Best Practices where there is Family Violence (Criminal Law Perspective)

2. Introduction

The criminal justice system has not, traditionally, been well-suited to accommodate the interests and complexities of family relationships. Criminal proceedings involving allegations of family violence often have a disruptive effect on the lives of the complainant and the accused – families may be separated, communication between spouses and parents restricted, residences changed, contact with children limited and financial demands increased.

Furthermore, cases that involve allegations of family violence commonly involve more than one court. There may be parallel criminal, family law and child protection proceedings. The family (including the complainant, the accused and any children) may have contact with numerous agencies, including the police, the Crown, victim support services, health services, and child protection agencies.

Each different court and agency has its own priorities processes, procedures and schedules. The manner in which information is shared (or not shared) among the various stakeholders can have a substantial impact on all parties involved. A lack of coordination may result in confusion, inconsistent court orders and have implications for the safety of family members.

The purpose of this report is to explore “best practices” relating to cases making their way through the criminal justice system where there are parallel family court and child protection proceedings. The intent is to identify practices, which from the criminal law perspective, best promote the safety of family members while also ensuring a fair process for the accused. The report is organized according to the typical steps in a criminal proceeding. It attempts to examine the issues that typically arise in cases of family violence – from pre-charge considerations to possible sentencing outcomes.