Building successful domestic abuse prosecutions without the victim’s support is possible but challenging for police and prosecutors

A joint report published by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has concluded that the handling of evidence led domestic abuse prosecutions requires improvement.

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Evidence led domestic abuse prosecutions

If the victim of domestic abuse decides not to support a prosecution, police and prosecutors should consider whether it is possible to bring a prosecution without that support. This is called an evidence led prosecution. This inspection was undertaken to establish whether police officers and CPS lawyers understood what needed to be done to build viable evidence led prosecutions whenever possible and whether the guidance, policy and the importance of evidence led prosecutions is understood by all staff within the police and CPS dealing with domestic abuse cases.

Wherever it is in the public interest to do so, police and prosecutors should progress cases even if this means doing so without the support of the victim. Police officers and prosecutors are instructed to build robust cases in which they do not need to rely on the victim’s evidence.

Inspectors found that at all levels in the police and CPS there was a clear recognition that domestic abuse is a priority area of work and there is a desire to achieving the best possible outcomes for victims. However, officers and prosecutors should ensure that, at the outset of a case, consideration is given to how to prosecute the case if the victim were to withdraw support. That would then lead to a more detailed investigation at the scene, such as evidence from neighbours, forensic and photographic evidence, etc. When prosecutors consider the evidence (either at charge or review stage) they should be raising this with officers. The inspection also found that evidence led domestic abuse cases should be given the same weight and training as that offered to staff dealing with general domestic abuse.

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. Inspectors were concerned to note that in many of these police finalised cases there was no record of quality assurance of the decision to take no further action.

Examination of CPS casework revealed that generally prosecutors are making sound legal decisions in domestic abuse cases. But the inspection found that in 42.1% of appropriate cases that inspectors read there was no consideration of how to progress the case without victim participation when the CPS prosecutor authorised charge. At the later legal review stage there was no proper consideration in 40.1% of appropriate cases. Further, neither the police nor the CPS has a system to identify and measure performance in evidence led cases. This presents a challenge when trying to drive improvement in prosecutions or training to support and spread best practice on how to develop cases where the prosecution does not need to rely on the victim’s evidence.

HMI Wendy Williams and HMCPSI Chief Inspector Kevin McGinty said:

“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.”

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Evidence led domestic abuse prosecutions

Notes to editors:

  1. This was a joint inspection carried out by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
  2. HMCPSI and HMICFRS carry out inspections on behalf of the public and to benefit those organisations subject to scrutiny.
  3. Inspectors assessed cases from four police forces and the related CPS Area across England and Wales, forces visited were Cheshire, Gwent, Hertfordshire and Staffordshire, with the related CPS Areas being Cymru–Wales, Mersey–Cheshire, Thames and Chiltern and West Midlands.
  4. The inspectors examined 200 magistrates courts domestic abuse files finalised between June and November 2018 which were a mixture of successful and unsuccessful outcomes and 40 cases where no further action was advised.
  5. Inspectors examined 78 police files that had been finalised as ‘Outcome 16’ and not sent to the CPS for a charging decision. These files were drawn from four police forces: Cheshire; Gwent, Hertfordshire and Staffordshire.