Posted 28 January 2022
Behind the scenes…The Court Project
One of our Courts workers Lisa shares her thoughts of the project she’s been a part of for many years, and the challenges of the work they do.
The courts project was originally funded by the Community Safety Partnership as a 3-month pilot scheme 16 years ago. We have had our ups and downs with funding over the years going from a five person team, to three and then to me being on my own for a long time, but thankfully now I am able to share my court space with two other colleagues. It will feel strange having two more workers and I have got to learn to share but also it will mean I can stop talking to myself.
With the expansion of the team we can now once again support women who have to attend not only Magistrates court but Crown court. The courts project offers wrap around support but our main focus is court support. We don’t have a waiting list and cover court every day. We have our own office based at Magistrates court which has amenities for women and children to feel welcome.
Our support can start when the police charge the defendant and he has his first appearance at court. Women are allocated an IDVA (Independent Domestic Violence Advocate) who will follow the defendant’s case through the court process, informing woman of what is happening at all times. This can involve attending and supporting women at a trial, confirming special measures, arranging a pre-court visit, or providing safe access so the woman doesn’t encounter defendant or his family attending sentencing in either court.
Women are often afraid to report offences to police and attend court. Our job is to break down these barriers and make the process accessible. We work closely with other agencies including the Crown Prosecution Service, Police and Court officials. This enables women to be heard via the Court IDVA at all stages of the court process.
As a team, we may be called upon by the Judge, prosecutor, defence lawyer, Magistrate or Legal advisor to verify women’s wishes if they decide to accept the basis of plea, apply for restraining order or vary the bail conditions. When an application is made to vary, extend, remove restraining order its important that one of the team gets involved so they can verify safeguarding issues or that the application is being made freely and the woman is not being coerced or forced into make an application.
Women can retract their statement but can feel under pressure by agencies to attend court in fear of repercussions. The court IDVA can advise and explain what her choices are so she can make an informed decision.
One of the trickiest parts of the job is managing the woman’s expectations. Sometimes women are not advised truthfully about likely outcomes. Sometimes you are having to give more realistic information which does not marry up with her expectations, such as the length of sentence, evidence not being present at court, or not being able to speak about previous allegations.
What inspires me to get out of bed in morning is knowing women trust my advice and judgement and the court respect my role and take on board what I have to say.
There isn’t a job in BSWA I would choose above this one. I helped set up project many years ago and it is my passion ever since and I believe I am good at what I do. I am growing constantly; I have to learn and expand my knowledge as the law changes so I can support women. I also have the best of both worlds as I also work at our Young Women’s refuge too so see a different work perspective. I have been able to support women there who are taking action in the Criminal Justice System. One of the residents was able to attend Magistrates court with a video link in to another court so she didn’t have to travel back to her risk area.
My well-being mantra is as long as you feel you have tried your best and put women’s safety first then you have no control over the consequences and your conscience is free.
My one tip in doing this job is sometimes you have to be devils advocate and say something a woman doesn’t always want to hear, but if you own it and it’s in the best interest of woman to be informed so she can make the best possible choices, then it’s the right thing to do.
Lisa is one of a three-strong team of staff supporting women taking action against their perpetrators in the court system.