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Laws on courts’ role in implementation

In order to effectively address violence against women, laws and national action plans should require the engagement of and coordination between multiple sectors and groups, both public and private. This section discusses measures specifically related to ensuring that the justice system effectively implements laws on violence against women, including policies on victims in court, specialized courts and prosecutorial units, training for judges and prosecutors, as well as specialized policies and procedures for handling cases.

Laws on Courts’ Role in Implementation

  • The court plays an integral role in implementing legislation prohibiting violence against women, as it bears the ultimate responsibility for case outcomes. The court can address the needs of the many victims of violence against women by providing victims with contacts to services, by monitoring the behavior of perpetrators and mandating them to appropriate interventions, and by protecting women from their abusers. A court that is strong and committed to implementing legislation prohibiting violence against women must also use its authority to demonstrate publicly the civil and criminal justice systems’ commitment to effectively addressing crimes of violence against women.
  • Many laws also delineate special roles for courts and prosecutors related to effective implementation. In general these laws focus on:
    • Mandating or encouraging special protections for victims in court;
    • Requiring the development of specialized courts or tribunals;
    • Requiring the establishment of specialized prosecutors units;
    • Requiring training for judges and prosecutors; and
    • Requiring the development of special policies, procedures and protocols for handling cases of violence against women.
  • India’s Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act outlines the duties of Magistrates when dealing with domestic violence cases including the timeframe for cases, the ability to conduct hearings in private, and the power to call on specialized service providers to assist with the case.  The law also outlines the types of remedies that can be ordered.
  • The Family Law in Serbia requires the establishment of specialized court councils for cases of domestic violence and also outlines special procedures that courts must follow in cases of domestic violence. See: Family Law, UN Secretary-generals’ database on violence against women.

The power of courts’ response to victims

  • Women victims of violence who seek help from the courts take a huge step. They often put themselves at risk of retaliation and further violence from perpetrators simply by seeking justice. This concern is common to all forms of violence against women. One scholar has described women’s experience in the judicial system as a “negotiation between women and the state over protection from violent and abusive men.” The process and outcome of this negotiation is critically important because it sends messages to women and men about how the state views the parties and the actions they have taken. The messages the parties receive often determine future behavior and can critically impact women’s safety.
  • These messages often are sent through the attitude, language, and other behaviors of judges, prosecutors, and court staff – not necessarily through the ultimate outcome of the case. Judges, as state-appointed decision makers, have a critical role to play. When judges’ demeanor and language expresses to women that their courage in coming forward is valued, that their safety is paramount, and that violence is unacceptable, women can be emboldened to take further steps to protect themselves. Men are also more likely to be dissuaded from further violence. On the contrary, when judges interact with women victims through overly formal and bureaucratic, dismissive, or belittling behaviors, dangerous messages are communicated to both victims and perpetrators.
  • These concerns can in part be addressed through training and development of specialized courts and prosecutorial units. Nevertheless, judges and others who handle cases of violence against women must continually reexamine policy structures as well as their own behaviors to ensure that the justice system is promoting effective implementation of laws on violence against women through every interaction. (See: James Ptacek, Battered Women in the Courtroom: The Power of Judicial Responses (1999))

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