Roles of Judges

last updated March 2015

In partnership with UN Women, The Advocates for Human Rights created the following sections for UN Women's Virtual Knowledge Centre to End Violence against Women and Girls. This section, along with sections addressing other forms of violence against women and girls, may be found under Legislation at www.endvawnow.org.


Roles of Judges


See also the Justice Sector Module.


The court plays an integral role in implementing legislation prohibiting violence against women, including widows, as it bears the ultimate responsibility for case outcomes. The court can address the needs of the many victims of violence against women by providing victims with contacts to services, by monitoring the behavior of perpetrators and mandating them to appropriate interventions, and by protecting women from their abusers. A court that is strong and committed to implementing legislation prohibiting violence against women must also use its authority to demonstrate publicly the civil and criminal justice systems’ commitment to effectively addressing crimes of violence against women.


Many laws also delineate special roles for courts and prosecutors related to effective implementation. In general these laws focus on:


  • Mandating or encouraging special protections for victims in court;

  • Requiring the development of specialized courts or tribunals;

  • Requiring the establishment of specialized prosecutors units;

  • Requiring training for judges and prosecutors;

  • Requiring the development of special policies, procedures and protocols for handling cases of violence against women;

  • Requiring that legal proceedings occur on a timely basis.

Legislation should provide that judges and court personnel should receive continuing education on: the causes, nature, forms and extent of the maltreatment of widows; laws and practices on inheritance, property and land rights; the intersection of HIV/AIDS with widows and their inheritance, property, parental and land rights; practices designed to promote the safety of victims and family members, such as safety plans; resources available for survivors/complainants and perpetrators; the impact of harmful practices with regard to deprivation of children from their mothers who are widow; sensitivity to gender bias, and cultural, racial, and sexual issues; and the short- and long-term impact of the maltreatment of widows and their children. See: Section on Training for Legal Actors on Legal Reform and Succession.


Drafters should consider creating specialized courts to hear cases on the maltreatment of widows in jurisdictions where this abuse is pervasive. Cases could include including forced evictions, property grabbing, inheritance claims, deprivation of children, widow inheritance and sexual assault. For example, the Family Law in Serbia requires the establishment of specialized court councils for cases of domestic violence and also outlines special procedures that courts must follow in cases of domestic violence. See: Family Law, UN Secretary-General’s database on violence against women. Any such court should ensure that all court personnel, including judges, undergo training to sensitize them to women’s human rights, forms of widow maltreatment, and the laws on property, inheritance, family and land. Legislation should provide the survivor/complainant’s right to free legal aid in all legal proceedings, including inheritance and property claims and claims for compensation or restitution, as well as free court support, such as accompaniment and/or representation by an appropriate service or intermediary, and where necessary, free access to qualified and objective interpretation.


Legislation should state that the judiciary must promote accountability for the perpetrator and safety for the complainant/survivor by instituting penalties for violations of orders for protection (see section on Orders for Protection) and by implementing safety procedures for complainant/survivors in the courtroom such as the presence of security guards, court escorts, and separate waiting rooms for complainant/survivors and violent offenders. For more information, see Domestic Violence Safety Plan (“Be Safe at the Courthouse” section).


(See: The following sub-sections in Drafting Legislation: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls, Harmful Traditional Practices, Honour Crimes; and Implementation of Laws on Violence against Women and Girls)