing legislation by providing a statutory definition of domestic abuse for the first time and introduces new provisions and protections to bring the law in line with the needs that exist today.
Most notably, the Act introduces the new criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour as well as the offence of non fatal strangulation. The Act also widens the scope of who can be a victim of domestic abuse and recognises children who see, hear or experience domestic abuse as victims in their own right.
Finally, among the new powers created are the domestic abuse protection notices which can be issued by senior police officers in urgent circumstances for a limited time where the perpetrator of domestic abuse could be made to leave the premises. This part of the Act, which also includes the equivalent court orders, is the only provision that is not yet in force as further training is still required. It will come into effect as soon as that training, that has already been commissioned, is completed.
Substantial training has been undertaken in the run of to this, in particular since November last year. This has been in the form of both sector specific and multi agency training and has included the Royal Gibraltar Police, the Care Agency, the Judiciary and Courts Service, probation services, the Gibraltar Health Authority, the Housing Department, the Department of Education and other significant stakeholders.
The Act also makes specific provision for data sharing arrangements between the Police and the Department of Education in cases of domestic abuse where children are present in order to give effect to arrangements implemented following the Operation Encompass training.
At a joint press conference with the Minister for Justice Samantha Sacramento MP and the Commissioner of Police Richard Ullger explained the new legislation and its effect and how victims protection and support offered are strengthened as a s result.
Minister for Justice, Samantha Sacramento MP said: “After many years of dedicated hard work I am very pleased to commence this important piece of legalisation that significantly changes and improves the landscape. The substantive consultation has shaped the provisions of the law and it will be given effect in true partnership by all agencies. I am partially grateful to the Commissioner of Police for making domestic abuse a priority and restructuring the RGP’s Public Protection Unit to have a specialised Domestic Abuse Unit that is very ably led by its senior officers.
Coercive or controlling behaviour can be difficult to prove, this is why there has been a particular focus on training in this respect especially for the police, the Judiciary and prosecutors. A lot of victims who are in coercive controlling relationships do not even realise this and I hope that they work that we are doing and our awareness campaigns will assist in this respect. I hope that there is awareness of the work that we are doing so that the public have full confidence in the understanding that help is available when it is needed.
This extensive piece of legislation has been drafted by the Government Law Offices and I extremely grateful to Counsel for their guidance and advice.”
Commissioner of Police, Richard Ullger said: “This new legislation strengthens the position for the police as we have more powers at our disposal to protect victims. Every single police officer in the Royal Gibraltar Police has undergone training that we introduced in 2019 and there continuous specialist training to the officers who make up the RGP’s Domestic Abuse Unit . Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime and we will do everything that we can to eradicate it”