A one-day consultation was took place at the on Monday, March 21st to review and make recommendations for four Bills related to family law.
This brings Dominica one step closer to adopting the OECS Harmonized Family Model Bills.
Regional and local discussion on this matter has been ongoing since 2002.
Consultant at the Ministry of Social Services, Martin Anthony says since then, a lot has changed and the present laws do not reflect the several conventions which Dominica has ratified.
The Child Justice Bill was the first to be discussed.
“The Child Justice Bill is very desirable because it will bring a number of changes to the processing of matters to go before a Court. In fact, that Bill is a two tier stage in the process- in the first year, there will be an initial; inquiry where matters will go before a committee comprising a magistrate and two other persons to determine whether the matter should be disposed of, diverted or whether it foes before a formal Court session.
“For example, if the juvenile acknowledges responsibility at the initial inquiry, the matter is diverted…if not, the matter then goes to formal Court for hearing.”
Anthony says this is a big shift from the Juvenile Justice Act.
The Children (Care and Adoption) Bill was also reviewed.
“We have been talking for quite a while about…the Sexual Offences Act. When this Bill becomes law, it will deal with other areas where a child is in difficult circumstances – physical abuse, emotional emotion and the whole protection of the child will be dealt with under the Children (Care and Adoption) Bill.
“It also incorporates adoption; we have adoption right now as a separate piece of legislation.”
The other two Bills under discussion are the Status of Children Bill and the Domestic Violence Bill.
“The Status of Children Bill deals with the equal status of children right across the board. Right now we have a Legitimization Act which deals with inheritance and it talks about legitimate and illegitimate children, The Status of Children Bill says that every child is equal under law. It also deals with parenting testing or DNA testing.”
About the Domestic Violence Bill he said, “We already have a Domestic Violence Bill in place but this Bill brings new innovation. One area is the question of police involvement…in the protection of an individual.”
Two additional Bills which complete the OECS Harmonized Family Bills will be reviewed in a separate consultation.
“Dominica deserves this and it’s for the good of society and the family. It’s Dominica’s obligation under certain conventions. If the Bills are enacted, they will call for partnerships at all levels.”
The consultation engages lawyers, magistrates, social workers and the youth and was facilitated by Legal Consultant, Lydia Elliott Mac Clure of St. Lucia.
Dominica and St. Lucia are the two remaining OECS countries to enact the OECS Harmonized Family Model Bills.
Anthony is hoping that by the end of the year, these Bills will be put before Parliament.