Report – HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) – Domestic abuse prosecutions collapse by 50% in just three years

Two and a half years after Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) lodged the first police super-complaint highlighting serious failures by the police to use powers designed to protect victims of domestic violence, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has published the outcome of its investigation.

The report confirms that the criminal justice system is failing to function effectively when responding to domestic abuse, at a time when the Government claims to be addressing abuse as a high priority through its Domestic Abuse Act.

In the super-complaint submitted in March 2019, based on evidence provided by frontline women’s support services, CWJ highlighted how four different types of measures designed to protect victims were being used poorly in many policing areas, leaving women at risk.

The four measures highlighted were:

  1. Use of pre-charge bail
  2. Domestic Violence Protection Orders
  3. Arrests for breach of Non-Molestation Orders
  4. Applications for Restraining Orders following court proceedings.

The super-complaint investigation has largely upheld the complaints raised, although it noted that failures were spread across the criminal justice system and lay not just at the hands of the police.

The inspectorate report notes that domestic abuse prosecutions have collapsed by 50% from 18% of reported cases in 2017 to only 9% in 2020. At the same time alternative and complementary forms of protection are not being used.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders are obtained on average in only 1% of domestic abuse crimes. Even the best performing forces only use them in just over 2.5% of cases, whilst 16 police forces used them in less than 0.5%.

Restraining Orders are granted in less than a quarter of domestic abuse prosecutions. Women are turning to the civil courts and whilst civil injunctions have increased by 48% from 2010 to 2019, convictions for breaches dropped by 3% in the same period.

Nogah Ofer, solicitor at Centre for Women’s Justice said:

“The realities on the ground are that large numbers of women feel deeply let down by the criminal justice response when they turn to the police for protection. Passing yet more legislation won’t change their experiences if powers are not being used.

The super-complaint recommendations are welcome, however they do not get to grips with the severity of the problem, or go far enough to ensure that police forces make real changes in practice.

Some recommendations require improved data gathering, and tell Chief Constables in general terms to prioritise and monitor use of orders, but there is a lack of specifics and no discussion of under-resourcing, which is the elephant in the room. We fear that in five years’ time the situation will not be much different to today.”

Harriet Wistrich, Director of CWJ, said

“It is no wonder that women came out in droves to protest the lack of safety afforded to women by the criminal justice system following the murder of Sarah Everard. This report highlights some of the reasons why so few women feel confidence in the system. Whilst new the Domestic Abuse Act and other legislative initiatives are to be welcomed, such laws are worth little more than the paper they are written on, unless they are properly implemented. Until the government properly resources the creaking criminal justice system and police and other agencies are held accountable for failures, many victims will continue to be at unnecessary risk of harm”

  • For further information about the super-complaint and CWJ’s response to the findings of the investigation can be read in the CWJ Briefing
  • The super-complaint was submitted by CWJ in March 2019
  • The super-complaint report A duty to protect: police use of protective measures in cases involving violence against women and girls is published on the HMICFRS website

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