THE first dedicated court for domestic abuse was opened in Hertfordshire yesterday - and a second in St Albans could be less than a year away.

Magistrates who have undergone special training will sit for a certain day each week at Hemel Hempstead Magistrates court to hear cases of domestic violence from Watford and Dacorum.

At the moment Hemel Hempstead and Watford each boast a Sunflower Centre, a support centre that helps victims in all aspects of dealing with domestic abuse, as well as three Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA) so was chosen for the pilot scheme.

But over the next year similar courts will be rolled out to St Albans and possibly Stevenage.

Assistant Chief Constable Heather Valentine, who chairs the county's Domestic Violence Board, said: "This is a major break-through in how the police, courts, CPS, and other partners deal with cases of domestic violence and we hope it will give more victims the confidence to come forward."

Paul Fellingham, Justice's Clerk for Hertfordshire, said: "Working closely with the Witness Service we have been able to improve our facilities at court to keep victims and witnesses comfortable and secure.

"Witnesses who are concerned that fear or distress will affect their ability to give clear evidence to the court will be able to ask the court to consider granting special measures so they can give their evidence by videolink, from behind screens or in private."