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Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence is a pattern of behaviour which involves violence or other abuse by one person against another in a domestic context, such as in marriage or cohabitation.  Domestic violence is a  grave violation of the dignity of the individual and is unlawful.   

The new legal framework on domestic violence is based on the Gender-Based Violence Act and Domestic Violence Act and the relative amendments to the Criminal Code and Civil Code.  The Istanbul Convention, which has been signed and ratified by Malta, should also be taken into consideration when determining cases of Domestic Violence.

The Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence Act defines DV as “all acts or omissions including verbal, physical, sexual, psychological or economic violence causing physical and, or moral harm or suffering, including threats of such acts or omissions, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, that occur within the family or domestic unit, whether or not the perpetrator shares or has shared the same residence with the victim, and shall include children who are witnesses of violence within the family or domestic unit”.

Facts and information: domestic violence

Certain  acts  which  are  considered  to  be  domestic  violence  may  also  constitute  a  criminal  act  as   seen  in  the  Criminal  Code.  Under  our  Criminal  Code,  violence  is  known  as  bodily  harm,  which  may   be  punishable  by  imprisonment.  However,  if  there  is  a  case  of  domestic  violence,  namely  bodily   harm   within   the   household   and   between   household   members,   then   the   law   provides   for   an   aggravation  and  a  harsher  punishment.  In  fact  Article  202(h)  specifies  the  punishment  will  be  more   harsh: 

“When  the  crime  is  committed  on  the  person  of which.....Another  person  living  in  the  same  household  as  the  offender  or  who  had  lived  with  the  offender   within  a  period  of  one  year  preceding  the  offence;” 

It  is  important  to  note,  that  the  law  also  considers  this  aggrava[on  if  a  person  is  merely  living  in   the   same   household   with   the   offender.   Therefore   domestic   violence,   according   to   our   Criminal   Code,  need  not  be  committed  necessarily  on  the  wife  or  children,  but  it  may  be  committed  on  any   person  who  has  been  living  in  the  household,  be  it  a  relative  or  an  unrelated  individual  or an individual who  has   lived  with  the  offender  within  a  period  of  one  year  preceding  the  offence. If the victim for arguments sake has lived  with  the  offender  for  2  months,  and  the  offence  occurred  after  4  months  from  moving  out.   This  is still  considered  to  be  domestic  violence  as  long  as  it  happens  within  one  year  from  when  the   victim  lived  with  the  offender.  Moreover, with regards to sexual offences, namely rape, abduction and violent indecent   assault, these are further aggravated if committed in the presence of or within hearing distance of a minor.

If  a  person subject to a Protection or a Restraining Order breaches  the  restrictions  or  prohibitions   imposed  thereunder without  a  reasonable   excuse,   such  person  would  be  guilty  of  an  offence punishable  with  a  fine  of  €2329.37  or  to  imprisonment  of  up  to  six  month  or  to  both  such  fine  and   imprisonment .  
Can offenders receive treatment to change their abusive behaviour?
A Treatment   Order   may   be   issued  by the Courts together   with   or   separately   from   a   Protection   Order   and   provided   the   court   is   satisfied   that   proper   arrangements   have   been   made   or   can   be   made   for   treatment  of  the  person  accused. The  effects  of  a  treatment  order  entail  that  a  person  would  submit  to  treatment  subject  to  the   conditions   which   the   court   may   deem   appropriate   to   lay   down   in   the   order.   When   a   person   is   accused  by  has  not  yet  been  found  guilty  by  the  Court,  the  Court  may  only  issue  such  an  order  with   the   consent   of   the   accused.   Once   a   person   is   found   guilty,   however,   a   treatment   order   may   be   issued  with  or  without  the  consent  of  the  convicted  person.   

If   a   person   subject   to   a   Treatment   Order   breaches   the   restrictions   or   prohibitions   imposed   thereunder  without  a  reasonable  excuse,  such  person  would  be  guilty  of  an  offence  punishable   with  a  fine  (ammenda)  not  exceeding €1164.69 . 

The  Civil  Code  mentions  that  in  the  case  of  a  personal  separa[on  between  spouses  where  there  is   domestic   violence   involved,   the   case   shall   be   appointed   for   a   hearing   within   four   days   and   the   court   may   of   its   own   motion   before   or   after   hearing   the   par[es   issue   a   Protection   Order or a Treatment  Order . 

The Criminal Code also envisages the offences of ‘harassment’ and ‘fear of violence’.  Harassment occurs when there is a course of conduct which amount to harassment of  another person and the  perpetrator knows or ought to known that this amounts to  harassment  of  such  other  person.  It   includes   alarming   a   person   or   causing   the person distress.  Such course of  conduct must be repetitive  in  the  sense  that  it   must be persistent or carried out on more than one occasion. Harassment implies an   action which causes such stress on the individual that it results in   depression  or  emotional  distress.  If  harassment  is  carried  out  on  any  of  the  persons  mentioned   above  there  is  an  aggravation. 

The   Council   of   Europe   Convention   on   preventing   and   combating   violence   against   women   and   domestic   violence   (Istanbul   Convention)   is   a   convention   against   violence   against   women   and   domestic  violence  in  general.  The  main  purpose  of  this  convention  is  to  prevent  violence  and  to   protect  the  victims  and  “to  end  with  the  impunity  of  perpetrators” .     

Malta  signed  this  Convention  in  May  2012  and  it  entered  into  full  force  in  2014.  Malta,  alongside   13   other   Member   States,   ratified   the   Istanbul   Convention   therefore   binding   the   government   to   implement   measures   and   adopt   legislation   to   classify   all   forms   of   violence   against   women   as   a   violation  of  human  rights.   

According  to  the  convention,  violence  includes  the  following:  
1. Psychological Harm  
2. Stalking 
3. Sexual Harassment  
4. Physical and Sexual harm,  including rape, forced marriage, female and genital mutilation, forced abortion and forced sterilisation. 

According  to  Article  543 of the Criminal Code, the  Police  are  empowered  to  proceed  ex  officio in  those  cases  involving  domestic  violence.  This  means  that  if  the  victim  does  not  personally  lodge  a  complaint  with  the   Police,  the  Police  still  have  the  power  to  proceed  against  the  offender.  This  is  a  way  of  protecting   the  victim  further,  even  in  situations  where  perhaps  the  vic[m  is  unable  to  lodge  a  complaint  due   to  fear  from  the  offender.  The  Courts  then  decide  whether  to  go  on  with  the  proceedings  by  taking   into  consideration  all  the  factors  of  the  case,  par[cularly  the  best  interests  of  any  minor  involved.   

The  Domestic  Violence  Act  also  provides  for  the  setting  up  of the  Commission on Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence.   The  functions  of  the  Commission  are  mainly  advisory,  and  relate  to: 
(a) to advise the Minister and any State institution on all issues relating to gender-based violence and domestic violence, as well as the measures, deemed necessary to ensure conformity with their due diligence obligations as established in article 5 and the Convention;
(b) to monitor and oversee the effective implementation of the Action Plan developed by Government in accordance with article 5;
(c) to engage any relevant stakeholders, including civil society, in the effective implementation of the Action Plan mentioned in the preceding paragraph;
(d) to determine the appropriate financial and human resources required for the adequate implementation of the integrated policies, measures and programmes to prevent and combat all forms of gender-based violence and domestic violence covered by the scope of this Act;
(e) to support research in the filed of gender-based violence and domestic violence in order to study its root causes and effects, incidences and conviction rates, as well as the efficacy of measures taken to implement the Convention;
(f) to monitor national standards for support services for victims and perpetrators of gender-based violence and domestic violence, including public or private shelter services or facilities;
(g) to monitor standards and protocols for professionals in the areas covered by the scope of this ACT and organise specialised training for the said professionals, including, but not limited to, educators, members of the judiciary and law enforcement officers;
(h) to comprehensively collect and collate relevant disaggregated statistical data at regular intervals on cases of all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Act from the State, public sector, agencies and other relevant entities, as appropriate;
(i) to collaborate with the relevant national institutions to conduct population-based surveys at regular intervals to assess the prevalence of and trends in all forms of violence covered by the scope of this Act;
(j) to provide the group of experts, as referred to in article 66 of the Convention, with the information collected pursuant to this article in order to stimulate international co-operation and enable international benchmarking;
(k) to ensure that the information collected pursuant to this article is available to the public;
(l) to conduct, on a regular basis and at all levels, awareness-raising campaigns or programmes, including those in co-operation with national human rights institutions and equality bodies, civil society and non-governmental organisations to increase awareness and understanding among the general public of the different manifestations of all forms of gender-based violence and domestic violence and the need to prevent and address such violence;
(m) to ensure the wide dissemination among the general public of information on measures available to prevent acts of violence covered by the scope of this Act, as well as any means to redress available;
(n) to collaborate with the educational authorities to educate students on the forms of violence covered by this Act and the preventive measures in their regard;
(o) to provide guidelines to the media in relation to the prevention of the forms of violence covered by the scope of this Act.The Commission on Domestic Violence therefore does not provide direct support to victims.  However, the Act    provides   for   the   designation   of   an   agency   to   provide   preventive, therapeutic and treatment  programmes  for  both  victims  and  perpetrators -  Agenzija Appogg  has in fact  been  designated as this agency.  Alternatively, one can seek help from an NGO such as Victim Support Malta.

Protection  Order  may be issued when a person is  charged  or  accused  before  the  related Court if this is necessary for the safety of  the  victim or other  individuals,  or  to  keep  public  peace. Such Protection  Order  may  impose  restrictions or prohibitions  on  the  accused  that  appear  necessary  to   the  court  or  desirable  in  the  circumstances.  By  virtue  of  such  protection  order,  the  accused  may be :  

  1. Prohibited  or  restricted  from  approaching  or  following  the  movements  of  the  injured  person  or  any  other  individual  specified  in  the  order.  
  2. Prohibited  or  restricted  access  for  a  period  not  exceeding  six  month  or  until  final  judgment,  to the  premises   in   which   the   injured   person, or any   other individual  specified  in the order, lives, works or frequents  even  if  the  accused  has  a  legal  interests  in  those  premises.  
  3. Prohibited  from  contac[ng  or  moles[ng  the  injured  person  or  any  other  individual  specified  in   the  order   Before  making  an  order,  the  Court  shall  take  into  particular  account  the  need  to  ensure  that: 
    1. The   injured   person   or   other   individual   specified   in   the   order   is   protected   from   injury   or   molestation.   
    2. The  welfare  of  any  children  or  any  dependants  who  may  be  affected  by  the  order. 
    3. The   accused’s   willingness   or   otherwise   to   submit   to   such   treatment   as   the   court   may   deem   appropriate.
    4. The  accommoda[on  needs  of  all  persons  who  may  be  affected  by  the  order,  in  par[cular  of  the   injured  person,  his  children  and  his  other  dependants   -­‐ Any  hardship  that  may  be  caused  to  the  accused  or  to  any  other  person  as  a  results  of  making  the  order
    5.  And  also  any  other  marker  that,  in  the  circumstances  of  the  case,  the  court  considers  relevant. 

Restraining   Order  may   be   issued   by   the   courts   in   passing   judgments   for   any   of   the   reasons   related  to  the  issue  of  a  protec[on  order.  Its  effects  are  the  same  as  that  of  a  protection  order.