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Questions for judicial actors

Monitors should address a series of questions to prosecutors in different regions of the country. Prosecutors are the state’s representatives in the criminal courts and can provide information on the implementation of criminal laws and the state’s response to victims of violence. Prosecutors have access to key statistics on domestic violence cases and may provide insight into the priority set by a state on its response to violence against women and girls. Often, cases of domestic violence against women are not prosecuted unless the woman has been seriously injured or killed.  It is important both to understand what the law says and how it is applied. It is helpful to have a prosecutor describe the prosecution of assault step by step. The following are suggested question for prosecutors:

General:

  1. Can you briefly describe your work and area of responsibility? What size population does your district serve? How large is your staff of prosecutors?  How long have you been a prosecutor?  What is the process for becoming a prosecutor? 
  2. How many cases do you prosecute a year?  Can you describe what kinds of cases?
  3. Are assault cases involving husband/wife or intimate partners something that your office handles?  How are state prosecutors involved in prosecuting domestic violence crimes?
  4. Can you estimate how many cases of domestic violence are reported in your district each year?  How many cases of domestic violence are charged in your district each year?
  5. Does your office keep statistics on domestic violence cases?  Do these statistics show the gender of the perpetrator and victim, their relationship, and the severity of the injury?

Procedures:

  1. What laws relate to the criminal prosecution of domestic violence?
  2. What policies or protocols does your office have regarding prosecution of domestic violence cases?  May we have a copy of the policy?
  3. Do you have staff members who specialize in prosecuting domestic violence cases?
  4. What factors are considered in determining whether to prosecute domestic violence crimes?  Who makes the decision?
  5. Please describe the procedure involved in the complete prosecution of a domestic violence case.
  6. How many cases of domestic violence are declined in your district each year? What are some of the reasons that you decline to prosecute domestic violence cases?  What is the most common reason that you decline to prosecute domestic violence cases?
  7. How many cases of domestic violence do you dismiss each year?  What are some of the reasons that you dismiss cases of domestic violence?  What is the most common reason that you dismiss cases of domestic violence?
  8. What is the victim’s role in the decision to prosecute?  What do you do if the victim does not want to proceed with or participate in a prosecution?  If the case is prosecuted, what role does the victim play in the prosecution? Are women involved in prosecuting domestic violence cases themselves?
  9. Is lack of documentation of the abuse a problem in prosecuting domestic violence crimes?  If so, how and why?
  10. What type of evidence is suggested for proof of injuries in court?
  11. Is there a way that you find out about previous acts of violence in a domestic violence case?  Do previous acts of domestic violence affect your actions in a case?

Orders for protection:

  1. How many cases of violations of orders for protection are reported in your district each year?  How many cases of violations of orders for protections are charged in your district each year?
  2. How many cases of violations of orders for protection are declined in your district each year?  What are some of the reasons that you decline to prosecute violations of orders for protection cases?  What is the most common reason that you decline to prosecute violations of orders for protection cases?
  3. How many cases of violations of orders for protection do you dismiss each year?  What are some of the reasons that you dismiss cases of violations of orders for protection?  What is the most common reason that you dismiss cases of violations of orders for protection?
  4. Is lack of documentation of the abuse a problem in prosecuting violations of orders for protection?  If so, how and why?
  5. What changes in the law would you like to see with regard to your role in responding to violations of protection orders?

Convictions:

  1. What are the most common punishments for individuals convicted of domestic assault?
  2. What factors do you utilize when setting bail for a perpetrator of domestic violence?  Do you utilize a risk assessment?  If so, can you provide a copy of the risk assessment that you use?
  3. When setting bail for a perpetrator of domestic violence, do you include a provision that the perpetrator must not contact the victim? 
  4. While the perpetrator of domestic violence remains in jail, is he restrained from contacting the victim of violence? 
  5. What is the rate of convictions for domestic violence cases in your district each year?
  6. What factors influence the sentence you ask for in domestic violence cases?  What is the most common sentence that is received by domestic violence perpetrators?
  7. Do you have and utilize a process by which you inform the survivor of domestic violence of the decisions that are made on bail, early release, and sentencing of the perpetrator?
  8. Do you have and utilize a process by which you inform the survivor of domestic violence of a denial of the case or a dismissal of the case?

Other:

  1. Do you work with forensic doctors?  If so, what weight do you give to having a certificate?  Can a case be prosecuted without one?  Are the conclusions on a forensic certificate ever questioned?  If so, what happens?
  2. Have you received training on the dynamics of domestic violence?  Have you received training on how best to prosecute domestic violence cases?  Is training in either or both of these areas ongoing for prosecutors in your country?  Do new prosecutors receive training on the dynamics of domestic violence cases or on how best to prosecute domestic violence cases?  Who offers these trainings?
  3. In domestic violence cases, how would you describe the level of coordination between your office and other groups or organizations, such as medical and legal professionals or domestic violence advocates?  Can you describe the ways in which you work with these groups or organizations?
  4. Have you ever seen a situation in which a victim of domestic abuse was also arrested, charged, or convicted of domestic abuse?  Can you describe that situation and what happened?
  5. Can you describe a specific example of a case that involved domestic violence?  Did your office prosecute the case?  What was the basis of the decision whether or not to prosecute?  What was the outcome?
  6. Do you believe the laws are sufficient to protect domestic violence victims?  Are these laws adequately enforced?  What are the good things and the bad things about implementing the law on domestic violence? What would you change to improve the protections and services available to victims?
  7. Is there anything else you think we should know about domestic violence in your country?
  8. Can you recommend other individual or organizations that we should speak with?

Questions for the judiciary

Monitors must also interview members of the judiciary who handle cases of domestic violence.  Judges provide a different perspective on the prosecution of domestic assault. They can discuss the prevalence of domestic violence and how cases are treated in the courts. They can also provide information about the penalties people convicted of domestic assault receive. Important information about the court structure may be determined.  The judiciary and its court administrators are responsible for victim safety in all aspects of the court process: from the moment a victim enters the court building, through her time in the courtroom, and allowing her to leave the courtroom and the building safely. The following are suggested questions for judges:

General:

  1. Can you briefly describe your work and area of responsibility?
  2. How long have you been a judge?
  3. What is the process for becoming a judge?  What are the educational requirements?  Is there any requirement of continuing education?  Does your office offer continuing training opportunities? Have you had trainings on domestic violence? If so, who organized them?
  4. How many cases do you hear a year?  What type of cases do you handle?

Procedures:

  1. Are domestic violence cases brought before your court?
  2. Can you estimate what percentage of your cases are domestic violence cases?  Does your office keep statistics on domestic violence cases?
  3. Are there specialized courts for the handling of civil domestic violence cases in which orders for protection are sought?  If so, do the judges who handle these cases receive specialized training at the beginning of their service or at regular intervals during their service?  How many judges handle these cases?  What is their approximate caseload?
  4. Are there specialized courts for the handling of criminal cases of domestic violence, either assault cases, violations of orders for protection, or other matters such as harassment or stalking?  If so, do the judges who handle these cases receive specialized training at the beginning of their service or at regular intervals during their service?  How many judges handle these cases?  What is their approximate caseload?
  5. Do you have specific policies or procedures that govern domestic violence cases?
  6. What punishment is available for each of these offenses? What punishment is most commonly given?
  7. What is the victim’s role in deciding whether or not to go to court?  What do you do if a victim does not want to proceed with or participate in a prosecution? Is this a common occurrence?  If a victim recants or reconciles with the accused, is the case over?
  8. If the case goes to court, what role does the victim play in the prosecution?
  9. Is lack of documentation of the abuse a problem in trying domestic violence crimes?  If so, how and why?
  10. How long does it generally take to prosecute an assault?
  11. Do you use forensic doctors?  If so, what weight do you give to having a certificate?  Can a case be prosecuted without one?  Are the conclusions on forensic certificates ever questioned?  If so, what happens?

Convictions:

  1. What factors are considered in determining whether or not to convict on domestic violence crimes?
  2. What factors are considered in sentencing after a conviction for domestic violence?  What is the most common sentence?
  3. What factors are considered in setting bail for a perpetrator accused of a domestic violence crime? 
  4. Do you hear criminal assault cases involving domestic violence?
  5. Have you ever encountered a situation in which the perpetrator seemed extremely dangerous?  What criteria do you use to assess for direct and immediate threat to life?  What action do you take in this situation?
  6. Do you utilize risk assessments in determining bail, release, or sentencing of domestic violence perpetrators?
  7. Have you received training on the dynamics of domestic violence or risk assessments?
  8. Have you ever seen a situation in which a victim of domestic abuse was also arrested, charged, or convicted of domestic abuse?  Can you describe that situation and what happened?
  9. Can you describe a specific example of a case of domestic violence?  Was the batterer prosecuted?  What was the outcome?
  10. Do women prosecute cases of domestic violence unassisted by the state? Are they successful at prosecuting their cases?

Orders for protection:

 

  1. If a victim of domestic violence approaches your court building in order to obtain an order for protection, are there signs and information available to her about the process?  Are there court personnel who are trained to assist victims in completing the request for an order for protection? Is it necessary for a victim of domestic violence to obtain a lawyer before attempting to file for an order for protection?
  2. Do standardized forms exist for victims who want to file for an order for protection?  (If so, obtain a copy.) If not, would it be helpful to have such form? What are some of the essential facts that it should contain? Are these available throughout your country?  Are petitioners able to complete them without the help of an attorney? 
  3. Is there a fee for filing for an order for protection? If the application form for an order for protection is returned to the petitioner due to irregularities, does the petitioner have a chance to amend it?
  4. How many requests for immediate or emergency orders for protection do you personally receive each month? Out of these applications, what percentage do you typically grant?
  5. How long does it take for an immediate or emergency order for protection to be issued?
  6. How many requests for general as opposed to immediate orders for protection do you personally receive in an average month?
  7. Does your court system provide advocates for victims of domestic violence who may have questions or concerns about the process of filing for an order for protection?  Are these advocates provided free of charge?
  8. What is the shortest time within which a subpoena can be served?
  9. Have you issued orders for protection based solely on the declaration of the victim?
  10. Can you give an example of a case where you did not issue an order for protection based solely on the declaration of the victim?
  11. What are some of the reasons you have found it necessary to deny a request for an order for protection?

-         if the answer is “procedural problems, ask “Can you give some examples of those procedural problems?”

-         if the answer is “reasons are usually contained in the evidence,” ask “Can you give us some examples of those evidentiary reasons?”

-         do these reasons differ when the order for protection is based solely on the declaration of the victim?

 

  1. How often, at the open hearing, is there an evidentiary dispute between the parties? Can you give us an example, and the ultimate disposition of the case?
  2. How do you assess the credibility of both parties?
  3. Have you found it necessary to deny any specific request set out in the petition for an order for protection? Can you give us examples?
  4. Have you issued an order for protection when only psychological violence was involved? Examples?
  5. Do you ever order the respondent to provide financial support or other compensation to the petitioner?
  6. Is there a way for you to know if the perpetrator has previously violated orders for protection? Would you know this from a petition or an internal procedure? When a respondent has been the subject of a prior order for protection, do you include more restrictions on the respondent in your order? Do you include more protections for the applicants?
  7. Have you ever learned that a protective order that you issued was violated by the perpetrator?  Do you impose sanctions? What types? What did you do?
  8. During the hearing, do you refer the petitioner to advocates or advocacy programs in the community?
  9. (If applicable under country law) Have you handled requests for orders for protection initiated by social services or a relative of the victim? Can you tell us the circumstances? In any of these cases, has the victim requested that the application be withdrawn? What was the outcome?
  10. What role does the social assistance agency play in cases of domestic violence? Has it been helpful or detrimental to the victim and children? Can you explain?
  11. Has a victim ever returned to ask for the dismissal of an order for protection? Why? What did you do?
  12. Does your court system provide information about free legal assistance for victims of domestic violence?
  13. What happens to an order for protection when the respondent fails to appear at the hearing? What if the petitioner/victim fails to appear?

 

Children:

 

  1. Do you address child custody and visitation in a protection order? Describe what exactly you specify (details, times, places, alcohol/drugs, third party)
  2. When issuing a protection order where children are involved, how do you determine child custody and visitation where:

-         the child is not injured

-         the child is injured

-         the child is a witness to the violence? Specific examples?

  1. What evidence do you require when child abuse is involved?
  2. What role do social services play in a protection order when child abuse is involved?
  3. Do you address the issue of child custody in the emergency order? Do you separate the children from the perpetrator in the immediate or emergency order?

 

Rights of victims:

 

  1. Have you had incidences of the respondent intimidating or threatening the petitioner before, during, or immediately after the hearing?
  2. Before a hearing on a domestic violence case, are perpetrators and victims directed to separate entrances of the court building in order that they do not meet?
  3. Are there separate waiting rooms for victims of domestic violence and for violent offenders?  If there is a violence threat or assault in the courtroom, how can it be handled?
  4. Is there an escort service which a victim of domestic violence may utilize in order to leave the court building in safety?
  5. Do all victims receive a copy of the court orders which are made?
  6. Are there translation services available for victims who do not speak your language?  Are the court documents translated for these victims?
  7. Are there court costs for victims of domestic violence who file for orders of protection?
  8. Do you provide counseling on reconciliation for victims of domestic violence and perpetrators during court hearings on domestic violence or during court hearings on obtaining or enforcing orders for protection?
  9. In your experience, what has been the overall effect of the law on domestic violence? Can you elaborate? Do you believe that the laws are sufficient to protect domestic violence victims?  Are these laws adequately enforced?  What are the good things and the bad things about implementing the domestic violence law?  What would you change to improve the protections and services available to victims?
  10. In your opinion, how has the court responded to the law?
  11. How has law enforcement responded to the law?
  12. How have prosecutors responded to violations of the protection orders under the law?
  13. Can you describe a specific example(s) of a domestic violence case and what happened?
  14. What is your assessment as to how the domestic violence law interrelates to the criminal laws?
  15. Do you believe that the criminal laws are sufficient to protect victims of domestic violence? Has anyone applied for a protection order in conjunction with a criminal prosecution for bodily injury? What was the outcome?
  16. Does the court maintain internal statistics on protection order cases? What specifically does the court monitor?

 

Divorce:

 

  1. Do you hear divorce cases? How many per year?
  2. Is no fault divorce available?
  3. What percent of divorce cases involve allegations of domestic violence?
  4. Have you ever had an application for a protection order during a divorce or child custody procedure? Can you describe the facts of the case and the outcome? Were there any obstacles issuing the protection order in these cases?
  5. How would you describe the level of coordination between other groups, the medical and legal professional community, the NGOs, and the government?
  6. Is there anything else you think we should know about domestic violence in your country?
  7. Can you recommend other individuals or organizations for us to speak with?

 

Questions for attorneys

Attorneys can provide information about how individual women are treated by the legal system.  Some attorneys may also be able to provide information about the prevalence of the problem.  The following are suggested questions for private attorneys on the issue of domestic violence cases:

General: 

  1. What kinds of legal services do you provide?
  2. How are clients generally referred to you?
  3. Do you receive funding for programs to serve battered women?  If yes, what kinds of programs provide this funding?
  4. Are there training programs for people such as you who serve victims of domestic violence? Who offers these programs?

Procedures:

  1. Have you had any cases involving a woman who experienced domestic violence using the law on domestic violence?
  2. Can you describe the facts of the case?
  3. What was the outcome of the case?
  4. Did you need to document the abuse? If so, how did you do that?
  5. Did you rely on a forensic certificate? Was it difficult to obtain this certificate? Why or why not?
  6. What other types of documentation did you use?
  7. Have you represented a client in an order for protection hearing where the only evidence submitted was her statement?  What happened? Do judges require more than the victim’s statement as evidence?
  8. Did your clients have any concerns about seeking help for domestic violence, such as where they would live during the resolution of the case, or custody of the children, financial concerns, or concern about the reaction of their extended family or community?

10. Do judges usually grant all forms of relief that the petitioner requests?

11. Do your clients experience problems with compliance with the order for protection? Can you give examples of what happened?

12. Have you ever had or heard of a woman victim who asked for dismissal of the order for protection? Why? What happened?

Children:

13. Have you represented clients seeking a protection order with children? How was custody and visitation determined where:

-         the child was not injured
-         the child was injured
-         the child was a witness to the violence.  Specific examples?

14. What evidence did the court require when child abuse was involved?

15. Have you requested child custody and visitation in the protection order? What did you request and what was granted in the order?

Rights of victims:

16. Have you requested that the respondent provide financial support or other compensation to the petitioner? What specifically did you request and what was granted?

17. Have you seen or heard of any problems with victim safety in the courtroom?  What happened?

18. (In countries where there is no order for protection remedy) When domestic violence is an issue, what kinds of legal assistance are you asked to provide?

19. What assistance are you able to offer a victim of domestic violence?

20. If you were not able to assist a client, were you able to refer her to another resource? Who?

21. When the police are called in a case of domestic violence, how would you describe their response?  Can you give some specific examples?

22. Have you ever seen a situation in which a victim of domestic violence was also arrested, charged, or convicted of domestic abuse?

23. What medical or other community services are available to victims of domestic violence?

24. Are they affordable?

25. Are the clients who come to you familiar with these services?

26. Are there any reasons why women might not seek out these services?

27. How would you describe the level of coordination between your organization and other groups, the medical and legal professional community, or the government?

28. Who are your allies in the community, in terms of issues that are of concern to battered women? How do you collaborate with these allies?

29. Are you aware of other ways in which a woman may try to seek help if she is being beaten? What are some of these other ways?

30. Have you seen instances in which regional differences have affected the treatment received by clients seeking relief based on domestic violence? Can you give examples?

Divorce:

31. What is the procedure for getting a divorce?

32. Do you know what percent of marriages here end in divorce?

33. Is a legal or permanent separation an option for couples?

34. Do you know what percent of marriages involve a legal or permanent separation?

35. In your opinion, how are women who seek a divorce or separation viewed by society?

36. Of the divorce or separation cases which you have handled, approximately how many involved domestic violence?

37. If domestic violence is a factor in a divorce or separation case, does that affect the procedure for obtaining the divorce or separation?

38. Can you describe some divorce or separation cases you have handled which involved domestic violence? Have you ever represented a client who sought a protection order during a divorce or child custody procedure? Can you describe the facts of the case and the outcome? Were there any obstacles to obtaining the protection order in these cases?

39. In your opinion, if domestic violence is involved in a divorce or separation, does it affect how a woman is viewed by her family? By society?

 

Cultural issues:

40. In your experience, what factors in your laws and culture might affect the ability or willingness of victims of domestic violence to seek protection from abuse?  To seek assistance from the police?  To seek medical assistance?  To participate in criminal prosecutions?  To seek civil legal assistance such as separation or divorce?  Are there other ways in which factors in law and culture might have an impact?  Can you provide examples?

41. Do any of the professionals mentioned, such the police, prosecutors, and doctors, take steps to address any of these factors in law and society?  Do government agencies take such steps?  Community or domestic violence organizations?  International organizations?  Can you provide examples?

42. Have you ever encountered a situation in which a particular kind of relief was not acceptable to a woman because of culture?  How have you responded in these situations?

43.  Have you assisted a client who has spent any time in a battered women’s shelter?  How did she describe her experiences there?

44. In your opinion, do such issues as polygamy, lack of contraceptives, the shortage of jobs or of housing have an affect upon the ability of a woman to leave a situation of domestic violence?  How?

45. Are there other factors which might make it difficult for a woman to leave a situation of domestic violence?

 

Implementation:

46. Do you believe that the laws are sufficient to protect victims of domestic violence?  Are these laws adequately enforced? 

47. What do you believe is good or bad about how the law is implemented? What works and what does not?

48. How would you evaluate the response of judges to domestic violence victims under this law?

49. How would you evaluate the response of prosecutors to domestic violence under this law?

50. What is your assessment of attitudes by police and judges toward 1) victims 2) children 3) perpetrators

51. Have you ever represented a client in a criminal prosecution of domestic violence (bodily injuries)?  Describe the facts of the case and the outcome. Did the client also seek a protection order?

52. What is your perception of the need for stronger criminal protection against domestic violence? What is your assessment on how the domestic violence law interrelates to the criminal law?

53. How would you describe the level of coordination between the legal profession, the criminal justice system, the medical community, and the government when it comes to domestic violence victims?

54. Are you aware of any statistics regarding the prevalence of domestic violence in your country?

55. Are you aware of any research or studies being done on domestic violence here?

56. Is there anything else you think we should know?