Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Is Malta’s Domestic Violence Risk Assessment System Turning Blameless People Into Criminals?
The system is currently being 'fine-tuned’ by government after its effectiveness was called into question following numerous complaints
In recent years, Malta has been steadfast in pushing through much-needed reforms and legislation to tackle the pervasive trend of domestic violence in the country.
It seems to have worked, with the number of domestic violence cases reaching court doubling from 659 cases in 2010 to 1341 cases in 2018. However, a system being used by authorities to assess the risk of domestic violence is being flagged as ineffective by magistrates, lawyers and the police.
Through DASH (the Domestic Abuse, Stalking and Honour Risk Identification, Assessment and Management Model), some cases are allegedly resulting in innocent individuals being charged with a crime, forcibly removed from their homes, held without the opportunity to post bail and in some cases even being separated from their children.
DASH itself is essentially a checklist of questions used by authorities to identify the level of risk of domestic violence on a case-by-case basis. For a case to be considered ‘high-risk’ it must satisfy a certain threshold of criteria, however, a case officer can overrule according to their discretion. All high-risk cases are immediately arrested and arraigned.
In fact, a recent study by the Universities of Manchester and Barcelona found that the system “as it is currently used has very poor classification accuracy (no better than random)”.
It also indicated that the poor accuracy was most likely due to case officers paying “more attention to items in the tool that have little to no predictive information and neglecting those that are more informative”.
Last month, the lawyer of a man who allegedly attacked and threatened his father accused Appoġġ of exaggerating the case.
“Suddenly, everyone is high risk,” Lawyer Martin Fenech said.
Meanwhile, in the previous December, a court case transformed into a debate on the subject, ranging from over-worked social workers to potential breaches in constitutional rights caused by the system.
The issues themselves are actually two-fold, with the failures in the system possibly resulting in domestic violence cases being overlooked, leaving victims with their abusers.
While a radical shift from victim-blaming still should take place, the often-discussed ‘rule of law’ should not allow the rights of an accused man who is presumed innocent to be completely thrown out of the window.
Just last Wednesday, a Maltese woman was jailed for making over 100 false accusations against the father of her children.
A Ministry for Equality Spokesperson recently told The Malta Independent that the system was being fine-tuned with the involvement of Police, Aġenzija Appoġġ and the Commission for Gender-Based Violence and Domestic Violence.
The spokesperson also added that the “tool is crucial to the functioning of the amended law as it ensures that high-risk victims are provided with urgent attention and are protected from the risk of serious harm”.
Lovin Malta reached out to Appoġġ, the Women’s Rights Foundation and the Police for a comment. However, no replies were forthcoming by the time of publication.