Domestic abuse court experiences - perspectives of victims and witnesses: research findings

This research reports on 22 victims’ and witnesses’ experiences of court (including children and young people) since the introduction of the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 in April 2019.

Appendix 3: Example Topic Guide (Adults)

  • Introductions
  • Reassurances
  • Checking understanding of the project and the interviewees potential contribution
  • Consent: verbal and written
  • Share workbook/slide images and check if/how 5 steps reflect the journey to court that interviewee experienced to shape interview

Section 1: Sharing your story (giving a statement /evidence)

1. Can you start by telling me about where your journey began?

  • Acknowledge abuse before reporting and the time (years/months) before came to report it to police

2. Can you tell me about reporting what had happened to the police?

3. What was it like to give a statement?

  • Where and when did that that happen?
  • Tell me about the people who were involved? (the police, the response/attitudes, others friends/family)
  • How did that feel? (heard/ respected/safe/ believed or not)
  • What, if anything, made that feel safe/unsafe?
  • What if anything, was helpful/ unhelpful?

4. (If relevant) Can you tell me what it was like for your children [or others present] to give a statement

  • Did you feel they were properly supported?

(Further prompts as above)

5. Did you understand what would happen next?

  • Did you know what was going to happen to your statement/ what it was for
  • After your initial statement - did you have to give another statement?

(If yes – how did you feel about that? If no – would you have wished to?)

6. What happened next for you (and your children)?

7. What happened to the person who hurt you [or their language to refer to them] at that stage?

  • Arrested?
  • In custody?
  • Special bail conditions?

8. Looking back at the process of giving a statement (and/or pre-recorded evidence), is there anything you wish had been different?

Section 2: Finding out about court

Mention cited witnesses, charges brought if known, & no. cases (from agency records)

1. Can you tell us about the first time you heard about going to court?

  • Who told you? When was that?
  • How did that feel? Was there anything you were worried about?
  • (If not mentioned) Can you tell us about the formal 'citations' (requests to attend court) that you received?
    • How did you receive these
    • What was that like?

2. How did you find out about the charges that were being brought?

  • Did you understand the charge?
  • Did you feel that the charge brought against the accused properly reflected the abuse that you had experienced?
  • This is where they may refer to more than one case and multiple charges.
  • Did you know about the (S1) charge under the new DASA law – was this considered? (Range of abuse, course of conduct, over time)
  • (If relevant), did you know about the child aggravator (S5)? If a child adversely affected etc. by DA, was it used?

3. When you first heard about court, what did you expect would happen? (Was that different to what did happen)?

  • To what degree did you 'trust' the process at this stage?
  • Did you get help to understand what would happen at court?

4. What, if anything, felt helpful/ unhelpful about the way you found out about going to court?

  • Looking back, is there anything you wish had been different?

Section 3: Preparing for court

1. How prepared did you feel about going to court?

  • How did you find out about what would happen at court?
  • Did anyone help you get ready?
  • How did you feel about the information you received about going to court? Was there anything else that would have been useful to know? Did you get a chance to visit the court?
  • Were you asked about special measures? Or did you ask? For you/other witnesses? (experience of Victim Information Advice – VIA? Others e.g. support and advocacy?)
  • What, if anything, felt helpful or made it easier?
  • What if anything made it harder?

2. What happened for you and your family in the run up to court?

  • How safe did you feel in the run up to court?
  • [if relevant] How safe did your children feel in the run up to court?
  • Did you experience any changes (or delays) to the plans for court [proceedings]?
  • Is there anything you wish had been different? Is there anything that might have helped?

3. What did you hope or expect to happen by going to court?

Section 4: Being at Court (and hearings)

1. Can you tell me about what it was like being at court? (clarify if remote or in person – clarify how many times they've been to court)

  • Was it like how you had expected it to be? Why?
  • How did you get there? Did you go on your own? Was there anyone with you on the day to support you?
  • What was it like being in the building/ online? What happened when you were there?
  • How safe (or in control) did you feel at court?
  • Did anyone support you there? Tell me about the witness service role?
  • Did you feel like your wellbeing, needs and safety was considered?
  • What, if anything, made you feel supported or unsupported?

2. Did courts arrange any supportive arrangements for being at court? e.g. separate entrances and were any 'special measures' in place to support you to give evidence (screens; remote live link etc.)? any supportive arrangements for being at court? e.g. separate entrances

  • How did you find this?

3. If you gave evidence at court, what was that like?

4. Did you feel listened to and heard?

  • Did you feel like your circumstances were understood?
  • How did you feel about how you were represented (PF role)?
  • How was the process of being cross examined (defence lawyer)?
  • Did you feel you were taken seriously?
  • E.g. (if relevant) were they supported to communicate?

Or If you didn't get a chance to give evidence, how did you feel about that?

5. (If not mentioned) Can you tell me about the different people involved and the roles they played?

  • Prompt: PF (and VIA); sheriff; witness service, defence lawyer… who else?
  • How did you experience them/ how did they make you feel?

6. (Where relevant) Can you tell me what it was like for your children/other witnesses to go to court

  • Did you feel like they were properly supported?
  • Arrangements? Special measures?
  • What impact did this have on them (see prompt questions above)

7. Can you tell me about leaving court and how you felt after?

8. Was going to court different to what you hoped or expected?

  • Is there anything you wish had been different
  • Was your situation/DA, wellbeing and safety considered (if not already asked)
  • What if anything was helpful/ unhelpful?

Section 5: Sentencing, Impact and Use of the new law and provisions

Have the sentencing details in advance if possible, per charge, case details, mention time from start to finish of the case, number of hearings if known (from supporting agency)

1. What was the outcome of the court case?

2. How did you find out about the outcome, the sentence?

  • Did you have to wait a long time?
  • Who was there to support you at that time?
  • What, if anything, felt helpful

3. How did you feel about the final outcome/sentence?

  • Did you understand the reasons for the outcome?
  • Did you feel that the outcome reflected the abuse you (and your children/others) experienced?

4. Reflections on the new law (DASA: includes recognising DA as a course of abusive behaviour over time; covers all forms of abuse, including psychological abuse, control, etc.; from April 1st 2019)

  • If used, do you think this helped, any comments?
  • If not used, what do you think of the new definition/law? do you think this could have applied to your situation?

5. (Where relevant). Did you feel that the impact on your children/others involved such as friends/family members was acknowledged and/or informed court decisions?

6. (Where relevant) We know that the law aimed to make sure that courts took into account harm caused to a child when sentencing and DASA introduced a new 'child aggravation' when a child was adversely affected by abuse (explain detail)

  • Was a child aggravator considered in your case (by COPFS)? (may be covered earlier)
  • Did you feel the court process took into account harm to children?
  • Did you feel that harm to children was considered in sentencing?
  • What do you feel about this?

7. (Where relevant). What were your experiences of courts granting/not granting Non-Harassment Orders? Was it for you? You and your child(ren)?

  • What do you think of the length and who it covers?
  • What do you think of this as a protective order for you (and your children, if relevant)

8. To what degree did you (and your family if relevant) feel like justice has been achieved?

  • Can you explain?
  • What would you tell other women who were in similar situations and about to go to court?
  • What do you wish had been different?

Section 6: (Where relevant) Further COVID Context Questions

We're conscious that you were going through some or all of this process during COVID restrictions. Can you tell us what impact this made?

  • What worked/ felt helpful? / And what was challenging or felt less helpful?

Section 7: Final reflections and impact

1. Looking back now, how did the whole process of the court case impact on you (and - if relevant - your children, other family, friends)?

  • What impact has it had on you? (And your life more broadly – i.e. both practical and emotional impacts)?
    • Are any of these impacts still with you (good or bad)?
  • Do you feel any safer because of court?
    • If not, what could have helped them to feel safer?
  • (Where relevant) What impact did the court case have on your children/ And/or their family as a whole?
    • What could have been done to make it easier for their child(ren)/family?

2. What are the key things you think would make the court process better for other women/adult victims and child(ren) in the future?

3. Is there anything else you'd like to share/ that I haven't asked you?

4. What would your message be to the Government minister who is responsible for the justice system? (to explain the government minister will be going to the Scottish Parliament next year to tell the members of parliament how thing are working in the courts and how people like you experience it)

Ending and Wrap Up

  • Clarify access to support and that worker will provide a follow up check-in – say when if you know
  • Explain what happens next with research (timescales and feedback commitment)
  • A chance for questions
  • What will you do now to relax?
  • Thank you and acknowledgement of their contribution and how important it is



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