Profile: Westminster’s domestic violence courts heading up tough new plan
07:55 03 December 2012
As senior domestic violence consultant for Westminster Council’s groundbreaking family recovery programme, Sharon Bryan has been at the forefront of improving the prospects for victims of domestic abuse.
Her team of specialists launched a new domestic abuse strategy this year, which includes introducing a weekly surgery for victims at the Bayswater Children’s Centre.
The strategy, Breaking the Silence, also sees a new dedicated domestic violence court begin operating.
“The court will make a huge difference,” said Mrs Bryan.
“Usually the perpetrator gets arrested and bailed, usually to go to court in x amount of weeks’ time. There’s plenty of time for him or her to talk around the victim and get them to drop the charges, and for the victim to think about what the possible consequences are going to be.
“With the domestic violence court, they would appear in court the very next Thursday. Consequently you have got a better chance of the victim engaging with the criminal justice process.
“Everybody that’s in that court is trained to some level to deal with domestic violence, so they will know the importance of not bailing someone to an address that’s near the victim.
“The idea is that it is fast-tracked, so the victims don’t have to wait around for months with it hanging over their head that they are going to have to give evidence. That’s why so many women drop out of the system, because it’s just too scary.”
The court even has alternative entrances for victims, to protect their safety and identity.
The Breaking The Silence strategy extends to several other initiatives. The weekly surgery at the Bayswater Children’s Centre in Shrewsbury Road provides a one-stop service for female and male victims of abuse, offering police, housing and children’s and family support services.
A befriending service that links survivors of domestic abuse with current victims to offer support and advice is also launching, and there will be a greater emphasis on victim referrals through GPs and maternity services, often the first places where victims of domestic violence turn up.
Westminster Council is one of the few local authorities this year to increase funding for domestic abuse services, giving £760,000, up from about £440,000 the previous year.