Proposals to strengthen domestic violence laws presented

On the occasion of Internation Women's Day, a number of proposals to strengthen domestic violence and gender-based violence laws were presented

A framework of changes to the Domestic Violence Act and the laws against gender-based violence was presented today, in a move that aims to offer further legal protection of victims' rights.

Presenting the document were Permanent Secretary for the Ministry for Social Dialogue, Consumer Affairs and Civil Liberties Joseph Camilleri and the director of the Human Rights and Integration Directorate, Silvan Agius.

Minister for civil liberties Helena Dalli, via video link, explained that while Malta was one of the first to ratify the Istanbul Convention on domestic violence in 2014, this is only the first step. The next was to transpose the Convention's aims into Maltese law.

She explained that although International Women's Day was dedicated to the financial security and independence, it was not enough and the government was dedicated to providing an ever safer society for citizens, regardless of their gender.

Camilleri said that the signing of the Istanbul convention had resulted in a number of campaigns and measures aimed at reducing domestic violence and helping victims of abuse.

“Domestic violence includes both sexual and psychological aspects, and it is not just women who can be victims, but it is still a very gender-based crime,” he said.

He added that the ministry sought to include changes in criminal and civil cases to safeguard victims from the crime.

The proposals seek to broaden the definition to include financial, sexual, psychological and economic abuse as well as broaden the understanding of perpetrators to include former married partners.

Amendments to the criminal code will include protections against sexual exploitation and stalking, making punishments harsher in cases where laws already exist. The amendments also allow for access to statistics on domestic violence to be collected from the courts and police.

Another suggested amendment would also entail that perpetrators of violence would be sent out of the marital home rather than the victim of violence having to seek shelter elsewhere, regardless of financial income.

“The police should have the power to send perpetrators out of their homes even before the court takes its decision, if clear evidence is available,” he added.

Agius added that the amendments would also include focus on rape and on broadening the legal definitions of rape, stressing that any act without consent constitutes rape. Further safeguards against stalking would also be targeted in amendments.

Among other changes, Agius highlighted that if the police had any clear report and evidence of physical violence, the victim would no longer be expected to pursue the case on their own, but that police would be able to take legal action regardless of whether or not victims are willing to take action.  

“This change would guarantee that action is taken before it is too late and that the police would be able to take action even of the victim feels intimidated,” he added.

Agius further explained that another proposal would make mediation ahead of hearings for proven cases of domestic violence unnecessary.

“Currently, mediation ahead of hearings is obligatory for separation and divorce cases, but in cases of domestic violence, this often increases trauma and stress on the victims,” he added. 

Agius also explained that amendments would also factor in cultural and religious reasons for violence, making them unacceptable excuses.

The proposals presented today were the result of committee discussions between the ministry of civil liberties and the ministry of social solidarity. A draft is expected to be opened to public consultation by summer, with the hope that they could be presented to parliament for discussion after the summer recess.