Special domestic violence courtrooms as Police Force says registers 20 percent conviction rate

Last Updated on Monday, 12 July 2021, 16:40 by Denis Chabrol

The Guyana Police Force has been securing an average of just over 20 percent convictions for domestic violence cases in recent times, based on figures released by Police Commissioner Nigel Hoppie even as he welcomed more conducive conditions at courts for victims to testify.

In a rare disclosure of detailed crime statistics in recent years, Mr. Hoppie said in 2019 there were 1,499 reports of domestic violence out of which there were 918 cases and 261 convictions. Turning to figures for 2020, he said police received 1,672 reports, 893 cases and 112 convictions.

So far, up to June 2021 there have been 896 reports, 439 cases and 104 convictions. For the corresponding period last year, there were 733 reports from which there were 370 cases  and 85 convictions.

The Police Commissioner, in his remarks, gave no reason for the low rate of convictions but there have been instances in which partners have declined to lead evidence against the perpetrators.  But Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards said the reluctance to report incidents of domestic violence is still a major hurdle. “What we would have found over the years is that many persons, whether you call them victims or survivors of domestic violence, they are hesitant to speak up, they are hesitant to come forward and report the crime,” she said.

Noting that the Police Force divisions now have domestic violence units and there are special rooms at police stations where reports are made and follow-up action is taken without inconvenience,  the Police Commissioner welcomed the construction of separate rooms at  two magistrates courts for victims to testify privately and have their hearings done virtually. “It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I note that this provision of a conducive atmosphere for effectively dealing with domestic violence by the legal system is today being taken a step further,” said the Police Commissioner.

The Chancellor said the “prevalence of domestic violence in Guyana is indeed undeniable” and transcends all race, social and economic lines. She said the COVID pandemic has added to increased tension in he household. The judiciary, she said, had decided that domestic violence cases must be heard urgently despite constraints during the pandemic.

Due to fears of being stigmatised or ridiculed when victims go to the court to seek certain orders, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has supported the construction of interview and virtual interview rooms to ensure their comfort and privacy and being away from the perpetrator.  The rooms were built at the Leonora and Wales Magistrates’ Courts, West Demerara.

UNICEF Representative Nicolas Pron said his agency was working with the Ministry of Human Services in areas of policy and legal reform including reviewing the legislation on domestic violence and costing the plans of actions for sexual offences and domestic violence. “These exercises will help us to refine our planning for large-scale roll-out and uptake of services,” he added.

He hoped that the interview rooms would give survivors, including children, greater confidence that their rights would be protected and that justice would be served.