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Specialized courts and procedures positively change the way cases are handled

Last edited: December 20, 2011

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Evidence supports the creation of special courts to handle only cases of violence against women, specifically domestic violence and sexual assault. For example, a 2004 study in the UK revealed notable positive results from the use of specialized courts for domestic violence, including increased:

  • effectiveness of court services and support services for victims,
  • victim participation and satisfaction, and
  • efficiency and better information sharing (Cook et al., 2004).

Even when specialized courts are not created, implementing special measures for cases of violence against women, such as court procedures designed to move violence against women case through the system quickly (fast-tracking), have achieved powerful results.

  • In a study in Wales, UK, new court procedures reduced the length of average domestic violence court processes by half, compared to typical criminal processes (Robinson, 2003).
  • In South Africa, studies on sexual offences courts revealed an average 70% conviction rate, which is well above the national average. In addition, the courts were viewed in a positive light by the legal personnel involved, the families of the survivors, and the survivors themselves.  As of 2007, 59 sexual offences courts were in operation (Kruger and Reyneke, 2008; Sadan et al., 2001)
  • Studies also documented infrastructure improvements, such as equipment to enable witnesses to testify via video as well as separate waiting rooms. (Mossman et al, 2009).

The South African experience with specialized courts provides lessons learned about continuing improvements that can help increase the efficacy of specialized courts (Mossman et al., 2009; Vetten, 2001; Rasool, 2000):

  • Better addressing the needs of victim/survivors – ensuring easily accessible and culturally appropriate psychosocial support so as to avoid retraumatization.
  • Continue to develop capacity – ensuring that there are sufficient trained staff so that survivors do not have to encounter lengthy delays before their case gets a hearing.
  • Increase reliability and consistency – ensure that judges have sufficient training and broad experience, so that their decisions on the narrow specialized docket are credible; develop clear procedural guidelines for officials to promote consistent and reliable service.
  • Insufficient infrastructure – support the allocation of sufficient space at courts so that separate and secure waiting rooms as well as specially designated court rooms can be set aside.

It is important to be aware of some of the potential for abuse of specialized courts. In some countries, specialized courts have been used to discriminate against women by relegating female judges to work only in specialized family courts and disallowing them from working in other parts of the judicial system. For more on specialized courts, see the Legislation module section on the topic.