Domestic abuse prosecutions without the victim’s support

Relationships | 31 Jan 2020 2

Evidence-led domestic abuse cases

HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (‘HMCPSI’) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (‘HMICFRS’) have published a joint report on ‘evidence-led’ domestic abuse cases (i.e. where the victim of domestic abuse decides not to support a prosecution), finding that the handling of such prosecutions requires improvement.

OK, I realise that this is strictly a criminal law, rather than family law, matter, but it is clearly of importance in the fight against domestic abuse. Unfortunately, very often a victim of abuse will choose not to pursue a complaint against their abuser, perhaps fearing that to do so would only result in them being the target of further abuse. Obviously, in such cases, a perpetrator of abuse will get away with their crime, and perhaps, therefore, be encouraged to offend again, if they are not prosecuted.

In preparing the report inspectors looked at 160 magistrates’ courts’ domestic abuse files finalised between June and November 2018, selected from four CPS areas and respective police forces. Inspectors also spoke to a number of stakeholders, including the police and CPS National Domestic Abuse Leads; the CPS National Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy Manager as well as managers and domestic abuse leads from the police and the CPS.

Inspectors examined 78 domestic abuse cases where the police had made the decision to take no further action due to victims either not supporting or withdrawing support for further police action. In 15 of those cases, investigators had missed the opportunity to explore reasonable lines of enquiry before the investigation was concluded.

The report confirms that the police and Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) recognise domestic abuse as a priority area of work and that the domestic abuse caseload for both the CPS and the police has increased. However, the report showed that there was not enough consideration given to prosecuting a case when a victim withdraws their support. This would then allow for a more detailed investigation at the scene, for example, evidence from neighbours, forensic and photographic evidence.

Recommendations

The report made a number of recommendations, including training for the police and CPS, raising awareness of the role of ‘domestic abuse champions’, and police ensuring that investigations and decisions to take no further action in domestic abuse cases receive the same ‘robustness of supervisory oversight’ as other domestic abuse cases.

A joint statement by HMI Wendy Williams and HMCPSI Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty read:

“Domestic abuse can have a devastating impact on victims’ lives and it is important that the police and CPS are proactive in their approach to dealing with this type of offending.

“Both the police service and CPS are moving in the right direction but much more can be done to ensure an evidence-led approach is considered a focus and priority, and it should be considered for all cases at an early stage. Officers should prioritise effective evidence gathering, and prosecutors should highlight it, by working on the assumption that the victim may withdraw support, in order for the prospects of success to improve.

“The foundations of many of our recommendations are already in place and both the CPS and police service show a clear commitment to achieving a successful outcome in domestic abuse cases. However, for that commitment to be effective all need to do more. A clear strategy is required from the outset to lead an effective evidence-led approach at prosecution.”

Discouraging abusers

I have to say that I had not previously given any thought to evidence-led domestic abuse prosecutions. I suppose had always believed that in most, if not all, such cases the prosecution did not proceed, as there was little or no chance of it being successful without the support of the victim. However, clearly that is not the case.

Having said that, it must be difficult in most cases to proceed without the victim, particularly as most incidents of domestic abuse take place in the home, without any witnesses.

Still, it is encouraging to see that efforts are being made to ensure that the police and CPS do go ahead with prosecutions where possible. Perhaps that would make perpetrators think a little harder before they commit abuse.

You can find the report here.

Get in touch

If you would like any advice on domestic abuse and your legal situation, you can find further articles here or please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist domestic abuse lawyers 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.

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Comments(2)

  1. Andrew says:

    A view here from the Bench – the JPs’ Bench which hears most of these cases.*

    I have only heard one serious attempt to run a domestic violence claim without the complainant – which is the word you should use, John, wherever you say “victim” even if the CPS and HMCPSI use the V-word.

    We dismissed an application to use her statement in the absence of any evidence that she was in fear; the only “evidence” of that was that she was not there and as counsel for the Defendant rightly said, that was a circular argument. So the only evidence was that of the police officer who said that the place was a mess, and had photos to prove it. There were none of the complainant: if the Defendant had hit her he had left no marks.

    The Defendant gave evidence – and it is interesting that he had said the same in the police station, when he could not be sure that the complainant would not show up to court – that there had been an almighty row and she had thrown things at him and vice versa but without damaging each other; hence the mess. He said the allegations of valiance were malicious. Cross-examination was ineffectual as well it might be; the CPS just had no material to cross-examine on, not even a no-comment interview.

    We were unanimous; not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt. And we were right. If the standard of proof were the civil standard the result might be different – I am not even sure of that – but it was not and I hope it never will be.

    I cannot help thinking that that will often be the outcome. If, moreover, the CPS start prosecuting in cases of abuse said not to involve physical violence they will find that without the complainant they can rarely get a case off the ground.

    *That is because the CPS regularly charge common assault where it should be a.b.h.; thereby avoiding the risk and expense of a jury trial; depriving the defendant of the right to trial by jury which he might have wished to exercise; and making impossible the passing of a properly condign sentence where it would be appropriate. But that is another story.

  2. Stitchedup says:

    I wonder if John would have written this article differently given the hindsight of the sad events of this week .. namely the death of Caroline Flack.

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