BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Wednesday January 27, 2016 – Police in Barbados will be given powers, under amended domestic violence legislation, to enter premises without warrants and issue emergency protection orders to safeguard victims of domestic abuse. They will also be required to respond every single domestic violence complaint they receive.
But the Opposition Barbados Labour Party (BLP) has sounded an alarm over some of the increased powers granted to lawmen intervening in domestic confrontations.
Under the Domestic Violence (Protection Orders) (Amendment) Bill, 2016, which was introduced in Parliament by Minister of Social Care Steve Blackett yesterday, a junior police officer may: issue an emergency protection order if he or she has reason to believe that such an order is necessary to ensure the safety of a person at risk; issue emergency protection orders without the consent of the persons at risk; enter any premises without a warrant if an officer has reasonable grounds to suspect that an emergency protection order, an interim protection order or a final protection order is being breached; and enter premises – on the invitation of a person resident there, or independently – if there is reasonable grounds to suspect that a person on the premises has suffered, or is in imminent danger of suffering, physical injury at the hands of some other person.
The legislation further empowers law enforcement officers, pursuant to an order of the Court, to seize any ammunition, firearms or other weapons in the possession or control of perpetrators of domestic violence, whether or not those weapons were used to commit acts of domestic violence.
And when lawmen respond to complaints, the information must be recorded in a Domestic Violence Register, Blackett told Parliament. The Act also mandates those officers to complete a report and provide a copy to the complainant.
The amendments come against the background of research showing that there were 62 deaths resulting from domestic violence between 2003 and 2015, with the highest incidence occurring in 2003, when 10 women died at the hands of men.
“We must seek to eliminate this seeming tolerance of domestic violence on the basis that is a private matter between two persons into which no one should intervene,” the minister said.
But Shadow Attorney General and Minister of Home Affairs Dale Marshall said he was concerned the powers being given to the police are “likely unconstitutional”.
He made specific reference to the power to arrest, without a warrant, a person who a police officer has reasonable cause to suspect is about to commit domestic violence.
Marshall said that could infringe on an individual’s rights.
“We’re not suggesting that police should not have a power to intervene, but the power of arrest is connected to a criminal act,” he said.
“You arrest people for offences that they have done. We may want to give the police a specific power to intervene, but I believe that once you arrest somebody, you have to charge them. How are you going to charge somebody for something that you believe they are about to do?”
However, Marshall said the Opposition generally supported the amendments.
Representatives of both women’s and men’s organizations attended the sitting to hear the debate on the issue.