The New Law is Here, What are the Effects

Violence Against Women in Serbia

The Law on Prevention of Domestic Violence has been provoking different comments for months, mainly due to the incorrect interpretation of its provisions. Thereby, one loses sight of the initial necessity behind its adoption and the areas it should influence.

Adopted in November 2016 the new Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence introduced urgent protection measures, the obligation to report violence, the assessment of security risks, special training for competent professionals, mandatory coordination  and cooperation between services, the establishment of a unified central (electronic) data recording on domestic violence, as well as penal provisions (disciplinary measures and misdemeanor) in case of non-application or obstruction of application of the law. The legal solutions of the law were aimed at meeting the standards set by the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, which Serbia ratified in late 2013.

Urgent Protection Measures

In cases where there is an imminent threat of domestic violence, the Law gives the competent police officer the power to issue an order imposing an urgent measure on the possible perpetrator of violence. Risk assessment is required to determine whether urgent measures are adequate form of intervention. The measure of temporary removal of the perpetrator from the apartment can be imposed as well as the measure of temporary prohibition to contact or approach the victim. Both measures are always imposed, unless the perpetrator and the victim live in separate apartments (when only the prohibition to contact the victim is imposed). These measures last for 48 hours and they are valid even if the perpetrator refuses to accept the order. Appeal is not allowed. 

A special deputy public prosecutor may propose to the court the extension of urgent protection measures to 30 days, and the court will make a ruling within 24 hours, without the presence of the victim and the perpetrator. An appeal may be filed against a court decision, which does not postpone execution of the decision. Violation of these measures constitutes a misdemeanor for which a prison sentence of up to 60 days is envisaged, with the possibility to conduct the proceedings under shortened procedure. The law provides disciplinary responsibility for prosecutors and judges who do not comply with the prescribed deadlines.

Reporting, Coordination and Cooperation

The law stipulates that everyone must, without delay, report to the police or the public prosecutor information or suspicion that violence is occurring in their environment or that there is an imminent threat of domestic violence. All competent state authorities, within their regular duties, are obliged to identify domestic violence or the danger thereof. Cooperation between competent authorities is carried out through persons designated for liaison (who are obliged to exchange notifications and data on a daily basis) and coordination and cooperation groups (which are formed in the area of competence of ​​each basic public prosecutor's office, consisting of representatives of the prosecutor's office, the police and centers for social work).

The group meets at least once every 15 days and reviews each case of violence that has not been completed by a court decision. Victims of violence may also be present at meetings, at the invitation of other relevant services and organizations. At each meeting, individual plan of protection and support to the victim is prepared (specific activities, responsible persons and deadlines are, including the monitoring and impact assessment plan).

Specialized Training and Data Records

The law stipulates that competent police officers, public prosecutors and deputies, and judges applying this law, are obliged to complete special training. It also stipulates which data on domestic violence is maintained by competent state authorities. Central electronic records should allow competent deputy public prosecutors to access all data, which should facilitate decision-making as well as monitoring of the effects of the application of the law.

Monitoring of the Application of the Law and Penalty Provisions

The law provides for the establishment of the Council for the suppression of domestic violence in order to monitor its application and improve coordination and effectiveness of the protection of victims. A fine (in the amount of RSD 50,000 to 150,000) is imposed on a responsible person in a state authority and an institution that does not report or does not react or obstruct the reporting or reaction to any knowledge of domestic violence or imminent danger.

In order to meet the legally prescribed obligations, the application was postponed for six months. During this period, certain indicators pointed to possible difficulties in the implementation of the Law. For example, no multisectoral training is envisaged, a very small number of police officers have been trained (about 450 officers for the entire Serbia), no training or instruction were provided to the centres for social work, by-laws (forms and rulebooks) were drafted at the last moment, and the prescribed data register has not been established until the beginning of the application of the law. It also seems that the Council for the suppression of domestic violence does not have a mechanism for monitoring and controlling the operational level of activities.

The First Results

The Autonomous Women's Center  decided to independently and regularly (on monthly basis) monitor the application of the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence and submit its observations and proposals to the Council for the suppression of domestic violence and make it available to the public. Information on the application of the Law were obtained from the Republic Public Prosecutor's Office and the Ministry of Interior, while the Ministry in charge of social affairs reported that it does not collect the prescribed data.

Based on reports from June and July 2017, we can conclude that the implementation of the Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence had a successful start. In the first two months, a number of urgent and prolonged protection measures were imposed in relation to the number of cases of domestic violence considered. However, the overview is not quite reliable because it remains unclear as to whether all basic public prosecutors' offices have provided data, but also due to the manner used by the Ministry of Interior to register urgent measures.

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Also, a number of meetings of coordination and cooperation groups were held, but data clearly shows that not all public prosecutors' offices have met the legal obligation. These meetings also produced a certain number of individual victim protection and support plans, but in our opinion this number is not sufficient.

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However, the data reveal great differences between different areas in Serbia in relation to the number of reported and / or considered cases of violence. Additionally, the number of proposal for extension of urgent measures varies considerably - from 5 to 100 per cent in the reported cases of violence. This confirms that the application of the law (recognition of violence and protection of victims) is uneven across the territory of the entire country, and this problem must be addressed.

Numbers show (but without further analysis it is impossible to confirm) that in some cases urgnet measures were imposed on victims of violence (due to lack of knowledge about the phenomenon and its dynamics), which would be a discouraging and potentially dangerous practice. We have no information as to whether the victims of violence were involved in the design of individual protection and support plans, or whether other services were invited to the meetings dedicated to planning, and we lack data about the quality of plans in relation to the principle of victim's safety.

It would be significant to link the data on urgent measures, which represent one of the options for the prevention of violence, with information on other interventions, primarily with family law and criminal law protection against domestic violence. Why is this important? For example, there is a very small number of ex-officio actions to impose protection measures  against domestic violence, as a form of a long-term preventive protection of victims (only 9 in June and 15 in July), which is not encouraging. Also, it would be important to analyze which support services are offered to victims and what effects they produce towards stopping violence, preventing its recurrence and victim's recovery.

Finally, in order to monitor the effects of the law it is necessary to create and establish electronic record of cases of domestic violence, which should contain information on gender, types of violence and the relationship between the victim and the perpetrator. Also, the Council for the suppression of domestic violence should at an early stage of the law application determine whether there are any omissions by competent services, the causes of these omissions and to prepare additional guidance and support for all relevant services. We have no information as to whether cases of non-application or obstruction of the Law have been established. AWC has pointed out to possible omissions, and it is up to the Council to establish an effective mechanism for monitoring the implementation of the new Law on the Prevention of Domestic Violence.