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Domestic abuse law comes into force with two new crimes

Commissioner of Police, Richard Ullger, and the Minister for Justice, Samantha Sacramento, held a press conference to announce the domestic abuse legislation had come into force. Photo by Johnny Bugeja.

The enforcement of coercive control and non-fatal strangulation or suffocation as crimes began today following domestic abuse reform, the Minister of Justice announced, as she called for victims to step forward.

Coercive control and non-fatal strangulation or suffocation will now be enforced as crimes, with up to a seven-year prison sentence for the latter.

The sentence is tougher than in the UK, which has a maximum sentence of five years for non-fatal strangulation or suffocation.

On Thursday afternoon, the Minister for Justice Samantha Sacramento alongside Commissioner of Police Richard Ullger told reporters the Domestic Abuse Act had commenced after thorough consultation and training.

“There's been an incredible amount of investment in training to make sure that all the agencies were ready to give the bill its full and proper effect as intended,” Ms Sacramento said.

“The most significant part is that it consolidates all the existing legislation on domestic abuse, so it can only be found in one piece of legislation.”

“The most important thing, I think, is that until now domestic abuse have been limited to violence and acts of violence.”

Commissioner Ullger said it had been a long journey and the newly enforced legislation gives victims the confidence that all partner agencies are working together.

He added the laws also give victims better protection in relation to these two offences.

“I think Gibraltar has gone a long way in respect to domestic abuse and how we deal with it,” Commissioner Ullger said.

“We've become more mature, better at it and I think the public have more confidence in us without a shadow of doubt because our investigations and the results that we've got from the courts, the outcomes have been very positive in that regard.”

“We would like to think that the public are more confident in reporting, if you look at the victims, what they need to go through when they go through reporting an incident, domestic biggest stresses in their lives, a loved one moving house and going through divorce considerably.”

“You look at a domestic abuse victim, that's all three, sometimes all in one go. So we've really got to be in tune with the needs of the victims of crime. And as the Minister said, certainly as an organisation have done a lot of hard work to make sure that we protect the vulnerable and vulnerable in these cases will be victims and also the victims children.”

The legislation has created further powers to deal with domestic abuse in Gibraltar.

These include domestic abuse protection notices issued by senior police officers in urgent circumstances for a limited time and may require that a person leave his or her residence.

Before issuing a notice, the officer must take into account the welfare of any child, the opinion of the victim, representations made by the person against whom the notice is made and the opinion of any other residents of the premises who are personally connected.

In all cases a court will review the issue of a notice. 

The law also includes statutory provision for domestic homicide reviews to be established in circumstances where the death of a person over the age of 16 has or appears to have resulted from violence, abuse or neglect by a related person or a person with whom they were or had been in an intimate relationship or a member of the same household.

“When I started this piece of work some ten years ago, we had a five-year strategy that we launched back then,” Ms Sacramento said.

“But obviously what I did last year was knowing with this in mind, knowing that we were going to publish the legislation.”

“Then we started the new sort of strategic focus.”

“We had a new strategy for domestic abuse for 2023, for a five-year period now, since November, which was pretty much the catalyst for the new work that we've done.”

Ms Sacramento has established a domestic abuse working partnership with key stakeholder departments such as the RGP, Care Agency, the Department of Education, the Judicial Health Authority, the court service, and the prosecution service.

She added there are also working groups that are looking at training needs.

“Someone who's a victim needs to know that if they're going to reach out, the help is going to be there, the support is going to be there and that they're going to be heard,” she said.

“And that is very much my message to victims.”

“I want to really give them that reassurance when it comes to terms of the way that they are equipped to deal with criminal offenses as well as with all the other partner agencies.”

“One of the other things we're developing is therapeutic support for victims, for children of the family and also for perpetrators because the whole ethos of our strategy is to break pain.”

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