Calls for specialist domestic violence court
Bermuda has failed victims of domestic abuse, a senator has claimed.
Robin Tucker, an Opposition senator, said more protections were needed for victims and that the island would benefit from a specialist domestic violence court.
Charity leaders backed her comments saying that a dedicated court would allow cases to be heard sooner and be held in private.
Ms Tucker, the shadow social development and seniors minister, was speaking during the Upper House’s motion to adjourn on Wednesday.
She said she had recently heard of a victim of domestic abuse who had exhausted all the options and feared for her safety.
Ms Tucker said: “Bermuda needs a social agenda and a domestic violence court so that cases can be dealt with by those who are trained to recognise and deal with the complexity of the issues of domestic abuse, and can adequately assess the risk to the victim and determine a plan for protection.
“As a community that truly cares about protecting our people, we must review and adjust our laws to allow investigations to take place where the warning signs are present, not after the victim has suffered serious injury.”
Laurie Shiell, executive director for crisis support charity Centre Against Abuse, said: “I believe that domestic violence incidences belong in a domestic violence court. I believe that this will allow cases to be heard sooner, in a private setting by a magistrate who is fully trained in matters relating to domestic violence.”
Tina Laws, executive director for the Women’s Resource Centre, added: “Bermuda could benefit from a specialist court that would help streamline the process, thus allowing the magistrate an opportunity to focus on law and immediate and long-term needs of the parties.
“This court can be the safety-net our Bermuda criminal justice system needs, specifically to ensure that there will be a balance between social agencies, criminal justice, and all other necessary supportive services.”
Domestic violence offences fall under the Criminal Code Act 1907. Further laws relating to offences include the Children’s Act 1998, the Telecommunications Act 1986, the Senior Abuse Register Act, and the Justice Protection Act.
The Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act 1997 allows for protections for victims – but Ms Tucker said that the system had its faults.
She said: “A victim can obtain a Protection Order and, even if they do, if the abuser breaches the order and gets arrested, often they are bailed by the police or the court.”
Ms Shiell agreed with her statement and said that bail should not be granted in the case of a serious breach of a Protection Order.
“I know of individuals who have broken into the house after being given a Protection Order and then been bailed,” Ms Shiell said.
“We have been calling for a Protection Order Notice to be given to police during that period from when police come to house and the case gets to court.”
Ms Tucker added: “Bermuda is in crisis with Covid, the economy and domestic abuse and we must find ways to support and assist victims.
“We must require that our healthcare, police, education professionals and others undergo training so that they can properly identify and investigate domestic abuse.
“Also, victims and their dependents must have a safe way to report abuse, an emergency shelter and adequate protection.”
Ms Tucker added: “I realise that there is safe housing available, but the prevalence of domestic abuse on this island requires that we do better than what we currently have.”
The Centre Against Abuse provides a safe house through its safe housing programme.
Ms Shiell said: “This is funded by donors, and there are times when the need exceeds the funding, and we have to work with the survivor for alternative arrangements.”
She said the government also provides a grant to the charity.
The Centre Against Abuse also provides a 24-hour hotline at 297-8278, counselling and support for its clients through the police and court processes.
The Women’s Resource Centre provides support services to victims of domestic violence by way of warning letters, counselling, legal clinics and advocacy.