The government will next year present a bill to amend the definition of domestic violence in the law to make it less broad, the Domestic Violence Commissioner said on Tuesday evening.
Updating the definition is one of the recommendations made by retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia in the inquiry into the femicide of Bernice Cassar.
The inquiry concluded that the state ‘system’ failed the 40-year-old mother-of-two, particularly because of a lack of resources and a heavy caseload.
Cassar was murdered while driving to work. Her estranged husband Roderick Cassar has been charged with the femicide and is pleading not guilty.
Samantha Pace Gasan was speaking to journalists on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the murder of Cassar.
Alongside Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri and Parliamentary Secretary for Equality and Reforms Rebecca Buttigieg, Pace Gasan gave details on the progress and work on improving the current systems to fight against domestic violence and taking on the inquiry’s recommendations.
One of Valenzia's recommendations is to update the definition of domestic violence in the law since it is too broad and leads to a caseload increase.
Currently, violence committed by anyone living in the same home, including flatmates, is considered a case of domestic violence.
Pace Gasan said that a bill to update the law would be submitted to parliament and that discussions among stakeholders would take place to ensure the definition is correct and leaves no victims out.
On his part, Minister Camilleri said that more than 70 percent of the recommendations that emerged from the inquiry have been implemented.
“A number of recommendations have been implemented this year, others are in the process of being implemented. It is a priority that not one recommendation is left out,” he said.
25 new police officers added to Domestic Violence Unit
One of the recommendations was to increase resources within the police’s domestic violence unit.
While Pace Gasan said the shortage of human resources is a constant issue faced, she said that in recent months 25 officers joined the police Domestic Violence Unit.
Now there are more than 60 people in the department.
From January, ‘special time’ will be allocated in court to analyse more urgent domestic violence cases.
The inquiry also pointed out that the risk assessment tools used to determine the level of danger a particular domestic violence victim faces must be fixed or changed.
The tool, known as the DASH system- Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour Risk Identification – has faced criticism ever since it was introduced in Malta in 2018.
Pace Gasan said last month that studies to change the risk assessment tool were concluded and that the Danger Assessment (DA) tool will be implemented. She said the tool is currently being adapted to suit the Maltese situation.
She said there are now two magistrates focusing on domestic violence cases, and that a new specialised team dedicated to evaluating high-risk domestic violence cases has been set up earlier this year.
Regarding establishing domestic violence hubs with teams specialising in the field, the commissioner said that the Santa Luċija hub will be operating by the end of the year.
Another hub in Mtarfa will be operating next year.
Camilleri clarified that the domestic violence hubs will allow the unit to move out of the police headquarters and operate from the centre. The alleged aggressors will not be allowed into the hubs, but only victims and children.
He also said that the government will provide wearable panic alarms for victims of domestic violence. Once pressed, the panic alarm will call 112 and automatically give the person’s location to emergency services. Electronic tagging will be introduced next year.
In the coming days, the third strategy on domestic violence and gender-based violence will be launched, which will be a ‘roadmap’ for the next five years on how to tackle domestic violence.
Regarding a new law allowing people to check whether their partner has a history of domestic violence, Pace Gasan said the Victim Support Agency recorded seven requests.