By Evie Andreou
THE first national website that provides self-help to abuse victims has already helped the first woman to represent herself in Nicosia District Court seeking protection of no-contact, according to Patricia Martin, founder of One Woman At A Time-Cyprus project (OWAAT).
The first self-represented woman in Cyprus, who went on Wednesday to file her ex parte application for emergency injunctive relief on human rights grounds, met difficulties due to ignorance of the District Court Registry clerk who tried to stop her.
After explaining her case, she filed a court application which seeks to prevent defendants from violations by non-violent abuse – threat, intimidation and harassment. A court hearing is set for early June.
“We are hopeful that the court will do its job the way it should,” Martin said.
The entire process to complete her forms took 45 minutes, and she did not contact a lawyer. Instead, she completed fill-in-the-blank forms provided online in English and Greek.
OWAAT aims to educate women on their basic rights to prevent violence against them and empower them to protect their life and privacy, by teaching them how to take a grasp of the law, become self-represented litigants, and get access to court for no-contact orders against their abusers, without the help of a lawyer, Martin said.
This is a nine-month U.S. Fulbright Scholarship legal research project implemented in Cyprus since August 2014 and funded until May.
Through the self-help section, the website provides advice and the relevant forms in Greek and English to file for emergency no-contact civil protections against their abuser.
Martin, a US constitutional law civil rights litigator, international human rights advocate and Fulbright scholar, felt compelled to create OWAAT, after she read in a 2012 report of the Mediterranean Institute of Gender Studies (MIGS) that legal gaps in Cyprus prevent and preclude predominantly abused women with lower income from gaining access to court.
Through further research she found Cyprus courts didn’t provide any self-help forms online and that outdated procedures caused practical obstacles that in effect, precluded abused women from self-representation. She also came across European Court of Human Rights cases according to which, Cyprus’s prolonged court proceedings violated access to court human rights.
In 2014, she received a Fulbright legal research scholarship to facilitate the work of OWAAT, which is being implemented in cooperation with the University of Nicosia Law Clinic programme.
“The statute on domestic violence in Cyprus is very limited as it requires victims to present police and hospital records, which many do not have, but even if they present them, they can be disputed by perpetrators and as a result victims don’t get the protection they need,” Martin said.
According to the European Convention on Human Rights, however, of which Cyprus is a signatory, anyone can prevent a violation of their human rights without having to present police reports, hospital records or through attorneys.
Abuse, Martin said, can be violent and non-violent and unwanted contact. Even if it does not involve violence it may violate one’s human rights.
“You don’t need to prove your right to be protected,” she said.
She added that the website, designed and created by volunteers based on the US automated court model, is an educational tool for women to inform them of their options and rights “when they will not be heard by police”.
Martin said that another goal of OWAAT is to educate lawyers in being part of the process and inform their clients of their international human rights, because many might not even think outside the Cypriot legislation restrictions.
“Many people said they sought help from lawyers but failed because they could not produce the necessary documents required by law,” she said.