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Domestic Abuse Courts Statement

Review of Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts in England

Wiltshire Women call for action on Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts

The Wiltshire Report Recommendations: 


  • Recommendation 1  

Training from magistrates, court staff and the CPS to be increased in order to enhance their understanding of domestic abuse and SDVC guidelines, attention should be drawn to coercive control.   


  • Recommendation 2  

All aspects of domestic abuse hearings, trials and sentences should be conducted in the SDVC to ensure that a consistent approach is adopted across the criminal justice system. SDVCs should consist of specialists who have received training with regard to domestic abuse cases so that evidence can be properly considered and the right support is provided for victims.   


  • Recommendation 3  

Ensure that IDVAs are always present in court. This should be easy to implement if domestic abuse cases are conducted in the SDC on specific days as per recommendation 2.   


  • Recommendation 4  

The police should endeavour to complete and return victim personal statements in every case as standard practise. The VPS should be made available to the court and should be considered in every case where given.   


  • Recommendation 5 

Agencies should ensure that victims are aware of the special measures that they can access in order to encourage quote attendance to give the best possible ever best evidence possible.   


  • Recommendation 6 

Sentencing guidelines should be followed at all times, hearing domestic abuse cases within the SDVC would make this much simpler to achieve.   


  • Recommendation 7 

Consultation with victims regarding restraining orders must be completed.  


The England-wide Report Recommendations in Full:  


  • Recommendation 1 

Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) and criminal justice partners to work with specialist agencies to review the availability of Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (IDVAs) to ensure that they are present in person or by video link at all SDAC court hearings. 


  • Recommendation 2 

Criminal justice partners to assess and make recommendations on how technology can be used to enable the virtual presence in Court and where appropriate, the virtual participation  of victims, IDVAs and other relevant personnel. Criminal justice partners to make recommendations on how a good understanding of technology facilitated abuse can be developed in all Court personnel.  


  • Recommendation 3 

Training on dealing with domestic abuse cases is now part of the essential training for all Magistrates, Judges and Crown Prosecutors. Given some of the comments from Magistrates and Judges which were recorded by observers, it seems that consideration needs to be given as to how the effective implementation of this training is ensured in the court setting. 


  • Recommendation 4 

Criminal justice partners to work together to review the format, function, and services provided by Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts (SDACs) and to ensure that all courts adopt the good practice already exemplified in some areas. Government data on the availability and components of SDACs should be made available to support this process. 


  • Recommendation 5 

Criminal justice partners to work with police and develop an effective training programme, supervision and monitoring framework for Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs). Ensure resources are available so that perpetrators who are in breach of orders are promptly brought to court. 


  • Recommendation 6 

Criminal justice partners and police to instigate a review of the Victim Personal Statement (VPS) process from first contact with the police to finalising a case and provide an analysis of the strengths and deficiencies in the system with recommendations for improvement. 


  • Recommendation 7 

Criminal justice partners and HMCTS and partners to ensure that victims are fully informed about their options regarding special measures, and to review court facilities to ensure the safety and security of victims and witnesses including separate entrances and access to private areas for victims, good sound systems in courts, and appropriate evacuation plans.  

Click on image below to access the Wiltshire Court Observations Report prepared by Bath Spa University

Wiltshire Club Members of Soroptimist International, the global women’s volunteer organisation, are urging local MPs to press the Secretary of State for Justice to take urgent action to protect victims of domestic abuse seeking justice and to ensure that Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts (SDAC) do not add to their trauma. This follows the publication today of an England-wide report which builds on pioneering observation work in Wiltshire and highlights the serious shortcomings of the Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts.

Members of Soroptimist International of Swindon carried out the county study in 2018 and the seven recommendations in the Wiltshire report (see full list below) have been further underlined by the recommendations of the England wide report published today.

Problems include:

The lack of independent support to victims giving evidence in court, poor use of technology, inadequate implementation of domestic abuse training given to court officials and the need for a total review of the Victim Personal Statement (VPS) system were all identified by the independent observers as shortcomings in this court system. The reports show that a system which was established and developed over a five-year period in 1999, to provide specific support to the victims of domestic abuse is falling short of the service which the public has a right to expect.  

Local Project Lead Lydia Cardew said: “We were proud to be one of the first Clubs to carry out these observations and contribute to this independent review across England of how these courts should be improved for victims of abuse, the majority of whom are women. Soroptimists stand up as advocates for all women, especially for those who have no voice.  Swindon Club members, assisted by Cirencester and Cheltenham members, worked as independent observers over a three-month period to highlight the issues and help drive the change for improvements and help build public trust in our justice system. We urge our local MPs to call for action to ensure a better experience and outcome for all victims of domestic abuse”.

A demonstration of citizen action 

The latest project carried out by Soroptimists across England involved 4,000 hours of volunteer time in observation and, more than 1,000 questionnaires submitted in relation to observations made at over 30 courts. Over 200 Soroptimists took part, recording what they saw. These reports were analysed and together form a comprehensive and unique report on the way in which the Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts are working on a national basis. The recommendations made in the new report published today seek to improve the workings of this system with a particular emphasis on positive experiences and outcomes for the victims.   

Only two examples of best practice

The data presented here from courts across England provides a clear indication that the components required to deliver a Specialist Domestic Abuse Court are not always present. Best practice was only observed in two courts: Westminster SDAC and Nottingham Magistrates Court which employ a multi-agency approach to provide a more effective response to processing domestic abuse cases within the criminal justice system. In other regions, problems include the under availability of Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVAs), the under application of special measures and the poorly equipped court facilities. These must be addressed to ensure that victims are protected and supported by the SDAC system.

Changes to policy not reflected in practice

Domestic Abuse has been categorised as a national threat under the new strategic policing requirement. The Government has laid out promising plans to prioritise the prevention of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) and to introduce tougher legislation on perpetrators who are convicted of Coercive and Controlling Behaviour (CCB), which for the first time will be put on a par with physical violence. However, this report provides further evidence of a pronounced gap between reported offences of coercive control and successful convictions.

Over the five years of the court observation initiative there have been notable changes to external factors which appear to have had limited impact on the challenges that victims face in seeking justice. The data gathered over this five-year period reflects a disconnect between strategic and operational management, showing that changes to policy have made little difference in practice.

Perpetrator interventions not being utilised

Proposed measures include new civil orders, digital tools for the early identification of dangerous perpetrators, and additional funding for both specialist victim support programmes and perpetrator behavioural interventions. The report shows that of the cases observed, most sentences imposed were financial, and that perpetrator interventions were ordered in just 56 of 626 cases observed. Despite Government spending of £79 million since 2020 for domestic abuse perpetrator interventions, it is clear from these findings that these pathways to changing behaviour are not consistently enforced. These findings align with research which has shown less than 1% of perpetrators receive a specialist intervention to challenge or change their behaviour. Reasons for this include patchy service provision as well as an overall low rate of conviction for DA related crimes and a lack of identification of CCB in the courts.

It is particularly concerning that most victims in the cases observed did not receive advocacy from IDVAs, and that the safety of victims was not properly ensured either inside and or outside the courts.

The full report is available online at

For more information or to request an interview please contact – Lydia Cardew 07765 250890 OR The national press release is available at Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts- How Special Are They?


In 2017 Dame Vera Baird KC, then the Police and Crime Commissioner for the area, initiated a unique partnership between SIGBI and criminal justice partners in Northumbria. She engaged local Soroptimists in an observation project in which they watched over 220 sessions of the Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVCs), answering a range of questions in particular about how the largely female victims were treated. The results uncovered serious failings and shortcomings in these courts. These were then analysed to produce a report in 2018 asking: “Specialist Domestic Violence Courts: How Special Are They?”. That work provided the foundation to replicate the same initiative in Wiltshire in 2018 and in the Midlands in 2020.

This report comments on the extension of this observation project throughout England. The project was delayed by the effects of the COVID -19 pandemic and restarted in 2022 when the courts reopened. In total, around 160 Soroptimist volunteers have taken part in these observations over a five-year period. These women formed a diverse group, coming from different areas of the country and with a range of backgrounds. They received training on court processes and procedures prior to the commencement of the observations, obtained buy-in from Criminal Justice Personnel and the Police, attended courts in pairs to ensure that observations were accurately recorded and completed standard online questionnaires for all observations. Soroptimists have devoted around 4,000 hours to this project and in excess of 1,000 questionnaires have been submitted in relation to observations made at over 30 courts.

Data from the 2017-18 observations, and the 2020 qualitative and quantitative material, combined to identify achievements and shortcomings which were widespread whilst nonetheless noting both positive and negative differences in practice. UKPAC, which leads the Soroptimist project work in the UK, took the decision to recruit Soroptimists nationwide to observe their local courts in an attempt to provide evidence not only from an area/regional perspective but from a national one. This report covers much of England not already covered by the earlier reports and is complementary to them.

Domestic Abuse – the statistics

There was a record 845,734 domestic abuse-related crimes reported to police in 2020. Domestic abuse-related crime accounts for 1 in 6 (15%) of all crime recorded by the police in England and Wales and over a third (35%) of all recorded crimes of violence against the person. Women are far more likely than men to be the victims of domestic abuse. The Crime Survey for England and Wales estimates that there are 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse each year of which two thirds are women. Between 2 and 3 women a week are killed by a current or former partner. Fewer than 20% of victims of domestic abuse ever engage with the criminal justice system.