Monday, November 29, 2010

away from home

Next year, a pilot scheme will start that will give police the power to ban a person suspected of domestic violence (DV) from their home for 48 hours, which can be extended later by a court for up to 28 days. Many will say “quite right too” but note the word ‘suspected’. No conviction, and not even enough evidence to lay a charge, will be required. Police could be sentencing, albeit temporarily, on the basis of nothing more than an accusation.

DV takes many forms, including verbal as well as physical abuse, and threatening behaviour. It is a terrible breach of trust and, although possibly decreasing in numbers of incidents, is widespread in our society, very often fuelled by alcohol. We need to act to curb it and act quickly, efficiently and fairly. But giving police the authority to make judgements as to guilt, without the full evidence that would be presented to a court, is deeply flawed and potentially very dangerous. Not all accusers are honest and there are many motives for making false accusations. Even when an incident has occurred, the new measures could exacerbate a situation that could readily have been calmed.

The courts see many DV cases, of which not all are men accused of assaulting a woman. The Mankind Initiative states that a third of all victims of domestic abuse are male. Other organisations say that often men who claim to be victims are in fact perpetrators; certainly the typical assault by a woman on a man is much less severe than vice versa. Many cases involve a son accused of assault on his mother; in many there is a parent accused of violence on a son or daughter. Victims are often grandfathers, grandmothers, brothers and sisters; in fact anybody who shares a home.

Many cases collapse because the victim is too frightened to give evidence. The decisions the court has to make are difficult and far reaching, sometimes determined by only the relative credibility of the witnesses. A mistake can be very destructive, which is why cases must be proved to a very high standard, considering all evidence. The police can't do that.

Yes, of course, preventing further harm to a victim must be paramount but the police making on the spot and ill considered judgements too early in the legal process is a thin end of an alarming wedge.



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