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Parliament of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

Government’s Domestic Violence Bill, which was passed with unanimous support in the Senate on Monday night, will be debated in the Lower House tomorrow

This was confirmed yesterday by Lower House leader Camille Robinson–Regis.

The bill, which proposed sweeping changes to curb domestic violence, was passed in the Senate at 10.08 pm with Government, Opposition and Independent Senators’ votes.

This, despite vigorous lobbying by some Independent senators to extend the bill’s protection to same sex (LGBT) people. This, however, didn’t materialise.

Still, the bill was passed with amendments. All three sides had been in support of the bill and amendments were proposed by Opposition Senator Wade Mark and Independents including Paul Richards, Hazel Thompson–Ahye and Anthony Vieira. The bill required a simple majority vote for passage.

The bill centres around improved conditions for domestic violence victims—or those at potential threat of this—to obtain protection orders and emergency orders more quickly.

The bill expands on current law on the issue and covers 13 further categories. This includes youths over 16 (who will be able to apply for protection orders on their own), people in dating relationships, those at threat of unwelcome intimidating contact via online/digital or other means including computer/Internet and cell phone .

Abuse of images of an applicant or their child is also covered.

The bill also covers issues regarding children more broadly including children who witness domestic violence. It also proposes criminalization of an offence where a person fails to report to police where a vulnerable person( elderly or infirm) is at issue.

In closing committee stages of Monday’s debate, vigorous debate occurred among several Independents Senators —such as Anthony Vieira and Hazel Thompson Ahye—lobbying to have Government include protection for same sex (LGBT) people in the bill. Vieira passionately argued the protection should be for all regardless of type.

Thompson-Ahye, who called for the bill to pertain to “domestic relationships,” said it was a human rights issue. She noted since Government said they wanted to protect the rights all including those in same sex relations and had amended the Sexual Offences Bill to have gender equity, she didn’t understand Government’s reluctance do the same with this bill.

Attorney General Faris Al- Rawi, who had about four exchanges with them on it, admitted it is a human rights issues, but said he had no reluctance or fear to deal with it.

He noted the case of Jason Jones which concerned the issue of quality of treatment for same sex relationships. That succeeded at the High Court and Appeal Court and will go to the Privy Council.

He said there are also 23 other laws where same sex relationships figure, from the Hotels Act to Immigration law. He said since it’s a human rights issue he wasn’t “reluctant” but at this time couldn’t advise Government to amend the law now because implied repeal could kick in with the 23 other laws.

He said the courts are there to determine what is constitutionally fair and just.

“Let me make it clear: I’m not afraid to touch human rights issues nor is the Prime Minister, we believe in equality but we feel laws are not designed only by ourselves but also via consultation and feedback…. I set out a path that the Privy Council will undoubtedly have to consider this (issue) and a government will be guided by this issue,” the AG added.