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Sexual & Gender Based Violence

TONGA: Introduction of Family Protection legislation

The Family Protection Bill (2013) (here) was passed during its third and final reading on Tongan Parliament on 4 September 2013, following three weeks of parliamentary debate. The Bill now awaits the King’s assent, before it is enacted. The development of the Bill was an initiative of the Government of Tonga through the Ministry of Education, Women’s Affairs and Culture and the SPC Regional Rights Resource Team (RRRT), and facilitated through their collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office, Ministry of Police and civil society.

The Bill creates a specific domestic violence offence, which may attract a penalty of 12 months imprisonment or a $2000 fine for a first offence; or a term of 3 years imprisonment or a fine of $10 000 for a second or subsequent offence (s28). The definition of domestic violence includes physical abuse, sexual abuse or mental abuse between a perpetrator and a victim who are in a domestic relationship (s4), which is defined to include a range of relationships (s5).

Part 2 of the Bill introduces Protection Orders, and seeks to prevent both domestic violence and economic abuse, and facilitate the safety of persons who experience or fear domestic violence (s8). Applications for protection orders are able to be made in person orally, in writing, by telephone or email; and may be bought outside ordinary court hours if there is a risk of undue hardship if not dealt with immediately (s10). Protection Orders made by the Court can include a range of conditions, but every Order is deemed to include standard conditions prohibiting the respondent from committing domestic violence or other abuse against the complainant, or engaging in a range of other related behaviour (s16). The Court is also able to make emergency protection orders (s13) or temporary protection orders (s14). Breach of a protection order is a domestic violence offence (s28).

Included in the police powers and duties introduced by Part 4 of the Bill is the ability to issue Police Safety Orders. This is an on-the-spot order where a police officer suspects that a person has committed or is about to commit a domestic violence offence or breach a protection order. The Order comes into force immediately and continues for the period specified, up to a maximum of 7 days (s22). The Order requires a person to immediately surrender any weapons and vacate premises occupied by a person at risk, and prohibits them from a range of abusive or threatening behaviour in relation to or making contact with a person at risk (s24).

The Bill establishes express duties for police (to prosecute domestic violence and assist persons at risk – s26); and a duty of care is placed on health practitioners and social service providers notified of domestic violence (s27).

The Bill also provides for the establishment of a Family Protection Advisory Council by the Minister, consisting of representatives from the Ministry, Attorney General’s Office, Police, Forum of Church Leaders and other relevant groups. The Council will advise and make recommendations to the Minister concerning the effective operation of the Act, adequacy of domestic violence preventative measures, support services and responses, and any other matter relating to domestic violence against women and children (s37). A Family Protection Trust Fund, with funds to be directed towards purposes such as shelters and safe houses, community awareness and education programmes, and counselling and health care services, is also established by the Bill (s38).

Education and training in relation to the new law has commenced, with judiciary and stakeholders recently participating in a ‘Family Violence and Youth Justice Workshop’ focussing on the Family Protection Bill. The workshop was held under the Pacific Judicial Development Program (funded by NZAID and administered by the Federal Court of Australia) (story here).