Binks Is Here

Commentary on the World


A woman was placed in jail to ensure her testimony against her boyfriend in a domestic violence case. The law used to place her in jail was one normally used to ensure that people who volunteer to testify against street gangs stick around and testify.

What surprised me most was how women’s groups were complaining about this as being negative because they were afraid that women would be discouraged from reporting violence.

Let’s see if I have this straight… women’s groups push the government to put in place laws to ensure that domestic violence cases are dealt with seriously. Whereas before, police might be able to mediate things in the event of a call to police, in a lot of jurisdictions they are now REQUIRED to lay charges. Likewise, if I recall correctly, in some areas, crown prosecutors are prevented from doing things like plea bargaining or laying a lesser charge. From the sounds of things, there has been a call that “the government should do all it can to support women in domestic disputes”.

If police are required to lay charges, then the criminal justice system must, by the rules that underlie it, kick into high gear. When you are hit with a baseball bat, YOU are not charging the person who did it; the state is charging the person who committed the crime, for the good of society. That’s why, when you see a criminal court case cited, it’s “R v. Smith” - the R stands for “Regina”; literally the Queen is in a court battle against the criminal. The injured party? They’re a witness, if that.

So, it only seems natural, then, that a witness would be required to testify. Just as a court might compel someone who saw a murder take place to testify, the court is ensuring the witness to a domestic dispute testifies.

Hey, I’m not sure that it’s such a great idea myself - but you can’t on the one hand take away a police officer’s discretion to charge, or a prosecutor’s discretion in dealing with a case, and then complain that women are being put in an uncomfortable position. The justice system exists to protect all members of society to the best of its ability. If we tell the government that domestic disputes are serious crimes, and remove their flexibility in dealing with them, then we shouldn’t be surprised when they use all powers at their disposal to guarantee a fair and complete trial.

Either give back discretion to police and prosecutors, or declare that domestic disputes aren’t really as serious as we all thought they were. The only other options require rebuilding the justice system from the ground up - something I’m not convinced is really all that wise.

For myself, I think that domestic disputes are serious, and should be dealt with seriously - but I don’t think we should tie the hands of those most capable of making informed decisions. I think that by respecting individual rights, and granting latitude to police and prosecutors, we will have a more flexible justice system, and a justice system that is fair to more participants.

EDIT: Bravado has some new, interesting developments to the case in the comments