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Meeting of 20th September 2012

Meeting of 20th September 2012

Speaker: Honourable Judge Juan José Navas – The Spanish law relating to domestic violence against women.

Judge Navas spoke in English.

This is the second time that Judge Navas has come to talk to our Club. In January he spoke to us about the main differences between the Spanish and English/Welsh legal systems, this time his talk was about his own work as a specialist Judge in cases of Violence Against Women. One of the important objectives of the Spanish government is to stop domestic violence of this type.

Juan José Navas is the Judge in the Court number One of Domestic Violence Against Women which deals solely with this type of violence. He is head of this court in Marbella as well as being head of the Court for International Investigation.

The Judge told us that there are different definitions of domestic violence in each country, but the EU defines this as any act of violence that is gender based and is likely to result in injury to the woman, including mental injury and sexual violence. When asked why this law only applies to women, the judge said that most cases of violence in the EU involve women and he, himself, has only observed cases of violence against women in Spain.

The EU wants to fight against domestic violence and has put in special measures to observe and prevent this. Spain has set up a hotline to the police and a special criminal court to hear cases within days. Domestic violence is a big problem in Spain and, when he was Prime Minister, Zapatero made many laws to try to prevent violent situations in families. These new laws have led to a significant reduction in the number of cases of violence against women over the past 5 – 6 years. The relevant law is the “Ley Orgánica 1/2004, de 28 de diciembre, de Medidas de Protección integral contra la Violencia de Género” and this contains many measures to help victims and punish aggressors including the telephone number for rapid help, the Court that is solely responsible for this crime, the Observatorio Nacional in Madrid which records all cases, and an education system that tries to teach children that women have Equal Rights.

The main reasons for domestic violence are observed to be:-
1) Addiction to alcohol and drugs
2) Economic situation
3) Religion
In Spain 95% of cases are due to alcohol and drug addiction but also many people who are brought up in a violent situation find it normal to mistreat a woman and don’t understand that this is wrong. In his court Judge Navas has to tell men that in Spain they are not allowed to threaten women.

The penalties for this violence have increased over the past few years and a man can now go to prison for violence to a partner. It is an offense for a man to make a threat against a woman but not for a woman to say the same threat against a man. Eg If a man says “If you do that I will kill you”, he can be imprisoned but if a woman says the same it is only a minor offense. A man saying “I will break all the furniture” can mean 1 year in prison.

The Court deals with cases from people of all different nationalities. There have been a large number involving people of Moroccan and Venezuelan origins and some with Northern European backgrounds. Sometimes the allegation is difficult to prove and frequently the only actual witnesses are children. The judge said that he can normally talk to a child above about 8 years in the Court and he has specially trained psychologists to help. Children are normally very fair in their observations and also truthful. Sometimes they prove that the mother has given false testimony.

When deciding a case where there is testimony from both partners, the Judge will take into account if the same things were said to the police, at the time of the incident, as are said in Court and also if there are previous offenses on the record. Judge Navas will always free a man if he doubts the truth of the evidence.

Vicki said that she has seen women in the local hospital who have been beaten badly but refuse to report the partners because they are frightened. The judge replied that this is a difficult situation but he has criteria to follow. If he only has the word of the woman that she was beaten then there is usually no case against the man but if he has medical and police reports of the injuries he will pursue the case. This court is a Criminal Court and its main action is to make Restrictive Orders but he will not make this Order unless the woman agrees. 99% of Spanish women in these cases want a Restrictive Order. If the economic situation of a woman is bad, the police may give her a short time in a Refuge and in cases of regular domestic violence a member of the Unidad Valoración Psicológico will assess the woman in a refuge.

Frequently partners solve problems with a fight and the first reaction is to call the police who interview everyone and arrest the man. Quite frequently, the following day the woman says that it was only a discussion and she does not want to continue the case. A man cannot be held for more than 3 days without appearing in court. If he is found guilty in this Court, the man must say if he agrees with the penalty imposed. If, however, he pleads not ‘not guilty’ he must appear at a higher court for a full trial.

The judge answered the questions about why the law only applies to violence by men against women by saying that men don’t usually bring cases against women because they feel shame and there is the assumption that the woman is the weaker and poorer partner in a relationship. The law does not apply to homosexual relationships. A man can bring a case relating to personal injury in a normal criminal court.

In relation to the children of a violent partnership, Judge Navas can make a Special Restrictive Order giving guardianship of the child to one partner, usually the mother but the child is asked his preference. If the child stays with the mother, the man has to pay maintenance and must leave the house even if he is paying the mortgage.  The Judge will normally make an order for the man to have visiting rights.

Everyone was so interested that the meeting did not end until 4.15pm. We all hope that Judge Juan José will be able to visit our club again.

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