Domestic abuse courts: report

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


There are a number of different 'One Family, One Judge' court models

A literature review and interviews with key informants in the US and Canada highlighted a variety of different court models that use the mechanism of 'One Family, One judge'. Three categories of 'One Family, One Judge' court models were identified based on their jurisdictional remit and handling of contested criminal trials. For the purposes of comparison, this review focused on the simple IDAC model, in which a single judge rules on summary-level domestic criminal charges (though does not hear contested criminal trials) and family court cases involving child contact.

There are a number of commonalities across integrated domestic abuse courts in different jurisdictions

Despite the different 'One Family, One Judge' models, there were similar motivations for the establishment of integrated courts across jurisdictions, and they share a number of desired outcomes. IDACs have emerged in response to identified shortfalls in the interface between the criminal and civil justice system. IDACs tend to follow the establishment of specialised domestic abuse courts in jurisdictions, tend to be championed by a grassroots actors, and their successful establishment has tended to depend on the interest and support of the judiciary or a specific judge. IDACs' desired outcomes have been to provide a coordinated response to victim safety and offender accountability, broaden and streamline access to victim advocacy, improve efficiency of the court process and schedule court hearings consecutively, and ensure a specially trained court staff and judiciary.

There are a number of cost considerations related to IDACs, however the evidence base on cost is weak.

There are very few empirical assessments of the cost of IDACs, however the literature and interviews with key informants highlighted a number of cost considerations. The literature tends to assume that less appearances for courts will entail a reduced cost. However, the creation of an IDAC coordinator staff role, the doubling-up of staff time (as prosecutors and legal representatives attend both court processes) and the wider provision of legal aid imply higher costs. Some IDACs have, however, sourced funding from alternative sources, such as statutory health grants or third sector sources. In the case of Vermony, the judge was able to negotiate multiagency staff resources without additional funding, by persuading partner agencies that the work associated with the IDAC was work being carried out anyway.

In relation to the introduction of IDACs, there are a number of significant practical considerations for Scotland.

The process of scheduling criminal and family court matters together to be heard by one judge in Scotland entails a number of practical considerations. There are issues of legal prejudice, rights of audience, consent and information sharing. One practical issue highlighted by key informants was the process of case identification, which has been entirely manual in all cases to date. Other practical considerations for Scotland could include the provision of additional specialist training; court advocacy provision; demand for independent representation; and the need for an integrated approach to addressing men's domestic abuse, such as the Caledonian System. The analysis is a non-exhaustive list and wider consultation with relevant partners and further research would be required to better inform this section.

The evidence base on IDACs is limited

The available evidence on IDACs is weak. There are few empirical studies of IDACs outside of the USA. There are issues of comparison and transferability from the USA, as models differ between counties and states, and it is difficult to establish causality in many of the US models as the courts' jurisdictions include numerous other factors, such as drugs, child protection, and property disputes. The available empirical studies tend to focus on recidivism as a measurable outcome, and outcomes are highly varied across the existing research (see appendix 2). There exists only one study that examines civil outcomes from IDACs.[88] Perhaps the most comparable empirical study, from the Croydon IDVC, was extremely limited due to the very small number of cases that entered the court during the period of review.[89]



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