How the domestic violence act works for you

The Domestic Violence Act of Guyana was passed in December, 1996 in order to give legal protection to persons who have suffered abuse, or at risk of suffering abuse in a domestic space, that is, in a home or any private space.

The act gives legal protection to anyone: man or woman, child or adult, rich or poor, anyone who is suffering from domestic violence or is at risk of such abuse.

It is important to know that the Domestic Violence Act is both responsive (if you need urgent protection), and supportive by giving lasting protection – that is, it legally paves the way to separate you form your abusers, without leaving you out in the cold. It can provide separation, care and financial support to you and your children through 3 court orders.

Here’s how the domestic violence act can work for you.

The role of the police in the Domestic Violence Act

This is how the act becomes responsive to your urgent needs.

Police officers play a critical role in ensuring your safety and any other persons, such as children or relatives you take care of are free from danger. If you call the police, or find yourself at the station to report immediate danger, they can enter premises without a warrant to arrest the abuser – separating them from you and others.

They have a duty to assist you by ensuring you are taken to a hospital and receive medical attention if you are injured as a result of the abuse. This medical report is important to support your case for a protection order.

The police have to ensure that you, or anyone who is afraid of domestic violence and feels unsafe, is moved to a safe place – such as Help and Shelter, or a relative’s home.

They can file a protection order application in the court on your behalf. This usually happens as soon as the clerk is present at the nearest court.

How to use the Domestic Violence Act

  • Any person who is suffering from domestic abuse can go to the Magistrates’ Court, nearest to where they live, and request a protection order from the clerk.
  • If the police has not submitted your application, the clerk will ask you to fill out a form.
  • The clerk will then fix a date to have the matter heard (this is usually within 7 days). The protection order form which you completed will explain to the magistrate what the matter is about.
  • The abuser(s) you would have listed, or who is held by the police, will be summoned to court.
  • All persons involved in the case (you, witnesses you would have listed, and the abuser included) will have to appear in court and hold their right to have their say to the Magistrate.
  • You will have to explain the details of abuse to the magistrate, or through an affidavit presented by a lawyer on your behalf.
  • You can call witnesses to support your case, medical reports showing marks of violence, or police reports should also be presented to the court to support your request for the protection order.

Court orders under the Domestic Violence Act

  • Protection Order

“Your magistrate. I need protection from this abuser.”

This order is a legally enforced document that the magistrate will grant to you after the court hearing. The order forbids the abuser from:

– Contacting you or your family
– Harassing you or your children
– Be in, or around the place you live, work, or go to school
– Be in, or around other places you visit, such as family or friends
– Getting anyone else to harass you, or to remove their property.

The abuser may also be ordered to:

– Pay monthly maintenance (to support you if you are unemployed, or job has been affected by your abuse; and to support children you may have)
– Pay or contribute to your welfare (If you need counselling, medical bills due tot he abuse you would have suffered)
– Return personal property to you
– Go to counselling.

  • Occupational and Tenancy Orders

“Your magistrate. I can’t live with them anymore but I have no where else to go.”

In some cases where you have no family or friends to support you, and you have no where else to go which means separating you from your abuser would make you homeless, the occupational and tenancy orders come into play.

These orders allow you the right to live in the house, even though it belongs to the abuser.

It prevents the abuser form living in, or occupying the same house.

The tenancy order applies to rented homes.

The abuser can be ordered to pay for monthly rent and utilities (if you are unemployed, or job has been affected by your abuse), even though they have lost the right to live there.

You can request a protection order WITH the occupational/tenancy order, but again, this depends on the case you present to the magistrate.

The magistrate will consider your health, wellbeing, income and financial state, your needs, if you have children or relatives that you take care of, as well as any hardships that might be caused if the order is made.

At the end of their decision is your safety and wellbeing.

How long does the order last?

If you are in immediate danger, you can request an emergency order. It can be granted as soon as it is filed in court; it can last up to 14 days or less.

Orders will be granted for a specific time by the court. They are not indefinite.

Orders can be renewed (extended), or discharged (stopped) by another hearing in the court. This is usually dependent on your request tot he magistrate.

Breach of the Domestic Violence orders

If the abuser breaches and disobeys any of the orders, they will be immediately held by the police, and summoned to court, where they will have to pay a penalty of GY $10,000; and serve up to 12 months imprisonment.

We all have a part to play in changing the culture of violence in our society. It is not a private matter; it affects all of us.

Share this article if you think someone you know can benefit from its information.

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Jairo Rodrigues is an award-winning human rights and social development programme coordinator. He specialises in social change projects and advocacy methodologies on gender relations, sexual and reproductive health and rights, comprehensive sexuality education, LGBT, and youth development.

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