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The intimidation of alleged victims to have domestic abuse charges dropped

“Domestic abuse has been widespread in England and Wales for many years.”

Not, perhaps, the best way to begin a serious report on domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse is not a recent phenomenon. It has, of course, been widespread since time immemorial. The thing that has changed in recent times is that society has recognised the problem, and attempted to do something about it.

One of the things that has been done is the introduction in 2005 of Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (‘SDVCs’). SDVCs deal with criminal prosecutions of alleged perpetrators of offences involving domestic abuse. Their aim is to increase the number of successful prosecutions and improve victim safety and satisfaction. They do this through, amongst other things, special training of court staff, including magistrates, and special support for victims, from independent domestic violence advisers (‘IDVAs’).

On Monday a report on observations of SDVCs in the Northumbria Magistrates’ Courts was published. The report was commissioned by Dame Vera Baird QC, the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria. The publication led to an eye-catching headline in The Guardian:

“Defendants ‘gaming system’ to get domestic violence cases dropped”

The Guardian explained that defendants in these cases are intimidating their (alleged) victims into not appearing at court, in the expectation that the magistrates will then drop the charges against them. The report, says The Guardian, suggests that cases in which the complainant victim does not appear are too readily dismissed by magistrates.

The Guardian goes on to explain that:

“The defendants, almost all men, continued to exert coercive control over their victims through the mechanism of the court’s system, the study says.”

It also says that too few IDVAs were seen at court, providing support to victims.

Sadly, domestic abuse perpetrators intimidating their victims to stop them proceeding with prosecutions (or, indeed, civil remedies such as non-molestation and occupation orders) is hardly anything new. I came across it right from the outset of my career back in the 1980s. Time and again clients who had clearly been victims of domestic abuse (I could see the scars) would decide not to proceed after all with action against their perpetrators. It was extremely frustrating, especially as you knew that they were highly likely to go back to live with their tormentors and suffer further abuse as a result. The whole scenario was so common that it was one of the reasons back then why the police were rarely interested in domestic abuse complaints – how could they proceed with a prosecution if the complainant withdrew?

We have, at least, made some progress since those days. Whereas then I don’t think any prosecutions ever proceeded without the complainant, now they can proceed. And as the report explains, we should be more understanding of complainants who do not attend. After all:

“For a case to get as far as court a complainant will have called the police, made a statement, agreed to a prosecution, presented a sufficiently strong case for the CPS to lay a charge and indicated their willingness to attend court. Hence s/he will have supported the justice process over a period of months, despite the obvious and innumerable domestic pressures around giving evidence against a partner, whether the coercive control is in play or not. For that reason too, complainants deserve to be treated with tolerance on non-attendance.”

The report goes on to make a number of recommendations as to how the issues it identified may be tackled, including better training for court personnel, encouraging guilty pleas by defendants, adopting a “cautious approach” to the non-appearance of a complainant, remedying the absence of IDVAs, and encouraging complainants to attend.

Hopefully, these recommendations will be acted upon and will make a difference. In the end, though, there is only so much that any system can do. Domestic abuse and coercive control usually happen well beyond the protective arm of the law and its agents, and therefore in many cases, no amount of encouragement or support will be sufficient to counter the fear of further abuse.

That is not to say of course that efforts to deal with domestic abuse when it happens should not continue. However, there is another way: educate people, to stop them from becoming abusers in the first place. The scourge of domestic abuse should be on the school curriculum – every child should be aware that it is not to be tolerated, and of what to do if it happens to them.

As I said at the outset, domestic abuse has been with us forever. We will never eradicate it, but there is always more that we can do to reduce it.

You can read the full report 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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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  1. Terry james Scales says:

    Malevolence, that’s all that’s required as a rebuttal to this gendered article, when empirical evidence clearly demonstrates dv is not gendered.
    You display either ignorance, which is highly unlikely, or being completely in bed with an ideology that detests the male, that being the normal everyday male.
    This logic has to stop, the outcomes are catastrophic, men are amazing, and in most scenarios are the benevolent gender in divorce.
    Children are suffering immeasurably as a direct consequence of this pernicious mindset displayed in this article.

  2. Jo Archer says:

    You concentrate exclusively on Domestic Violence when Emotional and Financial Abuse is still hardly recognised by the police or the courts. Indeed, the courts are often used to perpetrate emotional abuse by enabling the abuser to force the applicant to appear as a ‘vexatious’ litigant because they don’t comply with orders and the applicant can’t get legal aid. If you try to point out what is going on, it is deemed irrelevant. Even when a social worker is involved, who you would think was trained to see through the charming exterior of abusers, they view the complainant as hysterical and won’t even look at the evidence!

  3. Stitchedup says:

    Allegations of Emotional and Financial Abuse are often too subjective except in extreme cases. Who’s in the wrong, the high maintenance woman that demands to live beyond family financial means or the man that says no?? In any event, women are supremely capable of emotional abuse and often resort to it along with physical violence. That old chestnut about abusers being charming is the quintessential feminist catchall clause. Just because a man doesn’t see eye to eye with an ex doesn’t mean he doesn’t see eye to eye with other people and indeed be naturally charming in their view. Your argument appears to be I hate him so everyone else should which is about as vexatious and childish as it gets. Sorry, but John’s article comes across as a load of leftwing tripe, you really give the game away when you quote the Guardian. The bar is constantly being lowered to secure convictions to meet targets when the courts should actually be looking to deliver justice not manipulate justice.

  4. Andrew says:

    Thre is so much wrong here that it is hard to know where to begin. Let me put my JP hat on and try.

    I assume that the complainant is she and the defendant is he.

    He comes to court with a presumption of innocence which can only be displaced by admissible evidence which satisfies the magistrates of his guilt beyond reasonable doubt. The statement which she gave to a police officer – whose interest is in there being a conviction – is not such evidence; her evidence is what she says on oath in the box.

    And he is entitled to have it tested by cross-examination. Not in person, that was stopped twenty years ago, and if necessary the court appoints a lawyer to do it for a defendant in person, although in practice he is usually legally aided. There will be curtains to block their view of each other.

    So what if she does not show up? The Bench has no business assuming that he has committed the very serious offence of witness intimidation – not at any rate unless he has been previously found to have breached the terms of his bail. They must resist the argument which the CPS sometimes run which is: She is not here because she is in fear and she must be in fear because she is not here. That is circular.

    The CPS can apply for an adjournment; but we are told to scrutinise such applications – whoever makes them – rigorously. It is the task of both sides to be trial-ready on the day. If he is in custody then an adjournment will probably mean that he will have served more than any sentence he would get on a conviction before he is even tried, and that won’t do.

    All of which goes to show that the criminal law and the criminal justice system do not have the answers to all life’s ills, which some of us had the humility to know anyway.

    Then there are other horrors. “Better training for court personnel”. What sort of training? Court staff must be and be seen to be neutral.

    “Encouraging guilty pleas by defendants”. They get a discount on sentence which leads to quite enough questionable pleas as it is. What more does anyone want? The courts are not meant to be conviction machines. Defendants are entitled to the rule of the law, the presumption of innocence, and the benefit of the doubt – and that includes those accused of d.v.

    Sorry, John, but you should have seen through this report as the gender-biased special pleading that it is.

    • Stitchedup says:

      It’s good to hear a JP can be objective, but unfortunately for many men the damage begins in the civil courts with dodgy non mols. The man has been stitched up before they reach the criminal courts, and they often enter the criminal courts through the back door as a result of absurdly petty breaches of the said non mols, and in many cases, the circumstances resulting in the breach are engineered by the women the order is meant to protect.

      When you have QCs, MPs, DPPs, crying out for more prosecutions as a result of pressure from Women’s organisations you know the judicial system will be manipulated to achieve exactly that. The presumption of innocence has long gone, we see evidence of this day in day out. Very often the system is rigged to provide the best chance of a successful prosecution for petty cases. Often you are denied access to a bench of magistrates and the case is heard by a lone district judge so the moderating effect of a bench is removed; this is particularly important where there’s a defence of reasonable excuse. In my case the judge refused to hear a defence of reasonable excuse because i admitted talking to my ex… Still to this day I fail to understand how a defence of reasonable excuse can be given without admitting something.

      Better training for court staff means suitably indoctrinated in my opinion, given the aim of the training is to secure more convictions; you don’t have to be a legal eagle or rocket scientist.

    • JamesB says:

      The “I’m in fear of you!” line rang a bell. Following my ex’s first appointment with her solicitor and for about a year. It was the first and last thing out of my ex’s mouth while hunting for their illusive non mol and occupation order and in the end undertaking. Like the family law equivalent of Full Metal Jacket “Sir”. She didn’t seem to be very much in fear of me when she kept hitting me. If you dont move out and play the family law nonsense game (like agreeing to unreasonable behaviour where there has been none) expect what would pass as nonsense in any bar or office or football pitch being regarded as very serious allegations in a court of law.

      My advice to men faced with this stuff, like the Police, use body cams when around ex, i.e. put mobile phone on record when around ex. Stopped me being arrested and then NFA’d (no further action) many hours later following being assaulted by her trying to see my kids in line with contact order several times.

  5. Terry james Scales says:

    Nonsense jo, how would you ,precisely, be able to determine emotional abuse, today’s postmodernism conundrum values all abuse equally, even to the extent that terms such as micro aggression have become normative on college campuses.
    The judicial system is appropriate, we do not and should not continue finding men guilty of crimes they did not commit by allegation alone.
    Women have responsibility, but they have a proclivity to abdicate their responsibility in the direction of others all too often.
    Erin pizzey set up the first domestic abuse shelter for women in 1971 she soon realised that the abused women there were as likely to be an abuser themselves.
    Men will pay for their offspring, we are amazing creatures, the amount of systemic abuse and prejudice we face in the family courts is monumental.
    The family courts malevolently creates the problems it then tries to solve, first alienating the father then cement that further down the road in the guise of child continuity. It’s disgusting, it’s ideology, it’s greed, it needs destroying.

    • Jo Archer says:

      I don’t know why some men assume that criticism of other men is somehow directed at them. It is not. While most men may support their children without being asked and most men have never lifted a finget to hurt anyone else, the fact remains that SOME men are real sods and, in my experience, do indeed ‘game’ the system. And, yes, some women are also abusive but the facts show that there are far fewer of them than abusive men. So, while the effects on individual men and women are the same, the SCALE of the problem for men (on the whole) and women (on the whole) is very different. I don’t care who jumps down my throat. There is a huge difference between a good and bad argument. Please put brain in gear before mouthing off, in future. The loudness of the voice is completely irrelevant to the validity or otherwise of the points that you make.

      • Stitchedup says:

        “the facts show that there are far fewer of them than abusive men. So, while the effects on individual men and women are the same, the SCALE of the problem for men (on the whole) and women (on the whole) is very different”

        Thant’s where we fundamentally disagree. The system is geared up to focus on allegations against males and to secure convictions against males. Allegations against females are largely ignored or laughed off so men generally put up with it. we haven’t been conditioned in the way women have to view ourselves as victims. However, it is now very very clear that men are the victims when it comes to their treatment in the family and criminal courts.

    • Jo Archer says:

      Terry – you know emotional and financial abuse when you are on the receiving end of it.

  6. Terry james Scales says:

    Jo, you are just wrong, dv is not gendered, to imply women are the victims and men the perpetrators and that is not around the 50-50 mark is just untrue.

    I’ve suffered terribly as a direct consequence of the gendered family court. How many women compared to men suffer being evicted from their home with extreme expedience, a week, removed from their 3 Year old sons life, all predicated on allegations and accusations that have no basis in fact. That’s hell jo, pure and simple hell

  7. JamesB says:

    Yes, I found myself shouting at the radio, Woman’s hour actually on this point. No, it is 50:50. They were explicitly station that women suffer more as victims. No, wrong that, it’s 50:50 at least if not men as victims more than women. 50:50 is fair comment.

  8. JamesB says:

    Used mostly as a weird game to steal assets and maintenance and children under label of calling partner abuser. Which is fairly sick, seeing as there are real victims out there. Most cases are lawyers trying it on to get the person out of the house then claim status quo for all there inc kids with contract cut down.

    A while into this nonsense, I came across my ex’s diary. She was trying (like Mrs Owen) to come up with UB reasons for a year or so. There were none and she couldn’t divorce herself so her behaviour got worse and worse. I did sign the petition when it arrived provided she paid the cost of the divorce which she did. It was made up and lies and embellished nonsense though, like the Owens case.

    Men and Women are each 50% of the sky (John Lennon quote) so family law should be written for both of them, not just women. Men are part of Family law and families too.

    I do have sympathy for sufferers of DV, male and female. I have contempt for lawyers and lesbians, mentally ill, and feminists playing the DV non mol, ouster, occupation, orders, undertakings though.

    I do wonder what type of people run women’s refuges. Perhaps they are the female equivalent of the YMCA, but with dodgy law thrown in. If so, fair enough, a place you can go, but take the dodgy accusations away please.

  9. JamesB says:

    Perhaps making divorce easier may help. It would be interesting to see if dv has gone down in the us since no fault divorce.


    The misuse of the dodgy feminist police positive intervention policy by people in divorce on advice from their lawyers to provoke ex sucks though and the wrongfully arrested should always sue rather than the ipcc who are waste of time. That’s my advice. I wish I had. That and to remain calm and mm Record meetings with ex on videophone.

  10. JamesB says:

    Re the in fear line.
    It’s not evidence just mud throwing, hoping something will stick. Casting aspersions without evidence. That courts convict on it is wrong if they do. I heard magistrates courts have 95% conviction rate and play fast and loose with the law and beyond reasonable doubt. Not sure what court a jp sits in
    Probably magistrates. Wouldn’t trust these places. Most opt for jury trial instead whenever possible. The magistrates seem against defendants pro, police not evidence based.

  11. JamesB says:

    If you partner abuses you, leave them or go to councilling if children are involved.

    We did and I found myself yelling the safe word all the time. Killed the passion in our relationship. But I was sick of being hit.

  12. Terry james Scales says:

    No fault divorced caused a steep incline in divorce rates in the US, Ronald Reagan who signed the no fault divorce law in 1969 has been quoted as saying that it was the worst decision of his life as a politician.
    Reducing divorce requires adults to behave like responsible adults, but in today’s world this is becoming increasingly difficult.

    States in the US, that have a policy of shared care as the norm have seen divorce rates drop, equity in family law will reduce divorce.

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