Domestic abuse courts: report

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

Methodology and Terminology


Prior to the project commencing, an early exploration of the available evidence base suggested that there may be a paucity of empirical evidence on the operation of IDACs and their effectiveness in achieving their stated goals. In recognition of this, a mixed methodology was adopted for the study as follows:

  • A web-based review of literature on IDACs, including empirical, evaluation evidence as well as more 'grey' literature[1];
  • A series of key informant interviews in a small number of jurisdictions. The choice of jurisdictions selected for the interviews was guided by a small number of stakeholder interviews in Scotland, and by analysis of the literature obtained.

As such, the literature review was focused on literature that was readily available, and in English. There may exist additional literature on IDACs from other jurisdictions that has not been identified, which is not published in English or where the court is titled differently and so not identified during the literature search. The short period of review precluded further investigation of other jurisdictions, and this limitation is recognised and highlighted.

It is also worth noting that while this review is very focused in nature, it found there is a broader body of available evidence on many of the discrete elements of IDACs - such as the provision of advocacy for victims in court, for example, which can be utilised to draw useful comparisons with other jurisdictions as part of a broader project on approaches to Family Justice. This report does not cover such material in depth, however there is the potential for further research into the discrete elements that inform the wider IDAC process and their use in Scotland.


Language is important in the context of domestic abuse and there are a number of terminological sensitivities associated with research into domestic abuse. Consistent with the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018 and Equally Safe strategy, which recognise domestic abuse to include non-physical conduct, this paper will refer to domestic abuse rather than domestic violence.

Accordingly the integrated court system on which this paper focuses is referred to as the Integrated Domestic Abuse Court (IDAC). In other jurisdictions where the court is labelled as the Integrated Domestic Violence Court (IDVC) this term will be honoured.

Stakeholders and key informants

Having introduced the idea of 'One family, one judge' in Parliament, Scottish Women's Aid (SWA) were approached to confirm their definition of the concept and discuss their motivation underpinning the introduction of IDACs. Representatives were interviewed on 26th June 2018.

Interviews were conducted with key informants in the USA and Canada. Rachel Birnbaum is a full professor based at King's University College, Western, London, Ontario. She was heavily involved in the evaluation of the Toronto Integrated Domestic Violence Court. She was interviewed by telephone on 5th July 2018.

David Suntag is a retired trial court judge based in Vermont. He was responsible for the concept and introduction of the IDVC in Vermont at Bennington County and Windham County. He was interviewed by telephone on 6th July 2018.



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