EVERY day, about 30 people ask the court to grant a restraining order against someone abusing them. According to judiciary statistics presented by chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission Lynette Seebaran-Suite on Thursday, a whopping 154,288 such orders were applied for from 2003 to 2018. That’s just people who take the step to formally complain. Countless more live in fear.
We endorse Seebaran-Suite’s call for the breach of a protection order to become a non-bailable offence. And we welcome Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi’s signal that such an amendment could be forthcoming. Such an amendment is overdue.
But will passing a law that throws someone who flouts an order in jail really matter in a situation where they may use the opportunity to do far worse and when the applications for protection orders are falling off? According to the statistics, since 2009, applications for orders have declined 33 per cent.
“We have to wonder what is going on with these remedies,” Seebaran-Suite said. “Are they discredited, or is domestic violence going down?”
Either possibility presents us with realities that need to be addressed. One case of violence is bad enough. And as long as domestic violence remains a problem, the State should enact measures that provide the strongest protection.
Seebaran-Suite knows what she is talking about. As a long-standing advocate and attorney, she has seen the way domestic violence destroys lives. She is familiar with cases like that of Leisha Ramnath, 39, who was found dead on a mattress a week ago, beaten and strangled to death. Or Margaret Ragoobar-Guevarra, who lived a life of constant abuse at the hands of a male relative. Or the prestige school music teacher who was murdered decades ago by an abuser who locked her behind a burglar-proof door in the presence of police officers assigned to protect her.
It would seem axiomatic that a person who breaches a protection order is sent to jail. Such a person has already, in the eyes of the court, conducted themselves in a way that justifies their isolation from the complainant. If in such a context the person breaches a clear order to stay away from their target, such a breach can only be interpreted as either an indication of malicious intent or a barefaced disregard for law and order.
Seebaran-Suite also called for the initiation of charges after domestic violence reports are made. But that proposal is more controversial. Many victims recant testimony, rendering criminal proceedings untenable and wasting resources. Still, such a reform should be placed on the Government’s legislative agenda. It should be crafted in a way to allow initial reports to be taken into consideration notwithstanding recanting of testimony, as frequently obtains in the criminal jurisdiction.
A few simple, careful amendments could deliver hard blows against domestic violence.