Our legal system is often not too helpful on domestic violence cases

Dear Editor,

`Magistrate orders man to split house’, that was the headline in the Stabroek News of April 14th. We then read to learn about a broken relationship of an unmarried couple: the woman according to the report normally visits the home which is in the names of both her and her ex-lover from which we can easily conclude that she had moved out; found a new partner and took him to the home she once shared with her ex-lover. As expected it caused a conflict – now this is not the story of the Young and the Restless, this is Guyana. Anyway the police got involved and the man was charged and found guilty of threatening behaviour and abusive language towards his ex-lover and her new fiance.

The Magistrate, like a train steered by the rails remained fixed in the box and did it all by the book. Thus the man was fined and ordered to split the house so that both himself and ex-lover can both have their privacy- a volatile setting that is not likely to give peace a chance. And it sure does boggle the mind; how could a member of the legal profession with regards to the daily frightening, troubling and depressing background of multiple forms of domestic violence and murder perpetuated almost weekly make such an injudicious ruling, signed, sealed and feel all well with himself. Why set a condition that most likely can inflame an already charged situation, don’t we use our sixth sense? The world we live in does not always harmonize with our constitutional books, like I often say people were not made to serve laws, but rather laws are made to serve people and when they fail to do so they become counter-productive, useless.

We so often content ourselves with theorising/philosophising to the point of failing to see the real picture and being practical when in many instances common sense is all that matters. I thought that by now these sensitive and fluid situations required much delicate and prudent handling. I hope that Help and Shelter, Red Thread and all those other vibrant organisations up in arms against violence and murder of women and children take note of how our legal system is often not too helpful in their judgment, further take note that many magistrates are not so hot on the reason why so many violence/murders are occurring. Many of the reasons/causes are all around us though not always quite easy to detect; just as we don’t always see the root of a plant but which we know is very much there, since the plant couldn’t exist without it.

And I leap to endorse former Attorney General Mr Bernard De Santos’s call for more responsible and better trained and qualified persons to be appointed as Magistrates. I recall a story told by one Geralda Dennison about the plight of a young teacher under the caption; “What an unfair, unjust world we live in” to which I responded in agreement under the heading; “Why do Magistrates so often ignore the circumstances”, pointing out that because of bureaucratic lethargy and unconscionable judgment, the teacher was made to suffer. As the story goes, a young man, a father of three and a teacher for 17 years was owed three months’ salary by the state ($180,000) and admitted to stealing some tools from his work place because of his circumstances – children to feed, clothe and rent to pay. His plea for mercy fell on deaf ears and thus he was sentenced to 12 months in prison. This was the fate of a dedicated teacher who in spite of not being paid his salaries continued teaching two CXC classes, two third form classes and three second form classes. But none of that mattered to that upright, no-nonsense, respectable magistrate.

Domestic violence, killing of women and children and other related types are having a field day while some appear mystifyed as to why, and many in authority and influence of control who can help make a big difference are not doing anything about it.

Yours faithfully,
Frank Fyffe

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