During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Provincial Court is hearing urgent and essential matters only. Most previously scheduled matters in the Domestic Violence Court in Halifax and Sydney between now and the end of May have been adjourned and are being rescheduled.
Participants in these court programs have access to all the same government and community supports and services to fulfill their individualized support plans. These resources are also available to individuals and their families not involved with the Courts.
Why do we need this type of court program?
One of the reasons domestic violence is different from other crimes is because of the relationship between the victim and the accused. Those relationships often continue after there has been violence. The impact of that violence can be devastating and it can affect an entire family and the community.
The Domestic Violence Court Program can help the criminal justice system respond to domestic violence with a trauma-informed, collaborative approach. That means creating an environment that is careful not to further traumatize or re-traumatize those involved.
Specialized programs like this bring expertise from throughout the community to better serve families. They also allow for the input of people who have been affected by the violence, and programming options to help address the violence.
What does it mean to take a trauma-informed approach and why is that important?
Many people who come into contact with the law have suffered a traumatic event sometime in their lives that continues to affect their well-being. Going to court can be a stressful and scary time, which can trigger that underlying trauma.
The Domestic Violence Court Program is designed to take a trauma-informed approach when working with offenders, survivors and their families. That means an approach grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological and emotional safety, and creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment. In taking this approach, it is also important to create an environment where service users do not experience further traumatization or re-traumatization.
How does the program work?
The accused individual is first arraigned in Provincial Court. Cases involving intimate partner violence may be referred into the Domestic Violence Court Program, if certain criteria are met. Extensive risk, needs and readiness assessments ensure that each file is appropriate to proceed in the Domestic Violence Court Program.
The person charged with the offense must be willing to accept responsibility for their actions. Generally, this means the accused person will enter a guilty plea. At the end of the process, if the offender has completed the individualized rehabilitation plan, the designated Judge for the court program sentences the individual, taking into consideration the person’s participation in the program.
Who does the program support?
The Domestic Violence Court Program supports partners who have been harmed, children of those involved in the program, and those accused of using violence against their intimate partner.
Who is eligible for the program?
Adults (18 years and older) who are charged with a domestic violence offence and have a significant connection to the Cape Breton Regional Municipality may be eligible for the court program in Sydney.
Adults (18 years and older) who are charged with a domestic violence offence and have a significant connection to the Halifax Regional Municipality may be eligible for the court program in Halifax.
Will victims be forced to meet face-to-face with their abusive partners?
Absolutely not. The Domestic Vioence Court Program is a problem-solving court, meeting people where they are. The program recognizes that no one single approach fits everyone. The program strives to be flexible and responsive to people's needs, what is necessary for them to be safe, to achieve just outcomes and for offenders to be accountable for their behaviour.
Is this court program available in any other areas of the province?
At this time, the program does not serve families in any other regions; however, the program will be regularly evaluated. If it is successful and if there is capacity, consideration will be given to expanding the Domestic Violence Court Program, as resources allow.
When and where will the court sit?
The court program in Sydney sits once a week, usually on Thursdays, at the courthouse at 136 Charlotte Street. In Halifax, the program also operates once a week, on Wednesdays, at the courthouse at 5250 Spring Garden Road.
What are the goals of the Domestic Violence Court Program?
The goals of the Domestic Violence Court Program include:
|being responsive to the needs of people affected by domestic violence and offering meaningful interventions, leading to safer families and communities;|
|improving the lives of families affected by domestic violence by offering support to those harmed and early access to programs for those who have used violence in their intimate relationships, so they can change their behaviour and prevent future violence;|
|~||working with people to stop the cycle of violence;|
|monitoring and supporting, using holistic approaches, collaborative assessments, and restorative approaches.|
Does this mean there is a problem with the traditional court process?
No, but some complex matters, like domestic violence, are better dealt with through specialty court programs. The Domestic Violence Court Program widens the scope of the traditional court process to help connect families with services and supports in the community. It also helps accused individuals make changes in their lives, supports the recovery of those who have been harmed, and ultimately, ends the violence.
Is this an easier route than the traditional court process?
No. In most cases the accused person must plead guilty their charges to be accepted into the program. The accused person must then enter into an intervention plan that will include safety planning and interventions such as educational programming and counselling. Service providers will regularly report to the courtv about the offender's progress. If the accused person does not adhere to the intervention plan, that person may be removed from the program and be transferred back into the traditional criminal justice process.
The approach taken in the Domestic Violence Court Program is more responsive and aims to ensure supports are in place to stop domestic violence. When an accused person goes through the program, that person must commit to meeting with the program teams and attending court for ongoing reporting and assessments.
Will the Domestic Violence Court Program provide more timely access to justice?
Not necessarily. This model aims to be responsive, with the ability to assess a file and offer supports soon after charges are laid. The entire process may not necessarily be faster, as interventions like programming and counselling take time. As well, those involved with the program will be in regular contact with the court team.
Who is on the court team?
The court team in Halifax includes a dedicated Provincial Court Judge, Crown attorney and defense counsel from Nova Scotia Legal Aid.
What groups were involved with developing the Domestic Violence Court Program in Halifax?
More than 50 representatives from 25 local community organizations and various government departments helped with the planning and development of programs and support for families involved in the Halifax court program. Those groups include:
|STEERING COMMITTEE||WORKING GROUP & EXPERT TEAMS
(includes members of the Steering Committee)
|Nova Scotia Judiciary||Alice Housing||Immigrant Settlement Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS)|
|Nova Scotia Department of Justice||Association of Black Social Workers||Peoples' Counselling Clinic|
|Nova Scotia Public Prosecution Service||Avalon Sexual Assault Centre||Mental Health & Addictions, Nova Scotia Health Authority|
|Nova Scotia Legal Aid||Be the Peace Institute||Mi'kmaw Native Friendship Centre|
|Nova Scotia Department of Community Services||Bridges Institute||Mi'kmaq Legal Support Network|
|Nova Scotia Advisory Council on the Status of Women||Bryony House||Mulgrave Park Caring & Learning Centre|
|Nova Scotia Office of Aboriginal Affairs||Community Corrections||Nova Scotia Barristers' Society|
|African Nova Scotian Affairs||Community Justice Society||New Start Counselling|
|Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association||Coverdale||Schools Plus|
|Community agencies, as represented by members of the Metro Interagency Committee on Family Violence||Dalhousie Legal Aid Service||Department of Sociology & Criminology, Saint Mary's University|
|Elizabeth Fry Society||Transition House Association of Nova Scotia|
|Family SOS||Victim Services units (Department of Justice, Halifax Regional Police, Military Police)|
|Halifax Regional Police/RCMP||Women's Centre Connect|
|John Howard Society||YWCA|