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Understanding The Domestic Violence Act

Domestic violence refers to all forms of violence which occurs in domestic settings, usually in a marriage or cohabitation. It includes intimate partner violence, child abuse, elder abuse or abuse by any member of a household. It affects thousands of people in Jamaica and across the world.  

What is the Domestic Violence Act? 

In Jamaica, the Domestic Violence Act (1996) is a law that provides enhanced protection to victims of physical and mental abuse from persons they reside with or are involved with in an intimate or familial relationship. This includes abuse involving: 

  1. Couples living together (married or unmarried) 
  2. Any children in the household, including children who are not the biological children of both or either spouse
  3. Any other members of the household  
  4. Couples in a visiting relationship  

What protective measures does the law provide? 

Under the Domestic Violence Act, victims of domestic violence can apply for two orders from the court: a protection order or an occupation order. The protection order restricts a person’s contact with any victim (in a manner similar to a restraining order) and an occupation order gives someone the right to occupy a home and use household items.  

Protection Orders 

A Protection Order is an order made by the Court to prohibit an abuser from entering or staying in the home, workplace, place of education or any particular place that could affect a victim. A Protection Order can also prevent an abuser from bothering a victim or a person he/she lives with where the abuser: 

  1. Watches or torments the home, workplace or place of education; 
  2. Follows or lay-waits a victim or others in any place; 
  3. Makes persistent phone calls; 
  4. Uses abusive language, harasses or causes ill-treatment; 
  5. Damages property that a victim or members of their household own, use, have access to, or is located at their home. 

To receive a Protection Order, you must to demonstrate to the Court that: 

  1. The abuser has used or threatened to use violence against you, or that the abuser has caused physical or mental injury to you or someone you live with, and is likely to do so again; or  
  2. Given the circumstances, the order is necessary for your protection or the protection of someone you live with.   The abuser has used or threatened to use violence against you, or that the abuser has caused physical or mental injury to you or someone you live with, and is likely to do so again; or  

If a protection order is breached by an abuser identified within the order, they commit an offence and could be fined up to $10,000, be imprisoned for up to 6 months, or both.  

Where a protection order is in force, the police may arrest an abuser without a warrant if they have reason to suspect that the abuser has violated the protection order and that arresting them is reasonably necessary for the protection of the victim in whose favour the order was made.  

 
In certain cases, an interim protection order may be granted quickly without bringing it to the attention of an alleged abuser if the Court is convinced that any delay in granting the order may risk your safety, another member of your household’s safety, or cause serious hardship. However, once the Court grants an interim order, the alleged abuser must be personally served with the order and has the option of challenging it before the Court.  

Occupation Orders 

An Occupation Order allows you or any member of your household the right to live in a residence and to exclude the abuser from the premises.  

This order is often made only in cases where the Court is convinced that it is either necessary for your protection or the protection of a member of your household; or that it would be in the best interests of a child involved.  

Ordinarily, before making an occupation order, the Court must notify persons with an interest in the premises (which may include the alleged abuser) to appear before the Court to speak before the Court decides.  

However, in special circumstances, an interim order may be sought quickly without bringing it to the attention of anyone if the Court believes that the alleged abuser has used violence or caused physical or mental injury to you or someone in your household and that any delay might expose you or a member of your household to physical injury.  

Once this interim order has been granted, it must be served personally on the alleged abuser who may then apply to the Courts to have it ended or the terms varied.  

Court Procedure 

If you or someone in your household needs protection, you can apply for a Protection Order or an Occupation Order by filling out an application (Protection / Occupation) at the nearest Family Court / Parish Court. To complete the application, you will need to explain the circumstances and reasons for your application in a written affidavit. Here is a template for an affidavit

Once you have filed the application and the accompanying affidavit, the Court Administrator should assign a date and time for a hearing of the application. They will issue a notice to the alleged abuser along with a copy the application and the supporting affidavit. 

Getting Assistance 

Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) provides support to victims of domestic violence. We provide free legal advice and potentially legal representation, depending on the case. If you or someone you know needs support, contact Jamaicans for Justice using the information below. We are here to help.  

Jamaicans for Justice 

Tel: +1(876) 615-5023 / +1(876) 615-5024

Email: complaints@jamaicansforjustice.org 

2 Fagan Avenue, Grant’s Pen 

Kingston, Jamaica