Attorney General Supports Family Court System
Nassau, The Bahamas — Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Allyson Maynard Gibson recalled her days as a volunteer when addressing the Regional Peace Conference September 21 at the Sheraton Nassau Beach Resort .
The four-day conference, which ended September 22, had as a theme: “Peace at Home, Peace in our Community: Creating partnerships and solutions to transform our homes and communities”
“Let me take a moment at the outset to extend sincere congratulations to the Bahamas Crisis Centre as they celebrate 30 years of stellar service to our country. I remember well my days as a volunteer when the Centre started as the Women’s Crisis Centre. I remember negotiating with the police to have women police officers be automatically involved in rape complaints; to have rape kits always available at the hospital; to have identification parades conducted by way of a one way mirror (which we bought) rather than the victim having to touch the accused; negotiating to have the Court take steps to protect the identity of the victim (including having the Court cleared); and many other progressive steps, all made by volunteers working together,” said Sen., the Hon. Allyson Maynard Gibson, Attorney General (Bahamas).
“As a strong persistent advocate for the rights of women and children, as a legislator and Cabinet Minister, I was thrilled when the Domestic Violence and Sexual Offences Act was passed and assented to in 2007. I say this to emphasise that the Crisis Centre has in this Administration many people, starting with the Prime Minister, who are committed to accomplishing the objectives of the Crisis Centre. I want to remind you of the Prime Minister’s admonition this week that you use the facilities of the Urban Renewal Centres to accomplish common goals. Today we have a unique opportunity to make a quantum leap – all stakeholders want ‘peace’ and ‘strong families’. There is an alignment of consciousness. We can achieve this change.”
AG Maynard Gibson extended credit for penetrating social consciousness with raising awareness of the taboo of domestic abuse and its destructive social nature to Dr. Sandra Dean Patterson, who for decades has made a tremendous sacrifice to bring about the changes of assigning core values to women’s self-worth and a man’s divine obligation to share the equal responsibility with women to protect his family, rather than prey on his family.
“When she [Dr. Sandra Dean Patterson] returned home, she could have gone into private practice and made a lot of money. Instead, she chose nation building as a career. For this the Bahamas owes her a tremendous debt of gratitude. Again Sandra, I thank you and pledge the support of the Office of the Attorney General. To the Delegates from the twenty-one (21) countries represented here today, thanks for visiting this “Paradise” in which we live, it is our hope that your stay, though filled with work, is one of refreshment,” said AG Maynard Gibson.
“Your theme: ‘Peace at home. Peace in our communities! Creating partnerships and solutions to transform our homes and communities’ is in many countries around the world including ours, a dream, a wish and one which hope to change may seem dim. The big question then is ‘how do we acquire this peace, what can we do to empower our people, to empower each other to be peaceful, to think, live and be architects of peace?’ It begins at the home, with me.”
AG Maynard Gibson further stated that as one matures and becomes wiser, one learns the art of peacefulness and how to develop it because if you are not at peace, if you are inwardly stressed, angry, and disenfranchised, you become agitated, abrupt, and at times, abusive.
She reminded the audience to think of the home as a training ground for how to be responsible and productive citizens. She said it is a place where we are shaped and exposed to our parents as models, and we learn and share responsibilities and household chores with our siblings, while also learning the skill of interacting with others, and how to solve conflicts, as well as showing respect for the property of others. She inferred to the influence of Urban Renewal 2.0 perspective of making the community responsible for raising children, especially when parents are otherwise engaged or distracted from their parental responsibilities.
“All of that has changed. Our children are not being trained, because the trainers are either not prepared to train, (in other words not trained themselves) or are not in the home to train, so the trainers are those on the streets or the television. So, the fact that this conference is looking at the home is more than timely. It is imperative for hope and healing,” said AG Maynard Gibson.
“Our Prime Minister, in 2002, recognised the truth in the adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. In our context, it is a ‘community’. As a result, he initiated and designed an initiative called, ‘Urban Transformation and Renewal’. The notion driving this plan was that there was a need to focus on our communities empowering them to decide to be clean, caring, cooperative, and active citizens. He realised that there has to be a holistic approach that engages all stakeholders to fight for peace. As a result, the Urban Renewal Initiative, now referred to as the Urban Renewal 2.0, has been inclusive. The Government has partnered with law enforcement agencies, the church, the schools, the business community and the society at large. The belief is that the entire society has a role to play in creating peace.”
AG Maynard Gibson said the conference planners admitted that bridging cultural and social diversity differences within communities are important steps to strengthening communication and partnerships to create a culture for hope and healing. She also said the Office of the Attorney General and the Ministry of Legal Affairs is presently engaged in consulting to create a Family Court system, where the term “family” within our Bahamian context is of limited legal significance that needs to be legally defined, regardless that much more effort is placed on the definition of “marriage”, “parent”, and “parenthood”.
“A function-based approach to providing a definition we believe will focus on what a family does rather than what a family is. Thus, the law might describe the functions of a family as: providing security and care for its members; producing children; socialising and raising children; and providing economically for its members. This functional description of ‘family’, helps define the objective of a family court system as being directed to ‘family matters’ including but not limited to the prevention of the breakdown of the family unit and the protection of the welfare of the members of the family, especially children,” said AG Maynard Gibson.
In August 2008, Justice Rubie Nottage chaired a Family Court System Committee and issued a “Report of the Family Court System Committee”, which will be posted on the Office of the Attorney General website. The Report envisions a Family Court System that would be user friendly and exhibit a more appropriate functionality whereby family law would then be released to achieve the objective of being protective in guarding the well being of family members from physical, emotional, or economic harm. It would help families to become adjusted to conditions of being broken down and divided to live lives apart, as well as being supportive to encourage and support family life.
“The principal aim of the creation of a Family Court system would thus focus on an attempt to fill the gaps and inadequacies of the legal system as it relates to ‘family law’ matters. Such a system would recognise within its jurisdictional limits the needs of the local family, in its context, and would seek to develop an indigenous jurisprudence that is reflective of those needs. To this end, it could be said that national policy might dictate that the Family Court system focus on prevention through guidance and counselling to help family units before their problems develop into irretrievable breakdown,” said AG Maynard Gibson.
“The court system would have a multi-disciplinary approach, seeking to incorporate both legal and social services into its daily operations, with its main objective being the prevention of the breakdown of the family unit and the protection of the welfare of the members of the family, especially children. Put another way, it would satisfy the objectives of a ‘legal system’ and also embrace a philosophical approach to the resolution of ‘family matters’ which would inure to the benefit of the nation as a whole.”
The specialised court would have a non-adversarial house for Alternative Dispute Resolution Support Services, and Mediation and Counselling Services, which would create a multi-door court system allocated to one building facility that caters to the unique needs of the Bahamian archipelago.
“Persons who experience family strife are not criminals. These matters ought not to be heard and adjudicated upon in the same manner as criminal trials. Among other things, the premises, will enable easy access by all parties; the Court will sit so as to promote mediation rather than an adversarial approach; counselling rooms will be available and ‘child friendly’ space will be in the Court,” said AG Maynard Gibson.
“Finally, we shall be appointing a Task Force to review the more than 20 pieces of legislation, and the Rules promulgated thereunder, that relate to family matters, with a mandate to streamlining the entire process so that family matters are treated as matters of urgency, not ‘held hostage’ by bureaucracy. Let us continue to strive daily for success in achieving violence free relationships, peaceful families and empowered communities, let us dare to dream and imagine it and continue to fight for it. To fight for what you do not see, takes courage and stamina.”
AG Maynard Gibson said she encouraged everyone to be compassionate when creating peace and to be courageous, as well as motivated by the fact that just as we have the capacity of violence within us, there is the capacity for peace. She said we must teach our children, our co-workers, and our communities that each moment that they refrain from hurting another through speech, gesture, glance or deeds, they are exercising courage and when successful in those courageous moments, they are also creating peace. She said she is committed to creating healthy relationships, peaceful families, and empowered communities that begins in our imaginations in order to make it happen in reality.
By Gena Gibbs
Bahamas Information Services