The judge who presides over Atlantic Canada's first domestic violence court says halfway through her mandate, the specialized court is working, but improvements such as a provincewide expansion are needed.
Anne Dugas-Horsman has heard 397 cases since the court opened in April 2007 in Moncton. Offenders normally appear within 15 days and are often referred to treatment programs.
Among the improvements she'd like to see are, "Better safety measures for the victims, better support for the victim at trial time if she needs to testify," she said. "[The work is] far from being done. We're only halfway through the pilot project. We have still a lot to do and we recognize that."
The specialized court, a three-year pilot project, has seen a flood of cases since its launch.
Justice Minister T.J. Burke said naming Jolene Richard as a new provincial court judge would help relieve the pressure on Dugas-Horsman at the domestic violence court.
The Moncton court deals only with domestic violence cases and has its own staff, such as a probation worker and a victim services worker.
By taking these cases out of the regular judicial system and offering specialized support services, the province argued when it was established, the court could better handle the complexities of domestic violence cases and move them along faster.
Nancy Hartling with the Coalition Against Abusive Relationships said the court is helping focus attention on domestic violence.
"Just recently in Fredericton what happened with the [St. Thomas University] professor being killed and how it can impact on a community, you just never know when the next event will happen," she said. "So we just have to keep working hard we really have to keep this issue at the top of the agenda."
Hartling was referring to the October murder of John McKendy, who was found dead in his home just outside Fredericton. His son-in-law, Nicholas Wade Baker, was charged with first-degree murder, but was found dead the day after in the parking lot of a Moncton hotel.
Dugas-Horsman said she's hopeful the domestic violence court will continue once its trial period is over, but she'd like to see this kind of specialized court expanded, which may mean working with community groups because government funding is "finite."
"The government says that every time you go for more money so you have to look to other avenues to provide victims support to provide victims some form of support," she said.