Student Attorney Ryanka Ragbir delved into the rights and remedies available for victims of domestic violence, as part of her assessment for the Hugh Wooding Law School Human Rights Law Clinic. Ryanka’s article was published on Monday 19th January, 2015, in the Trinidad Guardian Newspaper.
Domestic violence is physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or financial abuse committed by a person against a spouse, child, any other member of the household or a dependant. Under section 4 of the Domestic Violence Act Chap. 45:56, the governing law on domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago, the main remedy for domestic violence is a Protection Order.
A Protection Order may be granted once an application is made against the person committing the act of domestic violence (the respondent). The person who makes this application (the applicant) can be a spouse, a member of the respondent’s household on behalf of another person, a child, a dependant, a parent, a sibling, a person having a child in common with the respondent, a person in a relationship with the respondent or in certain circumstances, a police officer, probation officer or approved social worker.
A magistrate sitting in the Magistrates’ Court has authority under section 5 of the Act to grant this Order where the court is satisfied that the respondent is committing; has committed; or is likely to commit acts of domestic violence against the applicant. To grant the Protection Order, the magistrate considers all the circumstances of the applicant’s case.
Generally, the effect of this Order is to hinder the respondent’s access to the applicant to prevent abuse. It prevents the respondent from engaging or threatening to engage in acts of domestic violence; being in a place where the applicant is situated; communicating with the applicant; damaging the applicant’s property; approaching the applicant; encouraging another person to do these acts. Further, a Protection Order can stipulate that the respondent:
- leave any place or residence for a specified period;
- return property to the applicant;
- pay compensation for money the applicant may have lost;
- pay money for the applicant’s and his/her children’s benefit;
- give up any firearm or weapon he/she possesses to the police;
- pay rent;
- provide care for any children;
- undertake professional counselling from an approved agency.
A Protection Order can last for any amount of time that the magistrate thinks is necessary but it must not exceed three years.
Once the applicant obtains a Protection Order and the respondent knows of it, the respondent must comply with its terms. If he fails to fulfil the terms, he commits an offence under section 20 of the Act. For a first time breach, the penalty is a maximum fine of $9,000.00 or in default, a maximum of three months in prison. On a second breach, the maximum fine is $15,000.00 or in default, imprisonment for a period of 24 months. The magistrate can order that the respondent pay the fine and serve time in prison. Finally, if after the second conviction the respondent again breaches the terms of the Order, the magistrate can sentence him/her to a maximum of five years imprisonment.
Students of the Hugh Wooding Law School Human Rights Law Clinic were each given the opportunity to write an article for the “Law Made Simple” column in the Trinidad Guardian newspaper.
These topics ranged from analysis of specific legislation, to general legal concepts. The aim of this exercise was to teach the students how to write about complex legal issues, for the average newspaper reader.
This article was re-published with permission from the Human Rights Law Clinic.