The United Nations
The United States
Model State Domestic Violence Code

The United Nations

In 1996, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Radhika Coomaraswamy issued a report, Further Promotion and Encouragement of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, submitted in accordance with Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/85 (United Nations E/CN.4/1996/53), 6 February 1996. This report included, as an Addendum to the report (E/CN.4/1996/53/Add.2), a framework for model legislation on domestic violence.

In her report, Ms. Coomaraswamy stated the purpose of the model law: “The objective of this model legislation is to serve as a drafting guide to legislatures and organizations committed to lobbying their legislatures for comprehensive legislation on domestic violence.” The model legislation includes a definition of domestic violence, a declaration of purpose and both civil and criminal provisions. It includes requirements for police officers, judges and prosecutors. Importantly, the legislation highlights the importance of victim safety throughout criminal and civil proceedings. Under the Declaration of Purpose, the model law stresses that all domestic violence legislation should “[a]ssure victims of domestic violence the maximum protection in cases ranging from physical and sexual to psychological violence.” The model legislation directs that upon responding to a report of domestic violence, police officers “shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that the victim and her dependents are safe.” The legislation contains provisions for ensuring safety during criminal proceedings. It states, “during the trial phase, the defendant accused of domestic violence shall have no unsupervised contact with the plaintiff.”

The model legislation includes provisions on protection orders and ex parte restraining orders. The legislation provides that “[w]here a situation of grave danger exists to the life, health and wellbeing of the victim an she is unlikely to be safe until a court order is issued, the victim/plaintiff a relative or welfare worker may apply to a judge or magistrate on duty to provide emergency relief, such as an ex parte temporary restraining order to be issue against the abuser within 24 hours of violence occurring.”

The model legislation emphasizes the importance of developing written procedures for officials prosecuting crimes of domestic violence and, in Section V, directs the State prosecuting attorney or attorney-general to put such procedures into effect.

The model legislation recognizes that domestic violence cannot be effectively addressed solely in the legal system. In Section VII, the model legislation directs States to provide emergency and long term services to domestic violence victims and to train legal professionals and social service providers in the complicated dynamics of domestic violence.

The United States

Model State Code

In 1994, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges published a Model Code on Domestic and Family Violence. The code was not designed as a uniform code but rather one that should be adapted from state to state. The code was developed with an advisory committee composed of leaders in the domestic violence field from all over the United States including judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, matrimonial lawyers, battered women’s advocates, medical and health care professionals, law enforcement personnel, educators and others. As the Introduction to the code states: “Family violence is a wrong that needs righting in every state in this country. The key is community commitment to recognize, address and prevent such violence. Effective and enabling legislation is the cornerstone.”

The 50-page code includes five chapters, General Provisions, Criminal Penalties and Procedures, Civil Orders for Protection, Family and Children and Prevention and Treatment. Each provision includes commentary as well as sample language. As the American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence explains, the Model Code:

  • Treats domestic and family violence as a crime requiring aggressive and thorough intervention;
  • Emphasizes safety of the victim and children, and accountability of the batterer;
  • Offers procedures for comprehensive protection orders for victims; and
  • Sets for the ways for states and communities to coordinate efforts to identify, intervene and prevent domestic and family violence.

The Model Code should not, however, be applied uniformly. Rather, it is a list of the different elements that should be included in a domestic violence law, and must be adapted to fit the needs and specific legal requirements of the jurisdiction in question.

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