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Domestic abuse: Context and challenges

Domestic abuse can inflict lasting trauma on victims and their extended families, especially children and young people who may not see the violence or abuse, but may be aware of it, sense it, or hear it occurring.

The CPS recognises that victims of domestic abuse are disproportionately women with the majority of perpetrators being male. Within this context, however many of these offences are committed against men and boys, and some offences are committed by females. They occur in all communities and involve offenders and victims with different protected characteristics, from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.

Shame, guilt, fear of the process, fear of not being believed, shock, cultural context, embarrassment, language barriers and fear of reprisal from their communities are just some of the hurdles that victims might need to overcome to report an incident to the police and go on to support a prosecution.

Many individuals suffering domestic abuse whether in intimate relationships, or within familial situations, will not always be aware that what they are experiencing is abusive behaviour. Particularly those who have suffered over considerable time, will have difficult decisions to make that may significantly impact their lives, and the lives of those close to them. As a result, some complainants may be hesitant to go through the criminal justice process.

Improving the safety of victims and their children is essential and helps to raise their confidence in the criminal justice system, encouraging continued participation in the prosecution and, where appropriate, obtaining protective orders which can reduce risk of repeat offending.

Domestic Abuse Programme 2022 – 2023

The Domestic Abuse delivery programme sets out our work to tackle domestic abuse. It is underpinned by a commitment to prioritise joint working to increase the volume and quality of domestic abuse prosecutions and improve criminal justice outcomes. It articulates the role we have in driving forward evidence-based best practice across the criminal justice system and therefore in building public confidence in the criminal justice response to domestic abuse. 

Progress is only possible through a long-term and concerted effort and investment from all parts of the system. The CPS is committed to building strong partnerships and robust working relationships to lead, with criminal justice partners, improvements on domestic abuse across the whole system.

Tackling these persistent crimes requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach. This programme reflects the need to work with partners and with victims’ groups to understand what we can do better, and explore any issues around reporting, charging and prosecuting domestic abuse as well as promulgating best practice, to support victims of domestic abuse.

The more the public understands about our role and trusts the decisions we make, the more likely they are to report abuse and support prosecutions as victims or witnesses, to engage with the process and trust the outcomes as fair and just. Learning from our partners and grounding our work in practices and innovation that is evidence-based and proportionate enables us to deliver justice and prosecute offenders in order to make the public safer.

Programme details

Our people

Our people are our greatest asset. Every single one of our employees contributes to delivering justice through independent and fair prosecutions. We will support our people - from prosecutors to paralegal officers, administrative staff and specialist advocates - in the delivery of this programme through strong, visible leadership at all levels.

We will:

  • Support our employees by having trained individuals throughout the CPS to help guide and signpost individuals affected by domestic abuse to specialist help.
  • Provide guidance for employees who are experiencing domestic abuse, those who have family or friends experiencing abuse, manage staff that may be experiencing domestic abuse as well as those who are carrying out abuse or who are concerned about their own behaviour.
  • Prioritise learning so that all our people continue to be equipped with the skills, tools and support they need to succeed; utilising expertise and experience outside the CPS to ensure that our training programmes benefit from external insight.
  • Encourage our people to make professional links with Independent Domestic Abuse Advisors (IDVAs), specialist support organisations, and through our strategic partnerships share expertise.
  • Learn from innovation and the implementation of the DA Best Practice Framework to identify what went well, what could have been improved and if it should be extended into Crown Courts.
  • Put in place and encourage opportunities to share good practice locally and nationally and develop innovative ways to address issues via Area DA Leads.

Digital capability

Advancements in technology continue to transform how we live and work. It also has a bearing on the nature of criminality, the cases we prosecute, the volume of evidence we receive and the decisions that victims make before seeking redress from the criminal justice system. Technology can also provide evidential opportunities to build stronger cases in order to support fair and effective prosecutions.

We will:

  • Work with agencies across the criminal justice system to collect and share data around domestic abuse to ensure that we have a clear understand of issues and insights to support evidence-based work which will drive change across the criminal justice system. Through close cooperation between partners, data can be carefully brought together and used to provide important insights on patterns and regional variations.
  • Work closely with the police to explore digital solutions which enable us to consider evidence in a timely way.
  • Ensure victims are kept informed about decisions that are made.
  • Continue to publish quarterly data summaries as part of the CPS’s ongoing commitment to transparency on prosecution performance.

Taking an active and innovative approach to digital capability will also help us to work effectively with our partners and improve the way in which justice is done. We will work closely with the police to explore digital solutions which enable us to consider evidence in a timely way.

Meaningful analysis of the shifting demands and challenges we face is vital. We will work with agencies across the criminal justice system to collect and share data to understand the wider picture. These insights will support evidence-based work to drive change across the criminal justice system and beyond.

We will work with the police to ensure victims are kept informed about decisions that are made.

Strategic partnerships

An effective criminal justice response to domestic abuse will involve authorities beyond the police and prosecutors. The CPS works at the heart of the criminal justice system in England and Wales. We are well placed to build effective strategic partnerships across criminal justice agencies, the Government and specialist third sector organisations to ensure the effective and efficient delivery of justice.

We will:

  • Contribute positively to inform and influence cross-Government work on system wide improvements, including law and policy reform to address systemic issues.
  • Continue to invest in our relationships with Government departments, criminal justice agencies and specialist third-sector organisations and use these relationships to develop an evidence base for policy and legislative reform, drawing on a rounded assessment of operational and community need and impact.
  • Use evidence and insights to help inform  future non legislative and legislative work including the pilot work on domestic abuse conditional cautions.
  • Use insights gathered at the Community Accountability Forum as well as the best practise and lessons learnt from the DA Best Practice Framework to ensure our guidance and processes for cases of domestic abuses is informed by evidence based thinking reflecting the additional needs and barriers that victims of domestic abuse may experience.
  • Develop a DA leadership statement to publicly reaffirm the CPS commitment to tackling domestic abuse and increase criminal justice outcomes for victims.

Casework quality

Working with the police as part of a prosecution team is crucial. Effective collaboration between investigators and prosecutors from an early stage will ensure the right evidence is collected, to build the strongest case possible from the outset. Each organisation is reliant on the other to carry out its functions effectively.

The core principles of the best practice framework include a clear multi-agency approach, which addresses risk management, safeguarding and identifies IDVA support. It ensures trained staff are consistently deployed by all criminal justice agencies and in-court services to provide proactive witness services. This includes pre-trial familiarisation visits and the appropriate use of special measures.

We will:

  • Articulate and develop clear case strategies within our casework to ensure, where viable, evidence-led and offender-centric prosecutions. 
  • Work closely with our police partners, to ensure that decision making is informed by risk and addresses the specific vulnerabilities of all victims, including addressing trauma.
  • Continue to develop the DA Best Practise Framework to provide a coordinated approach to risk management and specialism in the system for victims of domestic abuse.  We will work closely with IDVAs and in-court services to improve wraparound support.
  • Provide clear, timely advice on the strengths of a case and what evidence is required to build the case for a successful prosecution.
  • Communicate appropriately and in a timely manner with those services providing support for all victims including Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (and equivalent services), Independent Stalking Advocacy Caseworkers and bespoke organisations providing specialist support for Black and minoritised groups, and disabled victims to ensure that victims feel supported and the risk they face is properly identified and managed.
  • Continue to carefully scrutinise all our decisions including through the Victims’ Right to Review Scheme; casework quality assurance; and Local Scrutiny and Involvement Panels made up of volunteers to reflect local community concerns and to cascade points of learning locally and nationally.
  • Conduct a review of Domestic Homicide Cases in order to identify themes, learning points and good practice.
  • Introduce a new DA quality assurance framework to continue to drive the quality of DA casework. 

Public confidence

For the public to trust the service we provide, they need to be confident that our decisions are fair and effective. We must be able to demonstrate that we understand and empathise with domestic abuse complainants as well as ensure that suspects and defendants are always treated fairly by the CPS.

We will:

  • Use the insights provided by the Community Accountability Forum, members of the VAWG External Consultation Group, including the Male Victim’s Forum and specialist support organisations, to develop and consult on a domestic abuse policy which clearly established the principles that drive our work on domestic abuse. 
  • Work closely with specialist third-sector organisations to help develop and share the domestic abuse policy and ensure that it is supported by a strong communication campaign which is accessible and inclusive.
  • Publish clear and accessible legal guidance to assist our prosecutors when they are making decisions about domestic abuse cases or those involving strangulation/suffocation. 
  • Update controlling and coercive behaviour , stalking and harassment and restraining order prosecution  guidance to reflect changes in law and practice.
  • Consistently communicate our casework outcomes through a range of platforms both nationally and locally to encourage greater public understanding around how our work helps to keep them safe.
  • Work closely with the police and specialist third-sector organisations to ensure victims receive the right and consistent information as well as feeling supported and listened to.
  • Improve the quality of our communications to ensure that they are timely, consider our diverse communities and are sensitive to the needs of those who are particularly vulnerable or have specific communication requirements.
  • Develop our understanding of equalities in domestic abuse cases by deepening our understanding of issues experienced by different groups and communities to access justice.
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