Lawmakers have supported a new law
to protect victims of domestic violence, a bill prompted by the death of
Estella Scott-Roberts in 2008.
Following the murder of Mrs.
Scott-Roberts, who was instrumental in setting up the Cayman Islands Crisis
Centre shelter for victims of domestic violence, the government appointed an
advisory body to report on gender violence in the Cayman Islands.
Part of the group’s report to
Cabinet became the basis on which the new legislation was built, Minister of
Gender Affairs Mike Adam, told the Legislative Assembly on Friday.
The advisory body, chaired by Len
Layman, recommended that gender violence, including domestic violence, be
examined by the Law Reform Commission. In October 2009, the commission produced
a legislative proposal paper, followed by a public consultation.
The Protection from Domestic
Violence Bill 2010 enhances the protective remedies available to victims and
expands the definition of domestic violence and who is offered protection under
the law, Mr. Adam said.
Lawmakers on Friday voted
unanimously in support of the bill, which has now passed its second reading.
Mr. Adam cited a 1996 study showing
that more than 10 per cent of 845 random sample households in Cayman had
reported being victims of or witnesses to domestic violence in the home.
Lawmakers heard that the Royal
Cayman Islands Police Service’s Family Support Unit dealt with 167 cases of
domestic violence last year, 62 of which had been referred to the Legal
Department for prosecution.
“It should be noted that these
numbers represent cases dealt with solely by the Family Support Unit officers
and are not a reflection of the domestic violence cases encountered by the
entire RCIPS, which would undoubtedly increase this number,” Mr. Adam said.
Last year, he said, 92 women and
children used the emergency shelter of the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre,
compared to 88 the previous year.
The minister said 75 per cent to 95
per cent of children seen at the Crisis Centre had observed one parent
physically hurting another parent; an estimated 95 per cent to 100 per cent of
children at the centre displayed behavioural problems, and the majority of the
children had performed poorly in school.
‘Tip of the iceberg’
The minister said that while the
numbers of those who sought help as a result of domestic violence may seem
relatively small, he believes they are “just the tip of the iceberg, as many
victims of domestic violence remain silent and fearful of their situations”.
Under the proposed law, the
definition of domestic abuse has been expanded from mainly dealing with
physical violence to include emotional or psychological, financial, physical
and sexual abuse.
Mr. Adam pointed out that although
the new legislation addresses some elements of stalking, it is not an
The bill expands on who is offered
protection from domestic violence under the law, which currently refers to
married spouses; a man and woman living together as husband and wife; and a
child of that family.
The new bill includes individuals
likely to be present in a household who are in need of protection: a parent; a
man and woman who are or have been in a close personal relationship; and a
dependent of the respondent or any person living in the household.
“… We are casting our net wide to
ensure that some of the most vulnerable persons in our society, such as
children, the elderly and physically and mentally disabled persons, are
protected,” Mr. Adam said.
The bill also empowers the court to
issue protection, occupation, tenancy and ancillary orders. Currently, the law
only provides for a matrimonial order, covering the cessation of violence or threats
of violence and the removal of an alleged abuser from the matrimonial home.
Failure to comply carries a penalty of a $500 fine and six months in prison.
With a protection order, a court
can ban a person from engaging or threatening to engage in domestic violence;
being on the premises; communicating with the applicant; or taking possession
or damaging the applicants’ property.
An occupation order gives the
applicant the right to occupy the household residence and exclude the alleged
abuser from the home. Under a tenancy order, the court can stipulate that an
alleged abuser continue to pay all or part of the rental costs of the
Fines and/or imprisonment
Anyone found guilty under the new
law would be liable for a fine of $10,000 and/or imprisonment for two years. If
court orders are not followed, further fines of $100 a day would be imposed for
each day the breach continues.
Also under the proposed law, the
court can order the victim or alleged abuser, or both, to participate in a
counselling or treatment programme.
Anthony Eden, the former PPM
minister of health and human services who, at a 2008 march honouring the late
Mrs. Scott-Roberts, announced the establishment of the advisory body that set
the groundwork for the new bill.
During Friday’s debate he said Mrs.
Scott-Roberts “did not die in vain” because her death had prompted a series of
events that led to this bill being created.
Mr. Eden said a report was also
under way to prepare an anti-stalking law as companion legislation to the new
law. He went on to describe domestic violence as a “cancer in our society”
which must be rooted out.
“We must condemn this at the
highest level. We must ensure that the enforcement takes place and I would urge
that the penalties be more than $10, 000,” he added.