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On amendments to the law on domestic violence
Diotima Centre's contribution to the consultation on the law on domestic violence.

By general consensus and based on the public statements of reputable scientific associations and societies (e.g. the Hellenic Society of Criminal Law, the Association of Greek Criminal Lawyers), law schools, bar associations, etc, the amendments introduced to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure through the draft bill of the Ministry of Justice entitled «Interventions in the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure for the acceleration and qualitative upgrading of criminal proceedings – Modernisation of the legislative framework for the prevention and combating of domestic violence», are damaging to the rule of law and our legal culture. 

At the same time, the bill introduces interventions in Law 3500/2006 on domestic violence, many of which contradict the provisions of the Istanbul Convention (Law 4531). In fact, these amendments are proposed without taking into account the urgent recommendations of the GREVIO Commission included in the first evaluation report of the country.

Moreover, the fact that the amendment of Law 3500/2006 (Chapter D of the law) is not introduced in a separate draft law, but in the overall framework of the amendments to the Criminal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure, is in violation of the rules of proper and effective law-making.

The Diotima Centre, expresses its deepest concern and worry first of all because the bill comes to public consultation without prior consultation with Civil Society.

In fact, despite the strong recommendations of the GREVIO Commission on the urgent need and importance of the active participation of feminist and women’s organizations in public consultations on gender equality issues, feminist NGOs and collectives were not invited to a dialogue to submit their expertise and proposals, effectively contributing to the modernization of the legislation on domestic/partner gender-based violence. 

Going through the bill and specifically the points concerning the prevention and combating of domestic violence, we come to the following basic and important findings: 

  • There is no distinct, standardized criminal provision for the taking of women’s lives within a partnership, with femicide being recognized as a crime with gender characteristics, despite the adoption of this legal concept by several other countries.
  • Psychological violence is introduced as a form of violence that only concerns minors/adults. On the contrary, the Bill does not criminalise a number of behaviours that constitute domestic violence under the Convention’s expanded definition, namely psychological violence against adults and economic violence. It is not understandable why psychological violence is not criminalised in Law 3500/2006, while in other legislation, either there is a reference to terror or anxiety, which constitute forms of psychological violence (e.g. Article 333(1) of the Criminal Code), or there is a clear reference to psychological harm (Law 4808/2021 Article 4(2). Moreover, as the GREVIO Commission points out, it is precisely because psychological violence is not reflected in the law, while it is denounced, that it is not prosecuted in isolation but only in combination with physical violence. With regard to economic violence, the absence of a definition is a major shortcoming, even though it is expressly provided for in the Convention.
  • With regard to the offence of rape, although explicitly, according to the bill, it will now be considered domestic violence when it is committed in a domestic/partner context, the legislator fails to improve the definition of rape. This means that the existing definition does not clarify the concept of consent and does not imply that any sexual act or conduct must be the product of free will. At the same time, the current definition is limited to the narrow concept of “sexual act”, which cannot include lewd acts that do not involve penetration. We consider that these omissions are not in line with what the Istanbul Convention (Article 36) stipulates, and at the same time do not express a clear political will to effectively address sexual violence.
  • There is no provision for speeding up the procedures and prioritising the trial of domestic violence cases, despite the recognised social need and the opinion of a senior judicial officer, and despite the fact that femicides are largely (also) due to the inability of the justice system to respond and protect victims from the escalation of violent behaviour.
  • Domestic violence misdemeanours, as well as almost all misdemeanours of the Penal Code, will from now on be tried by single-member district courts. We believe that the adjudication of domestic violence cases by single-member sessions devalues the seriousness of the phenomenon, even if it is dictated by the understaffing of the Courts.
  • The bill refers exhaustively to the institution of criminal mediation as a potential case of non-prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence misdemeanours, if they attend counselling-therapy programmes. It should be noted, however, that with the exception of the Social Support Centres of the EKKA in Athens, Piraeus and Thessaloniki, which implement special programmes for perpetrators and for which we have no data on the effectiveness of their interventions, in the rest of the country there is an established lack of certified and/or state-supervised structures with relevant programmes that perpetrators of domestic violence can attend. We also find the reference to ‘domestic violence rehabilitation programmes’ incomprehensible and highly problematic. In this way, the phenomenon is ‘psychiatricised’ and the violent perpetrator is identified with an ‘addiction’ which they are unable to eliminate by their own efforts. Programmes for perpetrators should be based primarily on protecting the vulnerable situation of the victim and at the same time on the free will of the perpetrator, not on coercion.
  • Finally, we consider the fact that the bill links the compensation of victims by the Hellenic Compensation Authority with the institution of criminal mediation to be an extremely important loophole, since the former has been proven ineffective in practice, and the compensation of victims cannot be exhausted only in cases that have been subject to criminal mediation. Moreover, under the Istanbul Convention (No. 30), States are obliged to provide adequate state compensation, without distinction, to persons who have suffered serious bodily injury or damage to their health, to the extent that such injury or damage is not covered by other sources, as recommended by GREVIO (paras. 184-185). It is the position of the Diotima Centre that all vulnerable survivors of domestic violence and their children, without exception, should receive state financial support and assistance in at least the first steps of their escape from violent/abusive relationships, regardless of judicial recognition of the existence of domestic violence. 

The attempted legislative initiative for the amendment of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure is yet another government intervention, which is added to the many that have taken place since 2019 and onwards, which is done without even the existence of a legislative committee and with the main aim of tightening penalties.

The Diotima Centre, together with numerous scientific associations and civil society organisations and the Council of Europe, is opposed to the tightening of sentences and the introduction of life imprisonment as the only penalty for a significant number of crimes. As has been documented for years by relevant research, tightening up sentences does not help to deter crime.

At the same time, this approach violates the fundamental principle of proportionality enshrined in the Constitution (Article 25 – Principle of the rule of law, protection of fundamental rights).

In the same spirit, the interventions in Law 3500/2006 take place at a time when the State fails to respond satisfactorily in the field of prevention and protection of victims of domestic/intimate partner violence, violating basic principles of the Convention.

However, we must not forget that one of the primary objectives of the Convention is to put an end to impunity for perpetrators. This implies not only imposing sanctions against them through legislation, but also ensuring the necessary legal channels for victims.

At the same time, the State itself must comply with the obligation of due diligence in preventing and investigating acts of violence.


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