Cooks Family Law Bill Includes New Domestic Violence Protections

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One third of women experience violence at their partner’s hands

By Phillipa Webb

RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Oct. 15, 2015) – One third of women in the Cook Islands have experienced some form of violence, including sexual violence, at the hands of their partner.

A third of these women did not tell anyone, and only a fifth of these cases were reported to police.

These statistics from a recent survey highlight the prevalence of domestic violence as the national development issue for the Cook Islands.

If passed by parliament, the Family Law Bill 2015 introduces a range of new protections against domestic abuse.

Ministry of Internal Affairs Secretary Bredina Drollet said the bill will not only include physical abuse and sexual abuse. It will be extended to include economic abuse, emotional abuse, verbal abuse, psychological abuse and stalking.

It will also include causing death or injury to an animal as a factor in emotionally or psychologically abusing a person and creating fear of personal injury and damage to property.

But most importantly, protection orders will replace non-molestation orders if the Bill is passed.

Under the new law it would be easier for a person experiencing domestic violence to apply for a protection order. If the victim is unable to apply to a court due to time, distance or other circumstances, they will be able to apply to an "authorised person" for a protection order.

This person would be appointed by the Secretary of Justice.

"An application for a protection order need not be made in writing," said Drollet. "It can be made by telephone, email or in person."

The protection order will have mandatory conditions attached to it to protect the victim from the perpetrator; it may have conditions relating to possession of weapons, and granting the protected person the right to occupy the family home.

The courts will also have new powers to issue new Temporary Protection Orders without notice if satisfied that there is, or will be, an act of domestic violence committed and a delay could entail a risk of harm against a protected person or child.

And under the Family Law Bill, the police will be empowered with stronger powers to ensure protection from domestic violence, said Drollet.

A police officer will be able to issue new Police Safety Orders if they believe there has been an act of domestic violence committed against a person, or if that person has reasonable grounds of fear that an act of domestic violence will be committed.

A police safety order is an immediate measure intended to reduce the risk of domestic violence against a protected person at the time of being called out.

It will also enable the person protected by the order to have time to get advice about what to do next without having to move out of their home.

These orders can last up to five days, said Drollet.

Importantly, a police officer will be able to make a police safety order without consent of the protected person and the police officer will be able to detain the respondent for up to two hours to make and serve the police safety order.

A police officer will be obligated to immediately investigate domestic violence complaints and must advise the Commissioner of Police on grounds for not issuing a police safety order. The police officer must tell the protected person that they can apply for a protection order.

"The police officer must also explain to the person who is served with the order, what the order means," said Drollet.

The draft Bill has already gained support from the women’s counselling centre Punanga Tauturu Inc, who says the law will give women more confidence to step forward.

Drollet said one possible issue from this section of the Bill could be the right to exclusive occupation of the family home by the victim who has obtained a protection order, if the home is on the perpetrator’s land.

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