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Screens needed for domestic violence victims during trials- UK judge

Participants at the seminar on domestic violence for magistrates and prosecutors

A British judge on Tuesday said Guyanese magistrates would be told how to create the best conditions for victims of domestic violence when they appear in court.

Justice Shamin Qureshi, Director of Programmes for Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges’ Association, London,  United Kingdom (UK), who is one of the facilitators at a two-seminar on Domestic Violence for magistrate and prosecutors, recommended a curtain to screen complainants from the perpetrators’ families and friends and other members of the public.

He noted that Guyana has the legislation dealing with assault, domestic violence and sexual offences that are designed to protect victims. “At the end of the day, the victim has to feel comfortable that they will be treated in a sensitive way by making the complaint and so police officers are sensitive to their special needs and further one when the case goes to court that the judiciary- whether it’s magistrates or judges- are also sensitive to their needs as well,” he told Demerara Waves Online News.

Justice Qureshi highlighted the need for victims not to be treated in a dismissive manner by police or being viewed by persons in the courtroom as the one who is responsible for causing the problems.

He said it was no good simply just blaming the police although they might be the first point of contact in an emergency.

Unlike Russia where a domestic violence victim and the alleged perpetrator stand next to each other in the courtroom, the Judge of the Judiciary of England and Wales said in his jurisdiction the victim is linked to the courtroom via videoconference facility, resulting in the victim being more relaxed to give his or her testimony. In Guyana, the two appear in open court but stand on opposite sides of the room facing the magistrate.

“It’s simply a case of being sensitive to how to deal with them so that they can achieve and give their best evidence,” he added.

In the case of Guyana where the cost of videoconferencing might be an issue, the Judge recommended the provision of a curtain or screen on a rail next to the witness so that only the legal professionals and magistrate or judge will be seen by the victim. In the absence of a screen, he said eye contact with the accused and his or her relatives could result in her crumbling.

The seminar has been organised by the Supreme Court of Guyana in partnership with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Magistrates’ and Judges Association based in London, England

This seminar aims to provide Magistrates in Guyana with an opportunity to discuss the major issues in domestic violence cases as they confront them in the dispensation of justice with a view to strengthening the administration of justice.
 
While the principal target group for this seminar is members of the local magistracy, there will also be a special session for police prosecutors, probation, welfare and child-care Officers, NGO’s, civil society groups and other key stakeholders.
The other facilitators are Mr. Mark Guthrie, Legal Advisor, Justice Section, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, London, UK; Justice Margaret Ramsay-Hale of the Turks and Caicos Islands,  Dr. Dianne Douglas, Clinical Psychologist, Trinidad and Tobago; and Ms. Karen DeSouza  of Red Thread, Guyana.