The Domestic Violence Court Program is a wellness court program that was first piloted in Provincial Court in Sydney in 2012. The program is now permanent in Sydney and was expanded to the Halifax Regional Municipality in February 2018. There are also domestic violence aspects to the Wellness Courts in Amherst, Bridgewater and Truro.
The Domestic Violence Court Program is more responsive to the needs of people affected by domestic violence and offers meaningful interventions at an earlier stage. The program takes a trauma-informed, collaborative approach that supports healthier relationships and will help protect survivors and their families from future abuse.
Access to Domestic Violence Services & Supports during the COVID-19 Pandemic
The Domestic Violence Court Programs in Halifax and Sydney are running as usual. Most matters in Sydney are being seen in person with COVID-19 restrictions in place (e.g. masking and physical distancing), while the Halifax program is running virtually, using Microsoft Teams.
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.
How do I get in touch with the Domestic Violence Court Program?
What is domestic violence?
“Domestic violence is deliberate and purposeful violence, abuse, and intimidation perpetrated by one person against another in [a current or past] intimate relationship. It occurs between two persons where one exercises power over the other, causing fear, physical, and/or psychological harm.” (adapted from the Domestic Violence Prevention Committee Report, 2009)
Why is domestic violence different from other crimes?
The relationship between the person harmed and the person who used violence makes it different. The impact of violence within a family can be devastating. It can affect an entire family and the whole community. These relationships may continue after there has been violence, especially when there are children.
What is the Domestic Violence Court Program (DVCP)?
This Program is for those that have used violence against their partner or ex-partner and been charged with a related criminal offence, and those who have been harmed by their intimate partner’s or ex-partner’s use of violence. The program is voluntary - it is only for those who accept responsibility for their actions.
The Domestic Violence Court Program uses a collaborative approach to develop meaningful Court Plans. Creating a Court Plan involves stopping the violence, identifying what could repair the harm, supporting the person to repair the harms identified, and creating an accountability plan.
The Program provides programs and support for those who have used violence, and those who have been harmed by their partner’s or ex-partner’s use of violence.
What is the purpose of the Domestic Violence Court Program?
To work collaboratively with people affected by domestic violence and create a meaningful Court Plan to stop the violence and help repair the harms caused. The program offers increased supports and safety for individuals, families, and communities. This process is a different approach than regular criminal court.
Who does the program support?
The Domestic Violence Court Program provides support for those who have used violence against their intimate partner or ex-partner, those who have been harmed by their partner’s or ex-partner’s use of violence, and children of those involved in the Program.
Who can participate in the program?
The accused person must:
- be 18 years of age or older;
- live in, or be substantially connected to, the Halifax Regional Municipality (for the Halifax program) or the Cape Breton Regional Municipality (for the Sydney program);
- volunteer to participate in the Program;
- be willing to plead guilty to the charge or charges against them and accept responsibility for their actions and for the harms caused;
- be assessed by the Program Team to see if they are a good fit for the program;
- be recommended by the Program Team to participate after the assessment process; and
- have Crown consent for the matter to proceed in the DVCP.
What must the Domestic Violence Court Program participant (the accused person) do?
- attend all scheduled court appearances;
- attend all meetings with Program Team members;
- attend sessions scheduled as part of this program, like counselling;
- work with the Team to develop their Court Plan, to stop the violence and repair the harms caused; and
- be accountable for following through on all parts of their Court Plan.
Does the participant’s guilty plea stay in place, even if they are removed from the Program?
Yes. The participant’s guilty plea remains in place once entered. If the participant leaves or is removed from the program, their guilty plea stays in place, and they will simply return to the ‘regular’ process for sentencing. This results in a ‘no trial’ court program – and victims not having to testify in court.
Do accused persons need a lawyer to participate in the Domestic Violence Court Program?
All Program participants must have legal representation while in the Program. This can be a private lawyer or designated Legal Aid defence counsel. To apply for Legal Aid contact:
Halifax Legal Aid: 902-420-3453
Sydney Legal Aid: 902-539-7026
My partner/ex-partner is going through the DVCP process. Do I have to participate?
You do not have to participate. If you choose to take part, you are invited to do so in the way that is best for you.
Whether or not your relationship continues, there are reasons why you may want to have input into their Court Plan. For example, you can ask to not have future contact with them. You can give feedback to ensure the Plan is meaningful in repairing the harms caused by your partner’s or ex-partner’s use of violence. You may also wish to submit a Victim Impact Statement.
Even if you do not want to provide feedback on the Court Plan, you may want to talk to a Victim Services officer, the Alice House support worker, or someone else, about the options available to you and your children. You can receive services even if you choose not to take part in the Domestic Violence Court Program process.
What groups are involved with overseeing the Domestic Violence Court Program?
Strategic Advisory Committee
The Strategic Advisory Committee provides strategic advice in the planning, development, implementation, resourcing, and evaluation of the Domestic Violence Court Programs. The committee includes representatives from the Nova Scotia Department of Justice (Court Services and Victim Services), the Nova Scotia Judiciary, Public Prosecution Services, the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services, African Nova Scotian Affairs, the Office of L’nu Affairs, Nova Scotia Legal Aid, the Nova Scotia Criminal Lawyers Association, Correctional Services, Communications Nova Scotia, and community organization representatives selected from the Metro Interagency/Restorative Conversations Committee on Family Violence.
Operational Working Groups (Halifax and Sydney)
These operational working groups are primarily responsible for recommending and developing operational policies and procedures to support the delivery of the Domestic Violence Court Program.
The Program Teams: Court Management Team (Sydney) and Assessment and Action Team (Halifax)
Each program has a team that coordinates the cases on each week’s docket. These teams include the designated judge, Crown Attorney, defence counsel, Victim Services Officer, Probation Officer, and child protection representatives from the Department of Community Services. Representatives from other departments or community agencies may also participate on these teams. Each case referred to the Domestic Violence Court Program is assessed by the Court Management Team (Sydney) or the Assessment and Action Team (Halifax) based on the totality of information available about the case, including assessment of safety and risk, needs and wants of the victim and the accused, acceptance of responsibility, and the accused's readiness and capacity for change. These teams support the ongoing development of the Domestic Violence Court Program by providing insight, feedback and recommendations to the Working Groups and Strategic Advisory Committee relating to the ongoing development and strengthening of the domestic violence court process.