Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by this author are their own and do not represent the official position of the Barbados Today Inc.
by Marsha Hinds
In this article, I will try to place a recent ruling of the Barbados Appeals court into some context. The essence of the ruling significantly softens if not completely nullifies critical provisions for victims of domestic violence in Barbados. I first want to consider the ruling vis a vis current trends in laws to treat to domestic violence in various jurisdictions and international best practice.
On April 1, 2021, the United Kingdom (UK) government significantly expanded the legislative remedies to victims of domestic violence when a new law passed in both houses and was proclaimed. The Bill addresses several areas where the law did not go far enough to bring relief to users. The UK law already understood that where the parties to abuse are no longer together, this should not be used to deprive victims of remedies under the law.
Expansions treated in the law upgrade include broadening the definition of domestic violence to include non-physical aspects of abuse such as coercive control and financial abuse. The law also widened the access to housing for victims of domestic violence. This is an example of how law can be used to address social change and create mechanisms to enable victims’ rebuilding their lives and transitioning to survivorship.
Many of the changes that were described as landmark in the recent UK measure were dealt with in the Barbados case by the 2016 amendments to the Domestic Violence Protection Orders Act, Cap 130 A. Before we consider the Barbados legislation though, I wanted to mention one other set of legislative changes worth considering so that we can talk about the Barbados Act in relation to world trends.
On May 24, 2021, Connecticut announced that its legislative session would include the Jennifer’s Law Bill. The Bill already has Senate approval and was named in honour of Jennifer Dulos – a mother of five suspected to have been murdered by her estranged husband, who later committed suicide. Given that Jennifer’s case involved a husband that she was already separated from, we know that the former law treated to former spouses in cases of domestic violence. The new Bill, like its UK equivalent, has lobbied for coercive behaviour to be recognized as a component of domestic violence.
Jennifer’s Law gives victims a pathway for filing restraining orders (what Barbados calls protection orders) against partners or family members for components of coercive behaviour, including monitoring correspondence and isolating victims. Jennifer’s attorney, in talking about the Bill introduces some of the structural changes that would be necessary to carry out the spirit of the Bill when it is finalised.
He pointed to the need for more judges dedicated to domestic violence cases on the bench and an overall examination of how domestic violence law is executed.
This is a good point on which to turn our attention to Barbados because although women’s advocates and other interested parties were able to push through amendments to 130A in 2016, there has been a very different uptake in terms of overall execution of the provisions.
Even though the Royal Barbados Police Force have made some very sound and positive steps in their treatment of victims reporting domestic violence, the outcomes were still largely based on which station a victim reported to, how busy the station may be at the time of reporting and whether the individual police officer or station sergeant on duty wanted to personally deal with the report.
Although 130A calls for a domestic violence roster to be kept at each station many reports of domestic violence were still not brought to book within police stations. Based on the small size of the Barbadian society, several of these cases are difficult where victims are women due to traditional gender stereotypes and the levels of interference that male perpetrators with class, professional connections and power can exert.
Another issue that remained despite 130 A being on the statute book is that domestic violence was still largely seen as physical violence with police feeling unempowered to investigate emotional abuse including intimidation or any forms of financial abuse. I must also say that as an advocate working with various rank and file to address domestic violence, sometimes the police feel frustrated with the outcome
of these cases at the levels of the court after they do their best to assist victims.
Now, in addition to the flaws that we were having with the delivery of the statute, and seemingly in line with police officer’s intuition, we have the astonishing ruling of Thursday May 27, 2021. The ruling in essence limits Cap. 130A in a way that is contrary to world trends and completely contrary to what evidence and best practice show as necessary legal remedies to keep victims of domestic violence alive.
On Thursday, May 27th, just three days after the notice of Jennifer’s Law in Connecticut and short weeks after the UK’s sweeping upgrades, Barbados’ new Chief Justice Sir Patterson Cheltenham and Appeals Court Justice Francis Belle, handed down a decision that there should be a time limit associated with the definition of ‘former spouse’ in the Domestic Violence Protections Orders Act, Cap 130 A.
The decision goes against current research on domestic violence best practice. The decision shows that the law makers in Barbados are still not applying the necessary gender analyses to judicial processes and accounting for how law can facilitate Barbados’ commitment to achieving gender equity by 2030 as a sustainable development goal.
We know that domestic violence affects women and girls worldwide, and in Barbados at disproportionate rates. Therefore, when provisions that remedy domestic violence are diminished, women and girls are disproportionately disempowered.
In other words, we cause negative effects to our international commitments to pay serious attention to gender equality as a primary development issue. We also create strange exceptions in our law the motives of which can be questioned by right thinking members of society.
Marsha Hinds is an advocate-at-large who continues to work with women and girls affected by domestic violence in Barbados.