A court that deals specifically with cases of domestic violence officially opened in Halifax on Wednesday.
The new court is located within the Halifax Provincial Court building on Spring Garden Road and will sit one day a week. Judge Amy Sakalauskas will preside over the court, which will begin hearing cases next week.
“We’ve seen deaths in this province. We have seen women die from domestic violence. We have seen children harmed and it can have lifelong effects for them witnessing this, so that’s why it’s important to have a place for people to deal with this early on,” said Kelly Regan, the minister responsible for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
This will be the second domestic violence court in Nova Scotia.
The first opened in Sydney in 2012 as part of a pilot project and handles about 300 cases each year. It’s anticipated that the Halifax court will hear upwards of 1,000 cases annually.
“Domestic violence has touched far too many lives and we know that women and their children are the primary victims,” said Regan.
“Building on what we learned from the program in Sydney and expanding it to Halifax Regional Municipality will help us intervene earlier, making our communities safer.”.
Unlike a traditional court, which is adversarial, the domestic violence court program is said to be more therapeutic and uses a co-ordinated community response that connects family members to services and supports where they live.
More than 50 representatives from 25 different community organizations and various government departments helped the Department of Justice with the planning and development of programs and supports for families who will use the court.
“A significant part of this program involves monitoring the progress of offenders and supporting that person, as well as the victim and their loved ones, throughout recovery,” said Chief Judge Pamela Williams of the provincial and family courts.
“We rely on organizations working in the community for that ongoing support, which is why it was so important to have those groups at the table when we developed the program. This is truly a collaborative and more holistic approach to dealing with family violence.”
In order for a case to be heard in the new domestic violence court, the individual involved must in the Halifax Regional Municipality and be at least 18-years-old.
Typically, the person charged with a domestic violence offence must also plead guilty, but Justice Williams says there are case-by-case exceptions.
“This new court is an excellent example of community, government and the judiciary working together to make meaningful change,” said Wendy Keen, executive director of New Start Counselling.
Keen says domestic violence is a very prevalent and serious issue in the region.
“Halifax Regional Police and the RCMP of the Halifax Regional Municipality probably respond to about 2,700 domestics every year,” she told Global News.
“Of those domestic calls that they respond to, we only see about 200 of those people who come in for counselling. So, this court system will open a much speedier process for people to get into counselling sooner rather than later.”
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse or is involved in an abusive situation, please visit the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime for help. They are also reachable toll-free at 1-877-232-2610.