Cops can be charged for failure to act on domestic violence cases
In tightening measures to ensure a swift process to justice, the Sexual Offences Act provides for Police Officers to be charged if they fail to institute charges against a suspect three months after a complaint was made and if they delay in seeking advice from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).Justice Joanne Barlow addressing the gathering during the workshopThis was highlighted by Justice Joanne Barlow during a workshop hosted by the Guyana Judiciary and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Friday for the media, which focused on domestic abuse, at Parc Rayne, Houston, East Bank Demerara.“When a report is made, the first step then is the investigation and what the new legislation introduces is a mechanism which forces the investigator to move along in a timely fashion. Section 41 of the Act mandates that when a complaint is made, a charge must be laid within three months of the making of that complaint,” the Judge said.Justice Barlow added that an investigator, who cannot lay that charge within three months must send the file to the DPP.The Judge noted that this process was to aid the investigator in laying the charge, if they encountered difficulties or were unsure of what charge to institute. The DPP will then give legal advice on the way forward. However, “A policeman who does not adhere to those provisions can find himself facing disciplinary charges, because the Act says that failure to comply with Section 41 may result in disciplinary charges,” she warned.In such cases, the law enforcement men and women can be charged with “Neglect of duty for failing to institute the charge” or sending the file for advice from the DPP.Many of the Police Divisions have what are referred to as the Gender-Based Violence Units, which are equipped with persons trained to handle matters such as sexual offences and others. However, owing to reasons such as lack of evidence or witnesses, these officers encounter challenges and may not be able to institute a charge in the specified timeframe, as was pointed out by Justice Barlow.In these situations, the Police would then rely on Forensic Interviewers, who are trained to conduct interviews with witnesses. The information is then passed on to the Police. A summary or indictable charge can then be laid.Over the past few months, there has been an alarming spike in the number of reported cases of domestic abuse. This did not go unnoticed by the Judge, who even said she was still trying to understand the reason behind the sudden spike.The most recent statistics shared by First Lady Sandra Granger back in March 2018 had indicated that there was a high prevalence of gender-based violence in Guyana, with a 14.2 per cent increase recorded over the past six years.According to her, reported incidents of domestic violence by an intimate or previous intimate partner rose from 74.8 per cent in 2011 to 89 per cent in 2017, with females accounting for upward of 80 per cent of the victims. It was noted that three-quarters of the gender-based violence cases come mostly from Regions Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara); Four (Demerara-Mahaica), and Six (East Berbice-Corentyne).