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Living Law: Three strikes? What the Domestic Violence Act really says

Domestic Violence is a little like the air around us; we know it’s there but we tend not to pay too much attention to it until some stench makes us fully aware of its existence.

It may be stretching things more than a little to classify as a case of domestic violence the recent incident in which two police officers shot at each other multiple times from point-blank range. But if it turns out that that was a case of a love triangle involving the spouse of one of the protagonists exploding into violence, then genuine domestic violence may still enter the picture if it has not already done so.

Photo: A victim of domestic violence.
(Courtesy Batchwilliams.com)

And if we are to accept as accurate a recent statement by a senior officer, there is cause for concern. The reason is that even if the spouse in question now has an Order of the Court seeking official protection, she may not benefit from police protection immediately.

Shocked? So was I when the statement first came to my attention. My response was to dash off a letter to the Wired868 Editor poking fun at a senior police officer. Why? Because, I was made to understand, he had told a friend of mine that her brother, against whom she has a protection order, must breach the order three times before the police can act—or words to that effect.

I thought that was an absurd position and so, once my schedule allowed it, I went investigating the Domestic Violence Act 1999 (the Act).

The Act is quite clear; what Mr Senior Policeman is reported to have said is garbage, pure and utter! Section 20 clearly states that a person who has an Order against him (a gender-neutral masculine) and knows of the Order and contravenes the Order has committed an offence. No three strikes rule there.

Section 21 directs that a police officer:

“shall respond to every complaint or report alleging domestic violence whether or not the person making the complaint or the report is the victim.”

As clear as day. No funny language, no legalese to confuse simple folk, including policemen!’ And no three strikes rule here either.

Photo: Wait… What?! No three strikes?

Section 23 makes the police’s obligation to act even plainer:

“For the avoidance of doubt, a police officer may act in accordance with the provisions of the Criminal Law Act where he has reasonable cause to believe that a person is engaging in or attempting to engage in conduct which amounts to physical violence and failure to act immediately may result in serious physical injury or death.”

Three strikes? Nothing of the sort! The law says only that the officer must have reasonable grounds to believe violence is a possibility and goes further to direct him to err on the side of caution… Better intervene and discover that there is no real threat than wait to be certain and cost someone to lose his/her life.

Section 24 expedites matters, removing the need to apply for a warrant before making an arrest, provided that the officer has good reason to suspect that an intervention may be needed:

“Where an Order is in force and a police officer believes on reasonable grounds that a person has committed or is committing a breach of the Order he may detain and arrest that person without a warrant.” (emphasis added)

Buh eh eh! Nothing about three strikes?

Schedule 1 of the Domestic Violence Act lists 49 actions, any of which, when committed by the person who is under an Order of the Court, will result in a breach of the Order. Therefore, an arrestable offence is committed.

Photo: A woman cowers in the shadow of her would-be abuser. Abu Bakr frequently warns the male members of his congregation to treat their women right.

And nowhere in the First Schedule of the Domestic Violence Act, which mentions the Summary Offences Act, the Malicious Damage Act, the Offences Against the Person Act, the Children Act, the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Justice Act is there mention of a three strikes rule in law.

Which means that the three strikes business is really, as I immediately suspected when I first heard it, what one of Derek Walcott’s characters might have called a banana of the senior policeman’s mind, meaning, in plain language, a figment of his imagination.

About Mohan Ramcharan

Mohan Ramcharan is a law student and a student of human nature and culture, who prefers cool logic to emotional ranting. A Trinidadian living in England, he observes the world through two lenses—and strives to share both views in his writing.

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