The practical operation of Integrated Domestic Abuse Courts
Assessing the practical operation of the IDACs is complex. This section highlights the key practical elements of an operational IDAC. These are based on the most common features identified from the selected models. The practical operation of IDACs is reasonably consistent across jurisdictions.
As a starting point, judges and all other court staff involved in IDAC cases have specialist domestic abuse training. This is best established in New York. The New York OFVC is responsible for providing IDVCs judges and other court staff with training on new practices and legislation. Annual conferences to introduce new best practice and discuss progress are also organised by the OFVC.
Prior to the court beginning, the process of case identification and selection takes place. This is carried out by a specially appointed IDAC coordinator who 'matches' criminal and civil cases. This process has been developed on an ad hoc basis for each individual court. There were no jurisdictions identified where civil and criminal IT systems were matched so as to automatically enter cases into the IDVC, and the process was entirely manual.
The Vermont IDVCs operated a slightly different system that did not require case identification prior to the court day. In both Vermont IDVCs all summary-level domestic criminal cases and all civil protection orders were entered into the IDVC. A member of staff then identified all other civil and criminal cases involving the families cited in these cases. Overlapping cases were thereafter identified as the court proceeded. Even if the cases involved different partners, the judge could be aware of all the circumstances. Of note, other agencies - including third sector organisations - could also make referrrals into the court.
The IDAC coordinator
The IDAC coordinator is a role common to the existing IDACs. The literature review and interviews with key informants provided that the coordinator is integral to the smooth-running of the IDAC, and it has been undervalued and under-resourced in existing jurisdictions. The role is intended to improve the efficiency of the IDAC and 'streamline' the process. The role is varied across different jurisdictions but tends to involve:
- case identification and management;
- acting as a point of contact and signposting of services to victims;
- liaising between agencies; and
- informing decision-making in accordance with the court objectives.
Victim advocacy and legal representation
In most IDACs, victim advocacy services are offered before, during and after the court day. In addition, legal advice - usually supplemented by legal aid - is offered to all parties in the civil dispute. This is particularly important in the US and Canada where there are endemic issues of litigants attending civil court without legal representation.
Once a case is identified and entered into the IDAC, all participants involved are invited to court for the same day. In some courts, perpetrators and victims have separate entrances and waiting rooms, and there are increased security personnel to manage interactions.
The relevant family members and a single judge are present in the court throughout both hearings. In some IDACs, namely in New York, the prosecution also remain present throughout the civil procedure, for the purposes of information-sharing and gathering. If they have sufficient training, lawyers can represent their client throughout both processes, however in many cases two separate lawyers are used, one for each stage of the IDAC. Some remain present, but do not participate, in the case for which they are not representing their client, for the purposes of having full information on the concurrent case.
Due to legal complexities around legal prejudice and differing burdens of proof, the criminal court sits first. If the criminal case is not resolved, procedures for trials vary between IDACs: some have the capacity to hear trials, but most return the case to the traditional criminal court and can thereafter proceed with the resolved criminal case at a later date.
Once the criminal case is concluded, the civil case is heard. Again, all parties are present within the courtroom. Civil protection orders, child residency and contact orders are decided as part of this process. In some courts, divorce and separation are handled, and in the problem-solving courts child protection, mental health and substance abuse can be addressed holistically.
Offender monitoring is identified as an important part of the IDAC process. The judge's remit extends past the conclusion of the court day to monitoring the accused's progress and compliance with offender management/rehabilitation programmes. These tend to be provided by external community-based agencies. Breaches of order are quickly returned to the same judge and decisions made based on his/her pre-existing knowledge of the family.
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