The Minister for Justice has today published a Bill for a Domestic Abuse Act. The publication of this Bill follows a detailed and extensive period of consultation which included the publication of a command paper the replies to which, in particular from the legal profession, the judiciary and the Royal Gibraltar Police, have shaped the provisions.
The Bill includes a new offence to close a gap in the law around patterns of controlling or coercive behaviour that occurs during a relationship between intimate partners, former partners who still live together or family members. This offence sends a clear message that this form of domestic abuse can constitute a serious offence, particularly in light of the violation of trust it represents, and will provide better protection to victims experiencing repeated or continuous abuse. It sets out the importance of recognising the harm caused by coercion or control, the cumulative impact on the victim and that a repeated pattern of abuse can be more injurious and harmful than a single incident of violence.
The Bill creates new powers to deal with domestic abuse in Gibraltar. These include domestic abuse protection notices issued by senior police officers in urgent circumstances for a limited time and may require that a person leave his or her residence. Before issuing a notice, the officer must take into account the welfare of any child, the opinion of the victim, representations made by the person against whom the notice is made and the opinion of any other residents of the premises who are personally connected. In all cases a Court will review the issue of a notice.
The Bill also includes domestic abuse protection orders which are a court issued version of the notice 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 the Commissioner of Police and may be made stand alone or in any family, criminal and civil actions. The court needs to be satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the person has been abusive towards a personally connected person and that the order is necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse by him or her.
The Bill also creates other new offences. These include a new specific offence of non-fatal strangulation or non-fatal suffocation. The use of choking or strangulation as a form of domestic abuse or violence is well documented as is the fact that such behaviour may be undercharged or minimalised if there is no physical injury caused. This offence is not limited to persons who are connected and will sit in the Crime Act.
Finally the Bill also includes statutory provision for domestic homicide reviews to be established in circumstances where the death of a person over the age of 16 has or appears to have resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a related person or a person with whom they were or had been in an intimate relationship or a member of the same household.
In addition, significant investment has been made in providing training to the Royal Gibraltar Police and other first responders ahead of this new proposed legislation. A training programme continues and is led by the Ministry of Justice.
The Minister for Justice, The Hon Samantha Sacramento MP, said: “I am proud that the long, hard work that has been undertaken in the in-depth consultation and preparing this new law, since the publication of the Command Paper, has now come to place whereby this landmark Bill may be published. The Bill includes very important updates to our legislation in particular to close the current gap where abuse is of a coercive and controlling nature and setting out new police and court powers to prevent abuse. I am certain that the provisions contained in this Bill will greatly assist victims of domestic abuse going forward by providing them with greater protection and recognising all forms of abuse and also providing the police and courts with new tools to prevent the abuse continuing at the first possible opportunity. In addition to the proposed legislation that provides the necessary framework, there will be a package of training and awareness that is led through the Ministry of Justice. I am extremely grateful to all the services who have invested their time and dedication to the consultation process and to the Government lawyers for drafting this extensive piece of legislation and their guidance throughout.”