State failed to protect domestic violence victim

A woman was awarded €5,000 in damages after the state was found that it had failed to protect her from domestic violence.

Chief Justice Joseph Azzopardi and judges Giannino Caruana Demajo and Anthony Ellul, presiding over the Constitutional Court, upheld a previous decision by the First Hall of the Civil Court.

The court found that the repetitive failure by the police to protect the woman was in breach of her fundamental right to respect for private and family life and the right not to be subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.

The court ruled that the state had a positive obligation to uphold the woman’s fundamental rights.

It found that she suffered not only at the hands of her former husband, but continued to suffer when the authorities failed to act.

The woman had suffered abuse for a number of years and had filed several police reports at different police stations. In some instances criminal proceedings were issued against her former husband and he was slapped with a protection order. The man was also out on bail. Despite the conditions not to approach the victim, he still did, with the victim filing various police reports.

The woman feared for her life and that of her children due to his behaviour.

The court found that there were “systematic shortcomings” in the police procedures for investigating the reports filed against the man and for taking action against him. The police had no central office to show that the victim had a protection order issued in her favour. Every time the woman filed a report, the incidents had to be reported at different police stations and the woman had no reference point. Further, she had to present documentary evidence each time that a protection order had been issued in her favour. Moreover, in several instances the police did not proceed against the man, but they failed to give a satisfactory explanation why did not do so, the court noted.

The court said that the authorities are responsible of taking the necessary protective measures to deter one against serious breaches. The court noted that in this case the man’s ill-treatment to his wife was evident – from the police reports, the duration of the abuse and the repeated incidents which caused fear and anxiety.

The court noted that the repeated reports of identical or similar incidents was proof in itself that the state was not doing enough to protect the woman from her husband’s abusive behaviour.

Lawyers Lara Dimitrijevic and Stephanie Caruana appeared for the woman.