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Judicial training

Last edited: December 23, 2011

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Training judges requires careful planning in order to create programmes that are useful and interesting to judges.

Creating the infrastructure for training

  • Determine the existing knowledge base through written questions or discussions with each level of judiciary.
  • Create regular trainings on existing law and policy requirements.
  • Establish and publicize trainings when new legislation is enacted and new policies are promulgated.
  • Require participation in the training course for continued judicial license, if applicable.
  • Plan separate training sessions for each level of the judiciary. In some very hierarchical contexts this is especially important, since judges may not participate in joint sessions with lower-level judicial staff.
  • Place an introductory level version of the training in the judicial academy.
  • Use a “train the trainers” approach to maximize results- core trainers can train more trainers or more judges.
  • Use internet technology such as websites for sharing information and answering questions.
  • Identify cases of gender-based violence as “specialized” cases for which judges must undergo training before being qualified to hear. Qualification, with attendant raise in pay, may result in more judges receiving training on these issues and less reluctance on the part of judges to receive training.
  • Require training on gender-based violence issues for all court clerks and administrative personnel.



Terms of Reference: Consultant to develop a baseline (UN Women Southern Africa and Indian Ocean Islands Sub Regional Office, 2010). English. A UN Women programme sought a consultant to create a baseline of information on capacity needs, training modules, monitoring, and evaluation and recommendations in building capacity for judges and other legal professionals.


Develop objectives

Objectives articulate what participants will gain from the training. The content of the objectives will be elaborated in the curriculum. Publicize concise, current, and contextual objectives in your course registration and publicity materials so that judges can identify what they need to know or improve upon and will attend your training to gain this knowledge.

USA – Sample Training Objectives for Judges

Sample objectives for a judicial training on Practical Courtroom Exercises for domestic violence cases:

As a result of this training, you will be better able to:

  • Assess your current knowledge about the dynamics of domestic violence and how to handle domestic violence cases.
  • Practice ruling on realistic, hypothetical domestic violence cases.
  • Identify factual, legal, procedural, and resource issues that arise frequently in domestic violence cases.
  • Determine how domestic violence negatively affects the victim, perpetrator, and the children.

Sample objectives for a judicial training on Victim and Perpetrator Behavior in domestic violence cases:

As a result of this training, you will be better able to:

  • Describe the context of violent behavior and patterns of behavior conduct.
  • Select effective batterer intervention and accountability mechanisms.
  • Evaluate the impact of domestic violence on adult victims and children who are exposed to violence.
  • Assess decision-making and courtroom presentation of victims and perpetrators.

Sample objectives for a judicial training on Receiving and Evaluating Information in domestic violence cases:

As a result of this training, you will be better able to:

  • Evaluate the facts before you rule.
  • Assess the dangerousness of specific batterers.
  • Apply an understanding of domestic violence to judicial fact-finding.
  • Identify and resolve evidentiary issues of primary concern to judges.

Sample objectives for a judicial training on Decision-Making Skills in domestic violence cases:

As a result of this training you will be better able to:

  • Identify common decision-making points in civil and criminal cases where an understanding of domestic violence might affect how you make decisions and what you decide.
  • Draft and issue effective protection orders that (a) stop violence, (b) protect adult victims and children, (c) require appropriate batterer treatment, and (d) facilitate enforcement in criminal and civil domestic violence cases.
  • Assess the impact of domestic violence on cases involving custody and visitation issues.
  • Evaluate batterer intervention programs and information regarding appropriate treatment/intervention options.
  • Identify the potential benefits of conducting review hearings in conjunction with probation services to monitor batterer conduct in domestic violence cases.


Source: Jennifer White, Attorney for Legal Programs, Family Violence Prevention Program, USA.

Develop the curriculum

Once you have developed objectives, plan how to elaborate and illustrate them, using case studies, power points, role plays, lectures, and group discussions. Each segment of the curriculum should conclude with a concise reiteration of learning points. Strategies to develop the curriculum include:

  • Involve members of relevant ministries such as women and family, interior, or security in the course planning.
  • Obtain input from NGOs and service providers on course development. This will provide input from those who understand the issues relating to serving survivors of violence, and it will enhance trust between the judiciary and these groups.
  • Obtain input from survivors in all training programmes, as they can best speak to survivor needs.
  • Work to obtain adequate funding to create quality materials and hire experienced trainers and consultants.
  • Field test training sessions on judicial representatives and incorporate their feedback.
  • Obtain the approval of the highest level of the judiciary on the curriculum and publicize this approval to potential trainees.
  • Regularly attend international or regional conferences on judicial training in order to learn best practices and new ideas to incorporate into the curriculum.
  • Hold regular curriculum review sessions to ensure that content is still relevant and meeting objectives.

Creating a judicial educational programme plan:

  1. Convene a meeting of key stakeholders. Include several judges, attorneys who practice in the area of violence against women, law enforcement personnel, mental health professionals, and experts on the topic to be addressed, for example, experts on the right to visitation in domestic abuse cases.
  2. Brainstorm with these stakeholders and create a needs assessment on what judges need to know in the specific subject area. Cover all of the factors that a judge needs to know about the subject. This brainstorm can be done by telephone, e-mail, or in person. It is important to record all thoughts as this is extremely helpful in creating a programme.
  3. Prioritize a list of topics created from the brainstorm. Some will be able to be subsumed under others.
  4. Create achievable learning objectives. This will provide direction for the curriculum which is to be developed. For a sample summary of learning objectives, click here.
  5. Create learning outcomes, or 5-8 key ideas which you want judges to know after an exercise. For example, you may want them to be able to identify the ways a batterer can continue to abuse an ex-spouse through the supervised visitation process by showing up when the ex-spouse is scheduled to be at the site. The key idea is that batterers can use the court-supervised visitation to stalk victims.
  6. Create a learning module which is a bridge from the learning objective to the learning outcome. This is the structure of the curriculum.
  7. Plan the curriculum around the functions of a judge: to do fact-finding and make decisions. Base your exercises on these functions. For example, after a lecture on the dynamics of violence against women, plan an exercise on fact-finding and an exercise on issuing a decision in a case of gender-based violence.
  8. Make the exercise concrete and relevant to their experience i.e., level of judiciary. Abstract lectures alone will not suffice. Work from real-life cases. Present these to judges, ask them how they would rule, and then give them a mini-lecture to drive home the point.
  9. Principles of adult learning emphasize that adults must internalize the information and make it their own in order to retain it. Therefore, structure interactive exercises as follows: 
  • Present the information.
  • Give the judges an opportunity to work out the problem as a group.
  • Give them some confirming points to think about, including suggestions for best practices.
  • Do not tell them what to do; give them a chance to work the issue out with each other first. Often the points you want to make will be made for you by their peers in the room, which is very powerful.

10. Use a variety of types of exercises such as role plays, lectures, Q & A sessions, and small or large group case exercises.

11. Always employ a judge to deliver any “live” presentations, including exercises and lectures. Judges learn best from their peers. For example, even if an expert on child development is speaking, it is important to have a judge make the introductory and concluding points that support the words of the speaker. Team teaching is an important part of judicial training.

12.Begin the session with an exercise that combines intellect with empathy: for example, ask the judges to assume the role of a battered woman. Give them a series of incidents that occur in her life that they must react to as if they were that woman. Require them to make the decisions in silence, and to indicate their decisions by walking around the room to various stations: apartment, shelter, homeless shelter, school, etc., in response to succeeding circumstances announced by the trainer. The point of the exercise is to give the judges a chance to think about the real experiences of victims so that they will make better decisions about her safety. Another exercise would show the experiences a victim might have when entering court, depending on how court clerks treat them, what happens when the abuser enters the courtroom, the importance of judicial demeanor, etc. The point of the exercise is to lessen the chance that a victim will be re-victimized by a judge.

13. Always debrief the judges after a session of role-play. Allow them a chance to talk about their feelings and the challenges these situations present in real life. It is very important to ask them: How does this apply to your role as a judge? Judges may say that they never before realized what victims endure.

14. At the end of the training, ask the judges what is the most important thing they learned at the training and what they will do differently now that they have learned that.

15. After the training, give the judges a checklist to take away. They generally don’t have time to read more. They will use this checklist as a tool, like a bench guide.

Evaluation strategies:

  • Use a pre-session questionnaire to evaluate the level of knowledge of the participants. Use the knowledge you gain from this in programme planning.
  • Ask the judges to evaluate each session of the programme in a brief form before they leave the room.
  • Six months after the training, send the judges a brief survey (ideally online). Link the pre-session evaluation questionnaire, the evaluation done at the end of the session, and the post-session final survey by an identification number so that you can see how each individual has progressed.

Source: Jennifer White, Attorney for Legal Programs, Family Violence Prevention Program, USA (Interview, November 18, 2010).

Other classroom strategies:

  • Provide examples that are tailored to the context of each level of the judiciary.
  • Provide materials for use outside the classroom in checklist form for ease of use.
  • Expect that traditional beliefs may impede progress until trainees are convinced of the importance of the training mission.
  • Provide advanced training after trainees take basic course levels (UNFPA, 2008).

Foundation for content-related strategies

The following strategies establish a foundation for all judicial trainings on violence against women:

  • Convey message that all violence is unacceptable.
  • Educate on message of gender equality. Incorporate social context training into all judicial training programmes. Judges should be aware of the systemic inequality faced by women.
  • Make connection between a fair and approachable court and improved reporting rates of violence.
  • Make connection between sanctions and a culture of accountability.
Example: the National Judicial Institute of Canada has created ongoing sensitivity training for judges who work on cases involving sexually abused children: “Education initiatives relevant to the needs of victims within the criminal justice system form an integral part of the NJI's curriculum. For example, since its inception, the NJI has strongly emphasized sensitization programs, in such areas as violence against women and children. This type of sensitivity training was expanded in 1997 when the NJI launched a three-year Social Context Education project. The program includes judicial education designed to improve the capacity of the judiciary to deal in an appropriately sensitive manner with issues such as violence against children that may arise in matters before the courts.” See: Educating the Judiciary About the Needs of Victims.

Tips for training judges  

Strategies to increase judicial attendance:

  • Partner with national judicial councils for logistics, marketing plans, and expertise.
  • Partner with government departments and ministries with expertise in the subject area.
  • Partner with funders of judicial training to obtain funding for judges to attend.
  • Publicize programmes through gatekeepers for judicial attendance, such as court administrators.
  • Offer to assist specific judges to obtain funding to attend trainings.
  • Build relationships with key judges and ask them to encourage their peers to attend trainings.
  • Offer judges credit for continuing education for each session. Give them a certificate after the session that they can show the court administrator.
  • If judges object to attending trainings on violence against women because it might make them appear biased in favor of victims, provide relevant links to Model Codes on Ethics for their country. For example, the American Bar Association Model Code on Judicial Conduct supports judicial attendance at subject-specific conferences.
  • Offer trainings of differing lengths: 3-day introductory seminars, shorter advanced sessions, or one-day roundtables with several experts on emerging issues in violence against women, such as batterer intervention programmes or custody issues.

Argentina – Judicial Officials Trained on Gender Equality & Women’s Rights

The Women’s Office of the Supreme Court of Argentina and the Office on Domestic Violence have initiated a programme to train gender facilitators within the judicial system on gender equality and women’s rights. The facilitators then hold gender justice workshops for judges, prosecutors, court officials, and administrative employees. The programme was initiated when women judges noted serious inequalities in previous judicial decisions. This is the largest and most innovative programme of gender training in the region to date and is expected to be a model for Latin American countries.

Steps for programme implementation included:

  • Effective facilitators were selected based on skills and career record.
  • Experts on justice and gender prepared training modules on theory and practice for facilitator use. Modules included both reading and audiovisual materials.
  • Facilitators reviewed tools and women’s human rights instruments which establish women’s right to equality.
  • Facilitators participated in exercises on gender-based roles in society.
  • Facilitators were trained on sexist language and how to avoid discriminatory terms.


Source: Valente. 2010. Pioneer in Mainstreaming Gender Perspective in Justice System.

Thailand – Increasing Sensitivity to Violence against Women and Girls

Changing people’s perceptions and attitudes, a project to increase the capacity of the judiciary in Thailand, was implemented when monitoring Thai Supreme Court decisions indicated that gender bias may have played a role in cases of gender-based violence. After a judicial colloquium disseminated the monitoring results, trainings were conducted by the administrative branch of the judiciary, the National Human Rights Commission, and a Thai NGO, the Teeranat Kanjauksorn Foundation. A model domestic violence court was created in the Thai criminal justice system, including new “women-friendly” guidelines. Changing people’s perceptions and attitudes is an interactive curriculum which incorporates a theatrical production with an international human rights framework and trainings on gender-based and domestic violence. The production stimulates discussion on improving the response to women and girl survivors of violence. It portrays the journey of four survivors as they seek justice in the Thai system, including their personal humiliations and their experiences in unfriendly courtrooms with hostile defense attorneys. The play, “Little Dots, and I Do Hope,” was enacted by a professional theater group called Bai Mai Wai, or Moving Leaf. The final act of the play incorporates themes from previous group discussions, detailing concrete ways to avoid re-victimizing survivors. Other court systems in Thailand are now using the curriculum to train judges and court staff.


 For more information, please contact Ms Supatra Putananusorn at supatra.putananusorn@unifem.org


Training for Criminal and Civil Cases

Judicial training should focus on both criminal and civil cases, and should be mandatory for judges in a variety of legal settings including those handling family law matters, immigration, and employment issues. Although violence against women cases are often criminal in nature, civil law is frequently involved. In certain countries, sexual harassment cases are almost all civil in nature. Domestic violence and dowry violence cases also involve significant civil components, including protective orders, divorce, and custody issues. Trafficking cases often involve separate immigration proceedings. Judges, prosecutors, and other court personnel in all of these areas need specialized training.

USA – Judicial Training on Domestic Violence

The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges has been a leader in training judges in the juvenile and family court setting to effectively respond to family violence cases. The organization developed The Greenbook, a benchbook on effective intervention in family violence cases, which has been endorsed by the U.S. Attorney General. Under The Greenbook Initiative, the Council also worked with six demonstration sites nationwide to undertake a coordinated community response (CCR) approach to implementing The Greenbook recommendations. The use of The Greenbook and the effectiveness of its guidelines were evaluated in each site, leading to the development of lessons learned and new tools from courts, advocates, and service providers across the United States. The evaluation reports and tools are available on The Greenbook Initiative website.

The US Family Violence Prevention Fund’s Judicial Education Project provides judges at all levels with the education, guidelines, materials, and online resources they need to provide effective help to victims of family violence. The project helps judges learn fact-finding and decision-making skills, and to make the best possible decisions in support of women and children facing violence.

In partnership with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, the Judicial Education Project offers a National Judicial Institute on Domestic Violence to help judges develop or enhance their skills in handling a wide range of criminal and civil cases involving domestic violence. The seminars provide information on the dynamics of domestic violence and related issues, as well as practical advice on how to handle all aspects of these complex cases fairly and effectively, through interactive activities.

To date, over 1,000 judges from across the nation have participated in the NJIDV's three-day education workshops, returning to their communities with a much greater understanding of domestic violence, improved tools for handling the nuts and bolts of legal issues, and a stronger sense of the formidable role they can play in and out of the courtroom to help victims achieve safety, obtain support, and realize autonomy.


Training on New Legislation

When new legislation is passed, judicial training should be implemented directly in concert with all judicial system actors. The following example from Albania illustrates a strategy for training stakeholders to implement a new law.

Albania – Developing capacity to implement new domestic violence law

The 2006 Albanian law On Measures Against Violence in Family Relations No. 9669 gave responsibility for implementing the law to several ministries within the Albanian government, and called for cooperation among stakeholders such as police, shelters, courts, prosecutors, and social service agencies. The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative developed a series of strategies to create capacity for a coordinated community response, including:

  • Conducting a preliminary training for key policy makers before the law was adopted.
  • Identifying those who would be responsible for the law’s implementation or who would have influence over the implementation.
  • Conducting a specialized training for key implementers on their responsibilities under the law and on best practices from other states.
  • Selecting a core group of especially enthusiastic implementers for a 3-phase consultancy: (1) Reviewing roles and responsibilities with Ministry officials to prepare them for their role in the law’s implementation, meeting with supervisors to ensure Ministry support, exposing officials to protocols from other countries to review and adapt to Albanian country context, and gaining support of police trainers to include domestic violence issues in curriculum and to incorporate domestic violence offenses into police forms and data banks, (2) Reviewing progress on protocols with each core group member and involving a local NGO on public awareness and lobbying strategies, and (3) Continuing review of protocols and imparting practical information on the implementation of a domestic violence law and conducting workshop at which the participants reviewed the protocols.



The Albanian Benchbook for Protection Orders (The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative, 2006). English and Albanian. Developed to guide judges as they began to issue protection orders.

Protocols were also developed for police, prosecutors, social workers, health professionals, and NGOs.

Creation of a Community Coordinated Response Team Against Domestic Violence (Chemonics International Inc, 2006). English and Albanian. Implementation guidelines for government ministries and NGOs.

Source: USAID. 2007. The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative.


Trainings Should Become Part of Regular Curriculum

Nepal - Gender Training in Standard Curriculum for Judges and Lawyers

In 2006, Nepal adopted a series of justice sector reforms, including gender mainstreaming in the judiciary. Judges and lawyers now receive standardized training concerning gender issues and international human rights instruments that have been signed by Nepal. In the past, legal personnel attended piecemeal trainings concerning gender but did not have a uniform training module. With assistance from the UNDP’s Mainstreaming Gender Equity Programme, a curriculum was developed and disseminated by the National Judicial Academy. Incorporating gender issues and human rights instruments into the standard training for judges and lawyers is expected to increase judicial capacity to make gender responsive decisions and increase female representation in the justice sector.


Download the Training Resource.  Available in English.


Source: United Nations Development Programme. 2006. Women's issues now part of legal training in Nepal.


Training Should Begin in Law School

Albania and Liberia- Law school coursework on domestic violence

The Women’s Legal Rights Initiative partnered with the Magistrates School of Albania, which trains future judges and prosecutors, to sponsor and provide financial support for the integration of coursework on domestic violence, trafficking in persons, and gender sensitivity into the curriculum. After two years, the school made the coursework part of its permanent curriculum. Students now receive 14 hours of instruction on domestic violence issues alone, including topics such as legal and judicial aspects of domestic violence and family law and the role of prosecutors in these cases.

See Women’s Legal Rights Initiative: Final Report and a brief video describing the project. here

See an American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative video on Judicial Reform through Legal Education in Liberia.


Training for Judges around the World

UGANDA: In Uganda, the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) has worked with the judiciary on using international instruments when deciding cases involving discrimination or violence against women. “Judicial officers who have attended the training have observed that it has improved their ability to detect gender bias and deliver gender sensitive judgments.” Amnesty International. 2010. I Can’t Afford Justice: Violence Against Women in Uganda Continues Unchecked and Unpunished.

SPAIN: Spain’s law on gender-based violence requires that judges who hear Orders for Protection receive training on issues of child custody, security, and economic support for survivors and their dependants. And, all employees of Spain’s specialized Violence against Women courts, from judges to court clerks, must receive training on issues of gender violence which focuses on “the vulnerability of victims.” Article 47

GLOBAL: The International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ) conducts judicial education programmes for judges and magistrates in five countries in Latin America and in Africa. Through their Jurisprudence of Equality Program (JEP), they provide training for members of the judiciary on the application of international, regional, and national laws on discrimination and violence against women. The IAJW states that JEP-trained jurists have established a track record of issuing judgments striking down discriminatory laws and practices, and they have expanded the rights of women on issues ranging from economic discrimination, property rights, custody, inheritance, sexual assault, and all forms of violence against women. More than 2,500 judges have taken part in JEP training in 21 countries. Many JEP-trained judges credit the programme with alerting them to the nature and scope of domestic violence and gender discrimination; to biases and stereotypes that sustain these biases; and to more effective and sensitive ways to question witnesses. In Zambia, IAWJ developed “feedback loops” to document and track the responsiveness of the court system to women victims of violence in order to discern the actual barriers between women and justice.

The Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ) is an international women’s human rights organization focused on ensuring that the International Criminal Court (ICC) advances gender justice through its operations. The WIGJ has conducted a series of gender training for ICC judges, prosecutors, and staff. To support this effort, WIGJ has published three handbooks, which contextualize violence within a gendered perspective, discuss the ramifications of sexual violence and provide relevant legal background in regard to gendered violence. WIGJ has also worked to improve gender diversity within the ICC by recruiting women for available positions and advocating for their election and/or appointment.


In Her Shoes: Living with Domestic Violence (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Simulation tool in which participants move, do, think, and experience the lives of battered women; for community and professional groups. English and Spanish.

In Her Shoes:  Economic Justice Edition (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Available in English.

In Their Shoes: Teens and Dating Violence (Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Available in English. 

Walking Wisdom (Sakshi NGO, India) English. A toolkit with several visual tools on transforming judges and judicial education. Some of the topics include: Understanding Women’s Reality, Impact of Inequality, Myths and Stereotypes, and Judicial Perceptions. Uses real-life situations to illustrate tools for fair decision making. To order contact sakshipaths@yahoo.com 

Guia de capacitación para operadores y operadoras de justicia: Género, acceso a la justicia y violencia contra las mujeres (CLADEM, 2008). Spanish. This training guide is composed of three units. Each one contains a presentation of the principles and the essential concepts. It includes texts and audiovisual content which:

  • Raise awareness about domestic violence, human rights of women, and the lack of reporting.
  • Reflect on the international and national normative framework on matters of domestic violence and its practical application in the administration of justice.
  • Promote the appropriate application of the specific legislation to concrete cases of violence as the principal means for the construction of a world more just, egalitarian, and equitable.

Manual for a Three Days Training for Media, Legal, and Education (Christian Empowerment and Sustainable Program, 2008). Designed for use with key sectors, including the justice sector, to inform its response to gender-based violence, sexual exploitation, and abuse issues in Liberia. Available in English.

Civil Protection Orders: A Guide For Improving Practice (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, USA, 2010). English. Provides guidance for advocates, attorneys, judges, law enforcement personnel, and prosecutors to help ensure that protection orders are effectively issued, served, and enforced.

A Judicial Guide to Child Safety in Custody Cases (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, 2009). English. Child custody cases involving abuse have complicated issues of safety and access. The Judicial Guide contains 14 bench cards for judges in child custody cases, as well as a supplemental guide which provides additional information about in- and out-of-court behaviours, best interests of the child, and order issuance and enforcement.

A Guide for Effective Issuance & Enforcement of Protection Orders (National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges, USA, 2005). English. Gives communities and professionals precise tools and strategies to broaden the effectiveness of protection orders. Contains a section on Data Systems and State Registries.

Navigating Custody & Visitation Evaluations in Cases With Domestic Violence: A Judge’s Guide (Dalton et al., 2006). English. Some US judges rely on professional custody evaluators to inform their decisions on child custody and visitation issues. This tool helps judges to interpret and act on these evaluations when domestic violence is involved in family law cases. It includes four bench cards and supplementary materials.