The police response to domestic violence

Family Law|September 23rd 2015

When I began practising as a family lawyer back in the early 1980s the attitude of the police towards domestic violence was generally an unwillingness to become involved, as if what happened in the privacy of people’s homes was none of their business. “We don’t do domestics” would be the response. Accordingly, victims were pretty much left to their own devices to deal with the problem. Their first port of call would be their local family lawyer, rather than their local bobby, and the matter would be dealt with by way of a civil court injunction, rather than criminal prosecution.

How times have changed. Nowadays the police recognise domestic violence for the crime that it is and will, or should, respond to it as urgently as for other types of offences against the person. Consequently, the police have become the first port of call for victims, with the role of the criminal courts largely superseding the civil courts.

But domestic violence is a complex issue. In fact, it often doesn’t involve physical violence at all, hence the term ‘domestic abuse’ is generally favoured today. This complex nature of the issue has led to the police in England and Wales being issued with specific guidance on the subject. The latest incarnation of this guidance is the authorised professional practice (APP) on domestic abuse, which consolidates and updates the previous guidance.

I have been having a look at the APP. It is quite a lengthy document, so I can’t give a detailed commentary of it here. Instead, I will give a general overview and pick out a few sections that I think might be of particular interest.

The APP is divided into thirteen sections, covering such topics as what constitutes domestic abuse, offences associated with domestic abuse, risk identification and assessment, first response to a domestic abuse incident, prosecution and alternatives, investigation and victim support. It does certainly seem to provide a comprehensive coverage of the subject.

As has already been reported here, one of the primary factors behind the updating of the guidance was the new Home Office definition of domestic violence and abuse, which recognises the significance of controlling or coercive behaviour in better understanding domestic abuse. This is reflected in the APP by an expansion of the topic beyond the Home Office definition of coercive behaviour, explaining further what it is and giving a number of useful examples, such as constant criticism, possessive behaviour, restricting access to communications and even manipulating the police, for example scene-setting or getting into character before they arrive, reinforcing the victim’s fear that they will not be believed.

The list of possible offences associated with domestic abuse is also interesting. Alongside the expected offences such as assault, battery, GBH and so on, we also have such things as child destruction (violence resulting in miscarriage), fear or provocation of violence, malicious communications and revenge pornography.

Following on from that list is a section dealing with that aspect of domestic abuse that can so baffle those who are lucky enough never to have suffered it: why victims continue in abusive relationships. An understanding of this is essential for anyone dealing with domestic abuse, particularly where the victim is reluctant to take action against their abuser.

The section ends with this truism:

“It is not the responsibility of the victim to leave, but of the perpetrator to stop abusing. Domestic abuse perpetrators should be challenged about their behaviour. Perpetrators are able to carry on abusing because they are not robustly challenged. Some are able to recognise the behaviour, challenge themselves, seek help and willingly engage in support activity where available. Many others cannot or do not want to.”

Moving on, the APP includes a quick reference guide for officers who respond to domestic abuse incidents. This includes an exhortation to take positive action, whether by arrest (“Never ask the victim if they want the suspect arrested. That is your decision.”), or other action, including making the victim aware of the option of applying for civil non-molestation and occupation orders.

Much of the rest of the APP deals with the police handling of cases following arrest: charging, investigating, bail etc. As these are aspects of criminal procedure I won’t cover them here. However, it is not of course just about the perpetrator, but also about the victim. The APP therefore includes a detailed section on victim safety and support, including advice on keeping the victim informed, dealing with the common scenario where victims withdraw support for a prosecution and practical advice for victims upon how to keep safe.

The above only scratches the surface of what is, as I’ve said, a pretty comprehensive document on the subject of domestic abuse. It is well thought-out and, if properly used, will certainly improve the police response to domestic abuse. It is also a useful document for anyone dealing with (or subject to) domestic violence, and well worth a read.

If you wish to read it you can do so here.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

Share This Post...


  1. stitchedup says:

    As usual john you’ve muddied the waters here. The sort of abuse that is now being considered as a criminal act does not amount to an assault on the person.which amounts to bodily harm. Indeed it is highly debatable as to whether much of this so called abuse should in fact be called abuse as much of it could be attributed to difference of opinion, incompatibility or simply the state of affairs surrounding relationship breakdown. Couples often have different opinions of how finances should be managed, some live for today and some save for tomorrow. The police should not be in the business of dictating how people manage their finances or how generous they should be. What’s more, wasting police time on such intrusion to private family life simply distracts scarce resources from protecting those in genuine, possibly mortal danger.

  2. stitchedup says:

    My god….. I’ve taken a look at the APP and it smacks of guilty until proven innocent. They confuse suspects with perpetrators throughout, and the term “victim” is used to describe anybody making an allegation. “Suspects” will be referred to voluntary “Perpetrator” schemes before they’ve been found guilty of anything!!!!! Its a bloody disaster of a document and should be withdrawn immediately!!! I encourage everyone to take a look at the APP and have their eyes opened, they might even fall out of their sockets!!!!

  3. JamesB says:

    If your partner goes or is mental, you walk.

    I have seen Judges, quite rightly, laugh at the ridiculous solicitors and barristers when they get the violins out for abused spouses in court, of either sex.

    I wish I ignored all those solicitors letters about my conduct. My wife used to hit me, we split up.

    That the police got involved and I was arrested 3 or 4 times (due to their ridiculous positive intervention policy like this) and released without charge is their issue they need to sort out and stop doing. That they don’t makes them stupid.

    The judges weren’t interested. I did find the court staff anti-male and the police anti male but the judges, rightly, weren’t interested. Same should go for the police. If people don’t get on, they can work it out, or, unilaterally, not be together, nothing to do with the police. Waste of time and money this.

  4. JamesB says:

    Unfortunately feminists with their dodgy DA allegations have undermined family law and marriage as per ‘the boy who cried wolf story’ making it is impossible for Judges to see the real cases from those which have been fabricated, so they have given up.

    The police should also leave all this nonsense and stick to injuries where they can show clear bad behaviour rather than all this crap. Better spend their time walking the streets than driving to support these posh suburban modern boy crying wolf feminists. They can do some real good stuff then like sorting out anti social behaviour and drug dealing and less day to day crime, for the likes of the men like me who can no longer afford, or want to live in such areas full of aforementioned hysterical people crying ‘foul’ in areas where police are needed more to clean the streets both literally and metaphorically rather than pandering to dodgy stuff like this.

    Bye by Theresa May, you useless piece of S&%t.

  5. JamesB says:

    Not many good politicians in general. Women, quite liked Mo Molam and the speaker Betty Boothroyd. Also quite liked William Hague.

    Not necessarily ‘bye ‘bye. Theresa can stay if she can drop all this DA nonsense please, we are extremely sick of it and the feminist nonsense.

    Example, the only main politician to not wear the ‘I am a Feminist’ T-shirt was the only one to increase his share of the vote. I repeat we are sick of this nonsense. please do something more useful instead, thank you.

  6. JamesB says:

    Also, I have thought about it again and might be interested in suing the police for wrongful arrest if the same person who suggested doing so before and how can do so again I would be grateful please, thank you.

  7. JamesB says:

    To be fair to the police, they did eventually stop taking my ex’s calls and stopped listening to her dodgy complaints around the fifth and sixth time eventually she stopped trying and talking including to me.

  8. JamesB says:

    Waste of time the 3 or 4 dodgy arrests, would have been better if they had not have happened and should not for people in the same situation in future.

  9. Luke says:

    It is well thought-out and, if properly used, will certainly improve the police response to domestic abuse.
    Once again John is on the wrong side of the issue, if there is no physical violence how on earth are the Police going to work out who is saying what in the relationship ? It’s ridiculous.
    I’m afraid I think I know what is going to happen – the woman is going to start crying and the man is going to be arrested.
    Now, was the woman crying about mental abuse because he is a bullying monster or she is a Machiavellian bitch – it will vary – and often it will be shades of grey. One thing is for certain, PC Plod will often not have a clue which is which…

Leave a Reply


Newsletter Sign Up

For all the latest news from Stowe Family law
please sign up for instant access today.

Privacy Policy