Special domestic violence courts, introduced by District Judge, Barney McElholm in Derry in 2011, have been hugely successful and may be rolled out across Northern Ireland in order to make it easier for abuse victims to come forward.
That’s according to Justice Minister, Claire Sugden, who noted that the arrangement - pioneered in Derry - has won praise from the international Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), which has suggested the inclusion of a judicially supervised programme for the rehabilitation of abusers.
This is being considered by the Minister.
“I commend the approach in Derry of delivering special listing arrangements for domestic violence cases,” said Ms Sugden.
“The arrangements, which were introduced by District Judge McElholm in 2011, ensure that domestic violence cases are clustered and heard by him on specifically designated days.
“Relevant agencies, including the support services, concentrate their efforts and resources into those days in order to provide moral and practical support to victims,” she added.
An evaluation of the scheme in 2014 found it was making “a tangible difference to victims of domestic violence and abuse who have to face what is often a daunting and overwhelming journey through the criminal justice process.”
She said the special court days were also praised by the OECD.
“The Londonderry listing arrangement also formed part of the study undertaken by the OECD in June 2015 as part of the public governance review.
“Its report heralds the success of the domestic violence listing arrangement and recommends the inclusion of a judicially supervised pilot programme for perpetrators.
“Rigorous monitoring and evaluation will provide insight into the added value of judicial oversight as part of the domestic violence listing arrangement and inform future decisions on the most effective model for dealing with domestic violence cases in the court system,” remarked the Minister.
The Minister hailed the Derry arrangement and said it could be rolled-out elsewhere.
“The arrangement in Derry has been very successful. When we look at the new enhancements to that arrangement, we may be minded to see whether it would be appropriate to roll out the scheme across Northern Ireland.
“I take the member’s point about a wider public awareness programme. To be honest, before becoming Minister, I was not aware of the arrangement in Derry, probably thankfully.
“You are right, however. People will be encouraged to come forward to report such offences if they are better supported. It is a challenging thing to stand up in court and give evidence, particularly if you are a victim.
“It has been seen that there is a reluctance to do so, whereas in a supportive environment we are seeing an increase in the number of people coming forward, and that can only be a good thing,” she said.