Police, magistrates neglecting provisions of Domestic Violence Act – GHRA

– cites Vanessa Francis case

The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has come out in support of domestic abuse victim, Vanessa Francis saying that police prosecutors and magistrates are neglecting the provisions in the Domestic Violence Act.

GHRA said the safety and protection of the victim is the priority consideration in bail applications, while observing that Francis’s alleged attacker was granted pre-trial liberty on matters unrelated to her case.

“Police incompetence in this matter is unfathomable, given the large number of women who have been brutalized and killed by vengeful partners since the beginning of this year alone,” the organization said in a statement yesterday.

Nigel Douglas, Francis’s former reputed husband was granted bail in the sum of $10,000 when he appeared on Wednesday on to unrelated charges. He has reportedly repeatedly threatened Francis who is troubled by his release.

GHRA said there is an armoury of devices at the disposal of police prosecutors to protect women victims and to restrict the ability of perpetrators to harass, threaten, maim or kill them. GHRA charged that prosecutors appear not to take any of this into account when bail is under consideration.

Victims have no status in court proceedings and are forced to rely on prosecutors to competently represent them, the organization continued, noting that prosecutors should elicit all the relevant information they need from victims and explain to them the range of protections available to them. “It is also vital that magistrates are vigilant in ensuring they do so,” it stressed.

“Everyone in Guyana, except the Guyana Police Force it seems, is beginning to appreciate the urgency of this problem. What will it take to permeate police consciousness sufficiently to trigger a better performance from police prosecutors and station personnel,” the organization asked. It noted that outraged calls for more effective protection of battered women follow each gruesome death, and international campaigns to stop violence against women are regularly featured in the news; commercial films on the theme are frequently shown on TV and that law reforms facilitating swift action in sexual offences matters have been promoted vigorously.

GHRA observed that the failure of police (and magistrates) to be pro-active in supporting rights of victims is justified by reference to the number of instances in which women refuse to press charges once the matter goes to court.

But it stressed that the state has an obligation to protect citizens threatened or attacked by other citizens which over-rides private relationships. “The dilemma at times for the women in deciding not to prosecute is who will provide for the children if the perpetrator should be sent to prison,” the organization stated, adding that a second disincentive to prosecute is the fear of retaliation when the offender is released from police lock-up or prison or the immediate dangers that would accompany his being acquitted.

However, GHRA pointed out that all of these disincentives to prosecute are provided for in the Domestic Violence Act. It made mention of Section 5 which lists conditions that can be applied to Protection Orders to ensure that the perpetrator contribute to child maintenance; to stay away from children whether at home or at school. While Section 8 gives the victim the right to sole occupancy of the home, even if it belongs legally to the perpetrator.  Further, Section 11 allows for the woman to become the tenant, even when the property is rented in the name of the perpetrator.

GHRA argued that a more integrated approach is required to managing the prosecution of domestic and sexual domestic violence cases. “Without continuous interaction between the police, magistrates, Ministry of Human Services and relevant NGOs, implementation of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences acts will remain vulnerable to bizarre, life-threatening incidents…,” the organization said.

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