Monday, June 29, 2009

Reported back

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Domestic Violence (Enhancing Safety) Bill . The bill would establish a system of "police orders" (now "police safety orders") allowing the police to respond to alleged domestic violence by kicking people out of their homes for up to five days with no evidence, no hearing, and no right of appeal - effectively a parallel system of summary justice handed out by police with no judicial oversight. The Law Commission thought that this was over the top, and I echoed those concerns in my submission in the hope of shortening the duration of the order or getting some judicial oversight. Instead, the select committee has made the bill worse, significantly lowering the (already pathetically low) threshold for imposing an order:

We recommend removing the condition that an order can be issued only if it is necessary to safeguard the “immediate” safety of a person. This would ensure that the decision whether to issue the order took into consideration the safety of that person over the next few hours or days, and not just at the time that the police were called to the domestic violence incident.

New section 124B(2) sets out the matters to which the constable must have regard when considering whether to issue an order; one is whether there is a serious likelihood that domestic violence might be used. Because of its imprecision, we recommend that “serious” be deleted.

If this goes through, we will have a situation where the police can effectively sentence someone to internal exile for five days, making it a criminal offence for them to enter their own home, based on a constable's reasonable belief that it is necessary to ensure the safety of their partner, and a "likelihood" that they will use domestic violence. With no right of appeal.

This is not how justice is supposed to work in a free and democratic society under the rule of law. Instead, it smacks of Mega City One - authoritarian, instant, arbitrary. Giving such power to our police is a recipe for abuse. And given the lack of oversight, there will be no effective remedy for it.