Domestic abuse courts: report

This report examines the effectiveness of Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts (IDACs) that use a ‘One Family, One Judge’ model.

The available evidence on IDACs

This final section considers the evidence base on IDACs and the conclusions that may be drawn regarding the effectiveness of IDACs.

Considering first the quantity of empirical evaluations of IDACs, the number of empirical evaluations of IDACs over all existing jurisdictions is relatively small. Based on examinations of the existing literature and reference lists, and following consultation with key informants, it is probable that the majority of relevant empirical evaluations on IDACs (as per the narrowed definition offered above) have been reviewed. The evidence base is, in fact, smaller than it first appears as much of the literature is cyclical, with multiple articles conducting literature reviews and drawing conclusions from the same data.[78]

Next, considering the quality of empirical evaluations, there are a number of significant limitations. A number of single- and multiple-case evaluations have been conducted on the existing IDACs in the US, Canada and England. Inconsistencies around control groups, research design and outcome variables mean that comparison is extremely difficult.

Some of the available research is unreliable, with poor quasi-experimental comparison groups or poor pre- and post-design.[79] Many of the evaluation studies focus on single sites, and because court models vary so widely - even within jurisdictions - conclusions cannot be generalised across multiple cases.[80]

The identified empirical studies, (plotted in appendix 2) provide contradictory evaluation outcomes, from which it is difficult to draw consistent conclusions. Differences in outcomes may result as much from the differences in context, research design, and samples as from participation in the IDAC compared to the traditional two-court system. This limitation is recognised in some of the recent evaluation literature.[81] Using court conviction rates in New York state as an example: three studies evidenced higher conviction rates in the IDVC compared to the traditional two-court process, and two studies evidenced that conviction rates were equal between IDVC and the traditional court. This pattern of contradictory results between studies can be observed relating to the number of attendances at court, case processing times, recidivism rates, and reconviction rates (see appendix 2).

Some literature, from both academic and grey sources, has tended to draw generalised conclusions about the value and benefits of IDACs. The Centre for Justice Innovation, for example, conclude that the available evidence proves IDACs can "increase convictions and witness participation, lower re-offending, enforce protection orders more effectively and reduce case processing time".[82] Such statements should be approached with caution: the evidence has been presented selectively[83] and without the depth of analysis required to guide conclusions on effectiveness.

There is also a significant disconnect between the desired outcomes of IDACs and what is being measured. Very few studies include qualitative analyses of victim experience, and there are no identified studies which have produced longitudinal outcomes for victims or perpetrators. Judge Suntag provided that this is, in part, due to funding implications, i.e. a court model that is seen to reduce reoffending will be politically popular and more likely to gain funding, thus this becomes the evaluation focus of many courts.[84] Evaluation studies which use reliable research designs have tended to focus exclusively on quantitative criminal outcomes. In particular, despite the majority of the literature not identifying recidivism as a challenge of the family and criminal court systems,[85] many studies focus on recidivism as a measurable outcome.[86]

There is a further gap in literature that evaluates the outcomes of the civil component of IDACs. Of the existing evaluation studies, all but one[87] evaluate criminal outcomes only. Conclusions on the civil court outcomes of IDACs are therefore not possible.



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