Domestic violence court backed by women’s rights campaigners
Women’s rights campaigners yesterday backed a proposal for a special court to deal with domestic abuse cases.
Elaine Butterfield, the executive director of the Women’s Resource Centre, welcomed the idea of a “domestic violence court” and said it could offer a more efficient way to handle abuse cases.
She said: “Having a specific magistrate or magistrates, will ensure consistency and would streamline the process, making it more organised.”
Ms Butterfield added: “Another benefit of consistency would be the improvement to the procedural process like scheduling.
“This step would greatly assist the current process of scheduling as these cases tend to be urgent, and can create scheduling and process nightmares for the Court.”
Ms Butterfield was speaking after the Progressive Labour Party’s Tinee Furbert said before last month’s General Election that there had been calls for a domestic violence court.
Ms Furbert, now the social development and seniors minister, added that a separate court could help shorten the time it took to resolve domestic violence cases.
Ms Furbert added that could also improve safety for victims.
She said: “So much can happen between that time that a woman – or a man – is waiting for a trial to go forth”.
Ms Butterfield added that good education on the law for the public would be a “critical piece” needed to support a Domestic Violence Court.
Ms Butterfield explained: “If clients are aware of their rights and what is available, this greatly increases the successful outcome for everyone, particularly if the circumstances involves children.
“This will also position them to be better prepared for the process which will cut down on their stress and anxiety.”
Ms Butterfield said that legislation should be revised if the court was created to make sure that “everything will be dealt with fairly and consistently”.
She added that this change would “greatly improve the process for everyone”.
Tina Laws, the founder of the domestic abuse survivor’s group Under Konstruction, said that Bermuda could benefit from the specialist court, particularly in the wake of the island-wide lockdowns caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
She said: “Since the pandemic, there has been a major spike in calls from spouses, intimate partners and family members reporting domestic violence matters.”
Ms Laws added: “This court can be the safety-net our Bermuda criminal justice system needs, specifically to ensure that there will be balance between social agencies, criminal justice and all other necessary supportive services.
“There can also be more focus on the rehabilitation process and deterrence of reoccurring offences for both victims and offenders.”
Laurie Shiell, the executive director of the Centre Against Abuse, said that her organisation had advocated for a similar court for years.
She added: “The creation of a Domestic Violence Court can address the needs of many victims who often feel that the judicial system fails them when their cases take too long to be heard.”
Ms Shiell said that trained social workers and magistrates with experience in domestic abuse cases would need to be involved in the court’s creation.
She added that a domestic violence court should provide access to support networks and establish safety rules to protect victims in and out of court, particularly if children were involved.
Ms Shiell said that a new court could protect the privacy of alleged victims and reduce the risk of harm as they waited for their cases to be heard.
She added that it could provide proper sentences for those found guilty that would help them adjust their behaviour, such as intervention programmes and psychiatric counselling, as well as jail time.
Ms Shiell said the creation of a domestic abuse court could also encourage victims of abuse to come forward.