A new document published by the head of the family courts in England and Wales sets out litigants’ right to receive support from Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVA) and Independent Sexual Violence Advisers (ISVA) before, during and after a hearing.
The guidance is set out in full below:
- This guidance applies to family proceedings in the Court of Appeal (Civil
Division), the High Court of Justice and the Family Court. It is issued as
guidance (not as a practice direction) by the President of the Family Division,
as Head of Family Justice. It is issued in light of the coming into force on 6
April 2023 of new rules and a practice direction relating to the attendance at
any court hearing of independent domestic violence advisers/independent
sexual violence advisers as support to litigants at all levels of the Family
- An independent domestic violence adviser (IDVA) or independent sexual
violence adviser (ISVA) is an independent adviser, however described, who
works with people (whether adults or children) who have experienced or are
said to have experienced domestic abuse (in the case of an IDVA) or rape
and/or sexual assault (in the case of an ISVA) by providing them with
support, advice and help.
The Right to Reasonable Assistance
- A litigant may have support, advice and help from an IDVA or ISVA but an
IDVA or ISVA is not a legal representative or McKenzie Friend. An IDVA or
ISVA has no right to act as an advocate or to carry out the conduct of
What IDVAs or ISVAs may do
- An IDVA or ISVA may: i) provide practical, emotional or moral support for a
litigant; ii) provide assistance and support to engage with the court process
as well as with out of court discussions; and iii) help in dealing with
authorities or other support services.
What IDVAs or ISVAs may not do
- IDVAs or ISVAs may not: i) act as the litigant’s agent in relation to the
proceedings; ii) manage a litigant’s case outside court, for example by signing court documents; iii) address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses.
- An IDVA or ISVA does not have a right of audience or a right to conduct
litigation. It is a criminal offence to exercise a right of audience or to conduct
litigation unless properly qualified and authorised to do so by an appropriate
regulatory body or, in the case of an otherwise unqualified or unauthorised
individual (i.e., a lay individual including a McKenzie Friend), the court
grants such a right on a case-by-case basis.
Support from an IDVA or ISVA at Court
- Any party to family proceedings who is receiving support from an IDVA or
ISVA has the right to receive that support at any hearing, subject to the court’s power to direct otherwise. The court retains the power to refuse to permit attendance at a hearing and may do so where it is satisfied that it is not in the interests of justice for the IDVA or ISVA to be present or continue to be present at a hearing.
- For the avoidance of doubt, any party to family proceedings who is receiving
support from an IDVA or ISVA has the right to receive support from the IDVA
or ISVA at court, both before or after a hearing.
- A litigant who wishes to receive support from an IDVA or ISVA should inform
the judge as soon as possible indicating who the IDVA or ISVA will be. The
proposed IDVA or ISVA must provide their name and details of the
organisation for which they work, together with an assurance that they
understand the confidential nature of the proceedings. If the court considers that there might be grounds for circumscribing the right to receive support from an IDVA or ISVA at a hearing or a party objects to the presence of an IDVA or ISVA at a hearing, it is not for the person receiving IDVA or ISVA support to justify the exercise of their right to receive such
support. It is for the court or the objecting party to provide sufficient reasons why the litigant should not receive such support during a hearing.
- When considering whether to refuse an IDVA or ISVA permission to be
present at a hearing, the right to a fair trial is engaged. The matter should be
considered carefully by the court. The person opposed to the presence of the
IDVA or ISVA should explain clearly what their objections are. The person
receiving IDVA or ISVA support should be given a reasonable opportunity to
explain why the IDVA or ISVA should continue to be present. The proposed
IDVA or ISVA should not be excluded from the hearing at which permission
to attend is determined.
- The court may refuse to allow a litigant to exercise the right to receive support from an IDVA or ISVA at the start of a hearing if the court is satisfied that it is not in the interests of justice for the IDVA or ISVA to be present, or continue to be present, at the hearing.
- A decision by the court not to curtail support at a hearing from an IDVA or
ISVA should be adhered to, unless there is subsequent misconduct during a
hearing by the IDVA or ISVA.
- If the court does restrict a litigant’s right to an IDVA or ISVA during a hearing, it should give a short judgment setting out the reasons why it has curtailed the right to support during a hearing. A litigant may seek permission to appeal such a decision. IDVAs or ISVAs have no standing to do so.
- The following factors should not be taken to justify the court refusing to
permit a litigant receiving such support during a hearing:
a. The case or application is simple or straightforward (for example, it is
simply listed as a directions or case management hearing);
b. The litigant appears capable of conducting the case without support;
c. The litigant is unrepresented through choice;
d. The other party is not represented;
e. The proposed IDVA or ISVA belongs to an organisation that promotes a
f. The proceedings are confidential and the court papers contain sensitive
information relating to a family’s affairs.
- A litigant may be denied the support of an IDVA or ISVA during a hearing
because that support might undermine, or has undermined, the interests of
justice. Examples of circumstances where this might arise include, but are not limited to: i) the support in the court room is being provided for an improper purpose; ii) the support in the court room is unreasonable in nature or degree; iv) the IDVA or ISVA is directly or indirectly conducting the litigation; or v) the court is not satisfied that the IDVA or ISVA fully understands the duty of confidentiality.
- A litigant is permitted to communicate any information, including filed
evidence, relating to the proceedings to an IDVA or ISVA for the purpose of
obtaining support or assistance in relation to the proceedings.
- The High Court can, under its inherent jurisdiction, impose a civil restraint
order on an IDVA or ISVA who repeatedly acts in a way that undermines the
efficient administration of justice.
The guidance can be accessed here.
If you would like to find an IDVA or an ISVA, Google “Find an [IDVA]/[ISVA] in [NAME OF YOUR COUNCIL]”
- What is an IDVA?
- Find an IDVA – Refuge
- Help after rape and sexual assault – NHS
- Find an ISVA – The Survivors Trust