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In defence of justice

Dear Sir,

I write further to the article entitled “Calls for specialist domestic violence court”, which appeared on Page 6 of the May 31, 2021 edition of The Royal Gazette. Please be advised that I take issue with the comments made in the said article.

Speaking out: senior magistrate Juan Wolffe (File photograph by Akil Simmons)

In this regard, please be advised that applications for Domestic Violence Protection Orders made pursuant to the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) Act 1997 are expeditiously scheduled and heard by the Magistrates’ Court within 24 hours of the application being filed into court, and they are always heard in camera, ie, in private.

On occasions when the DVPO application is scheduled after 24 hours has elapsed, it is usually because the complainant is not available at an earlier time. Once an ex parte (ie, only the complainant is present) temporary DVPO is granted, the court sets the matter down within 28 days so that an inter partes (ie, both the complainant and the respondent are present) hearing may take place. Until such time that a final order is made by the court, the DVPO remains in place. It should be noted that the majority of DVPOs are not contested.

One of the commenters in the article is well aware of the above as she routinely files DVPO applications into court and appears with complainants during both the ex parte and inter partes hearings.

In respect of criminal charges for a breach of a DVPO, once they are filed into the Magistrates’ Court — the Magistrates’ Court has no control whatsoever over the arrest, investigation or prosecution of criminal offenders — any trials are usually set within three months of the first appearance, subject to various statute-based case management processes and the availability of witnesses. It should be noted that the court does not in these types of matters have the inherent authority to bar the press or members of the public from observing any trials.

In respect of training of magistrates, please be advised that all of the magistrates have a wealth of experience dealing with domestic abuse/violence cases — as magistrates in the criminal and family courts, as prosecutors, and as defence counsel; one of the magistrates was a director of the Centre Against Abuse. Further, some magistrates and lay magistrates have participated in workshops carried out by Saving Children and Revealing Secrets and, therefore, are acutely aware of the issues surrounding domestic violence — whether physical, sexual or psychological.

In respect of bail being granted to those who allegedly breached a DVPO, it must be recognised that constitutionally a person is “innocent until proven guilty” and on this basis they have a “right” to bail. The court will always uphold the constitutional rights of individuals, and where bail is granted it is often with conditions that the person should not have no contact whatsoever with the complainant, should stay away from the complainant’s residence or place of employment, should abide by a curfew, and/or that the person should wear an electronic monitoring device.

In essence, the Magistrates’ Court already deals with domestic violence cases expeditiously, compassionately and, most importantly, consistent with the proper administration of justice.

While there is always room for improvement, our collective attention as a community should be geared towards developing robust, comprehensive and sustainable helping services that would not only assist victims of domestic abuse in dealing with the devastating psychological/psychiatric effects of their victimisation, but would also assist offenders with excavating the root causes of their behaviour with the hopes of eradicating their abusive conduct.

JUAN P. WOLFFE

Senior magistrate

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Published June 01, 2021 at 7:57 am (Updated June 01, 2021 at 7:51 am)

In defence of justice

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