Ever wondered what our Court IDVAs do? Here one of our Derbyshire based Court IDVAs explains how they support victims of domestic abuse going through the court system.
As a Court Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA), I provide support in courts to victims of domestic abuse. Working in Derbyshire, I cover the Derby Magistrates (Justice Centre), Derby Crown, Derby Family court and County court.
My main role is to make sure the victim understands the court process, who will be in the room during trial, what support they can expect and, most of all, to give them reassurance of their safety while at court. I’ll also ask them if they would like a pre-trial visit of the court room, and if so, I’ll make the appropriate referrals to make this happen.
Going to court is a scary time for anyone, let alone people who have experience domestic abuse and who’ve often spent years living in fear, so I’ll also visit the victim at home to see what support they need.
Derby Magistrates has a Special Domestic Abuse court sitting every Wednesday. Beforehand, I’ll check the list to see if any of the victims are known to us. If they are, I will contact them to let them know the case is in court and talk about any special measures they want, such as a restraining order, or if they are giving evidence and may want screens etc. I’ll then speak to the prosecutor to let them know what support is in place.
If a ‘guilty’ plea is entered by the offender, I will tell the victim as soon as the case has been dealt with in court and given a sentence date. If a ‘not guilty plea’ is entered, I will let the victims know when the trial date has been fixed and support them from that moment on. On the trial date, I will meet the victim at court and will wait with them until we can go into the room. They can then choose whether they want me to sit next to them or if they’d prefer me to stay at the back while they give their evidence.
After they’ve finished, they are the free to leave the building. I will make sure they’re ok, check on their welfare and let them know I will get in touch once the verdict is known. I’ll then go back into court to sit through the trial until there’s a verdict and let the victim know the results straight away.
If there’s a guilty verdict, I’ll speak to the victim and let them know when the date for sentencing is and what the result of this is when it happens. I’ll also tell them if a restraining order has been issued. If a verdict comes back as ‘not guilty’, I’ll explain the reasons why it came back that way and discuss how we can best protect them from the perpetrator, such as civil orders, and talk about other support available to them and the importance of keeping a record and reporting any further abusive behaviour or harassment.
However, offenders sometimes change their plea before the trial date, meaning the case is dealt with earlier and we don’t find out about this. It’s then often the victim who finds out and tell us.
If there’s a name on the Special Domestic Abuse court list we do not know, they will get our support if we’re asked to contact them on the day. Sometimes, victims turn up to find out the outcome or because they don’t trust the court, thinking they will just believe the perpetrator if the victim is not there and subsequently drop the case. If this happens, I speak to them outside court. There may be restraining orders in place that need amending or removing and sometimes they are coerced into coming to court to ask for a restraining order to be removed. I need to make sure they fully understand what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. Any information is then passed onto the Prosecutor.
If the victim is going through family court, I will sit with them. Family courts can be a very long process with lots of court dates and if they have no legal representation, the victim will need speak to the family Judge. I have been allowed to speak for a victim on one occasion when they became so upset that they couldn’t speak. Our service is slightly different for family courts because the issues are mainly around children in the relationship, which means the victim tends to need a lot more emotional support.
In County Courts, I often help victims make applications for civil orders such as non-molestation, prohibited steps, and occupation orders if the victim is not eligible for legal aid.
It’s important that I have a good relationship with everyone working in the courts, including security staff on the front desk, who are ready when an extra safety support is needed, and ushers, who can let me know which court cases are in, whether or not the offender has turned up, pass any messages to the prosecutor and let me know if there are any members of the offenders family in court.
In my role, I also work closely with victim support services so we can make them feel safe and well supported. My whole job is making sure that victims understand the court system and feel supported and safe during the process.