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Stakeholders seek review of DV Law, urge urgent reforms

By Tobi Awodipe
03 July 2021   |   2:20 am
Stakeholders across different sectors and Civil Service Organisations (CSOs) have pointed out the need for urgent reforms to be made to the 2007 Protection Against Domestic Violence Law, saying that since the law was enacted years ago.....

Stakeholders at the one day meeting held in Lagos… recently

Stakeholders across different sectors and Civil Service Organisations (CSOs) have pointed out the need for urgent reforms to be made to the 2007 Protection Against Domestic Violence Law, saying that since the law was enacted years ago, the dynamics of Domestic Violence (DV) has since evolved and the law must accommodate new realities.

Partnering with the Lagos State Law Reform Commission and the European Union Funded Rule of Law and Anti-Corruption (RoLAC) program, head of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, (DSVRT) Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi said the law was made not only to protect women and children but also men and everyone in a cohabiting relationship who may be prone to being victims of domestic violence.

Chief Magistrate LSJ, Kikelomo Bukola Odeyemi-Ayeye said DV could also be domestic abuse, spousal abuse, battering, family violence and intimate partner violence. “DV is a pattern of abusive behaviours by one partner against another in an intimate relationship such as marriage, dating, family or cohabitation.” Speaking on the highlights of the current DV law, which has 18 sections, she lamented the poor response of mandatory reporters including the police and health workers, saying responders need to provide better support to survivors. “Police response to DV is very poor. Once you approach a court for a DV situation, you should pass through mediation centre and an emergency intervention order should be served on the other party.” She said contrary to what sadly happens now, the police cannot refuse to institute a prosecution or withdraw a charge without the consent of the attorney general of the state. “Once a suspect has been charged, it should not be withdrawn no matter what. All that idea of calling people to threaten the survivor or the person that reported the case to go withdraw it and go and ‘settle’ at home is against the law and you will be punished if found doing this.”

On the need for reform, Odeyemi-Ayeye said the legal system has deliberately set itself above and beyond the reach of ordinary people and uses language and tradition, which is impossible for a layperson to use and understand. “Nowhere is this more damaging other than matrimonial disputes, including DV. In all areas of dispute, litigation is supposed to be the last resort, as presently constituted, the law has failed to address itself in more than a piecemeal fashion to the issue of protection for women from men in their own homes. DV procedure is long overdue for simplification and section 2 application for Protection Order ought to be in a praecipe form available in booklets at the registry of the family court.”

She said the reformed law must provide expeditious access to the judicial system, jurisdiction must be properly spelt out as if there is any inconsistency between a federal legislation and state law, the former prevails. “Also the reforms should cover protection from personal liability; this is missing in the law presently and there should be no action or other proceeding instituted against the registrars and other officers of the court or any other person for any act done in good faith or for any alleged neglect or default in good faith, in the execution or intended execution of the person’s duty under this Law or the person’s duty to carry out the provisions of an order made under this Law. It should also hand out stiffer punishments and judges need to be more empathetic when handing out rulings. Police response to DV is poor but it is no poorer that the response of the civil courts.”

“We also need diverse types of orders and the setting up of counseling centres should be the function of every state government and not the chief judge. The state government should partner professional bodies, NGOs, psychologists, therapists for psychosocial therapy and rehabilitation of both abusers and victims. Also, we need to clarify if the law should be neutral or gender sensitive.” She added that section 3 and 12 of the law need to be reformed, as creation of counselling units within family court is unrealistic.

“‘No fee’ should be guaranteed for any application, request or motion under this reformed law and no person shall, in making an application, affidavit or motion under this law, commit perjury or public mischief within the meaning of the Criminal Law of Lagos State.”

Justice Oguntade who also spoke at the one day meeting, said men also need to be protected against DV as many of them are suffering in silence. “DV is a solid ground for divorce according to section 15 of the laws of this state but when coming to ask for divorce, come with solid evidence as we cant dissolve marriage based on hearsay or what you simply tell the court. DV destroys lives, families and livelihoods and know that you can approach the courts and get justice.”