Stress no excuse for violence

Being under stress is no excuse for domestic violence, Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale told a woman charged with assault and threatening violence.

‘We have a zero tolerance policy here,’ she said. ‘It is unusual to find a woman before the court, but the policy is not gender specific.’

She noted that the husband had given a statement indicating a wish that the charges be dropped. However, the seriousness of his injuries had caused the Legal Department to proceed with the matter.

In any event, the spouse is a ‘competent and compellable’ witness, the magistrate pointed out. ‘We do not allow domestic partners to engage in violence and get away with it.’

Crown Counsel Gail Johnson advised that the defendant had already started counselling.

The magistrate referred to a letter in the court file from psychiatrist Dr. Marc Lockhart. It indicated that the woman could not be convicted because she did not know what she was doing. The magistrate asked that Dr. Lockhart come to court to assist in the matter.

The woman’s bail was continued with the condition that she be of good behaviour to her husband.

On the next court date, Dr. Lockhart detailed his examination of the woman and his diagnosis of ‘borderline personality disorder’ coupled with abuse of or dependence on diet pills plus the stress of having been away from her husband for some time.

Dr. Lockhart outlined symptoms of borderline personality disorder, which include frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment, unstable sense of self, unstable and intense interpersonal relationships and impulsivity.

The diet pills exacerbated her mood and she was sleeping no more than one or two hours per night. She had been taking combinations of diet pills for the last eight years.

The doctor pointed to the defendant’s small size and asked why she would be taking diet pills three times a day. The answer, he indicated, was her in own self-image.

All of these factors combined to affect her mental state.

Crown Counsel Andre Mon Desir asked the psychiatrist: ‘At the time of the offence, was her mental state so impaired that she was unable to appreciate the nature of her act and the consequence?’

‘Yes,’ Dr. Lockhart replied.

He added that he thought the woman should be followed up both psychologically and psychiatrically.

The magistrate said there was a certain public interest in a matter like this. The duty of the court is to protect people who bring a complaint and, in a proper case, protect the defendant as well, she said.

To protect both the husband and the wife, there had to be some intervention. The court has the power to put someone n probation without recording a conviction, the magistrate pointed out. The purpose would be for the woman to be treated and monitored by the court.

The magistrate said the best disposal of the case was to place the defendant on probation for one year with the condition that she continue psychiatric care and counselling.

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