Fixing a $10,000 joke
Jamaica AIDS Support For Life (JASL) has welcomed proposed amendments to the Domestic Violence Act while calling for a more comprehensive review of the legislation.
Policy and advocacy officer at JASL Patrick Lalor told the Jamaica Observer that the amendments taken to Parliament last Tuesday by Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange, while a step in the right direction, more needs to be done.
In opening the debate of the amendments to the 1996 legislation Grange said there are several areas which were identified where changes could be made in the short term to improve its operation.
She told the House that the amendments represent some critical areas that can immediately impact the scourge of domestic violence and assist victims in their search for security and redress to these acts.
Among the proposed amendments is one that provides for increased penalties for breach of a court-issued protection order from $10,000 to $1 million, with the possible prison sentence moving from a maximum of six months to one year.
Under the Domestic Violence Act, 1996 the court may issue a protection order if it is satisfied that the accused has used, or threatened to use, violence against, or caused physical or mental injury to a person and is likely to do it again.
The protection order prohibits someone who is abusive — whether verbally, emotionally or physically — from entering or remaining in a particular residence, place of work, place of education, or any particular place that could affect a prescribed person.
Addressing a Jamaica Observer Press Club to commemorate International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women 2023 in November, Lalor had described the fine and prison sentence for breaches of a protection order as a joke as he pointed out that he had seen perpetrators destroy the order and declare that he “can pay the $10,000”.
With the change proposed by Grange, Lalor told the Observer that the increase in penalties is critical for JASL.
According to Lalor, JASL is somewhat concerned about the insertion of the section that allows the minister to amend the monetary penalty under the legislation subject to affirmative resolution but will accept that “for now”.
“When you look at it in the context that the minister has promised to name a joint select committee to review the legislation, [it] is really what we have been calling for, because there are so many other things that we have been asking for that are not in these immediate changes,” he said.
“The most critical that I can say right now is a definition of domestic violence, which is a major shortfall and very critical to be in the legislation. So we welcome these changes within the context that the minister will name a joint select committee in short order so that a comprehensive review of the legislation is done,” Lalor told the Observer.
“We don’t want these minimal amendments to [be the end] because we still want a full review to be done so that we can ventilate some of the other things that we want to see, because we are taking about the definition of domestic violence; we talk about how breaches are going to be operationalised…and so much more that needs to be discussed,” added Lalor.
In addition to the increase in fines and prison sentence proposed by Grange, the Bill increases the number of people who can make an application for a protection order under the legislation.
They include the spouse or parent of an individual in respect of whom the conduct has been made or is likely to be made.
“Where violence is used or threatened against a child or dependent, application can be made by a person with whom the child or dependent normally resides or resides on a regular basis, parent, or guardian of the child, or a dependent not mentally disabled,” Grange said.
In addition, a new provision seeks to prohibit certain actions which may affect the victims of domestic violence.
“This amendment takes into consideration the myriad ways a devious mind can seek to cause prolonged damage [through] violence to the life of an abused person,” added Grange.
Under this section, an application can be made to the court for a protection order against a respondent in respect of alleged conduct to prohibit the respondent from entering or staying in the prescribed person’s household, entering any area specified in the protection order where the residence of the prescribed person is located, harassing the prescribed person, damaging property of the said prescribed person, and dealing with the property of the prescribed person in a way that can be considered abuse of the prescribed person.