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Domestic abuse - CPS programme for 2020-2021

The impact of domestic abuse on victims, their children, families, and friends cannot be underestimated. While there has been long term progress in how the criminal justice system responds to these offences, more needs to be done to encourage victims to report abuse with confidence and to support them through the criminal justice process to bring more offenders to justice, and to help protect victims and their children from further harm.

This document sets out our programme of work on domestic abuse for the next twelve months. It is underpinned by a commitment to narrow the disparity between domestic abuse reporting and criminal justice outcomes, as we continue to build public confidence in the criminal justice response by delivering justice for all.

It also represents a clear articulation of the role that the CPS plays in encouraging and driving forward evidence based best practice across the criminal justice system.

Progress is only possible through a long-term and concerted effort and investment from all parts of the system. We therefore welcome the work and scrutiny provided by cross-Government activity, including the Hidden Harms Summit held by the Prime Minister in May 2020.

Building strong partnerships - at local and national levels - and demonstrating effective leadership across the whole system is a priority which underpins our entire programme. The CPS relies on the essential work of the police, the courts, specialist services and others. Tackling these persistent crimes requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach  and this programme reflects the need to work with partners across the criminal justice system 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.

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 to reduce risk of repeat offending.

CPS 2020-21 domestic abuse programme

This programme of action will guide what we do over the next twelve months, helping to focus our work where it really matters. The five themes of this programme reflect the strategic aims of CPS 2025 which are:

  1. Our people are at the heart of everything we do.
  2. Our digital capability enables our success.
  3. Through our strategic partnerships, we shape a legal, policy and operating framework that facilitates our core role: independent and fair prosecutions.
  4. High standards of casework quality are essential to delivering justice. We work with partners across the criminal justice system to make the public safer.
  5. Everyone at the CPS plays their part in delivering every strategic aim. Everything we do contributes to our ultimate goal of building public confidence through delivering services that are fair and understood by all communities.

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.

Overarching Aims and Outcomes

Our People

  • Guidance, training support and learning at local and national level improves casework standards.
  • Policy is informed by operational practice across the CJS and learning is cascaded through local networks.
  • VAWG Coordinators cascade knowledge, policy developments and good practice in Areas.

Digital Capability

  • CPS harnesses the benefits of new technology, to support effective DA prosecutions.
  • Digital tools are used effectively to provide accessible guidance and support about the CPS to victims and the public.
  • Digital solutions provide effective communication with the police, courts and specialist support agencies.

Strategic Partnerships

  • Learning from Domestic Abuse Best Practise Framework (DA BPF) implementation ensures victims have appropriate support.
  • CPS operational insights inform law reform, police and cross government policies and practice.
  • Collaborative work with partners  across the CJS ensures effective implementation of  DA legislative provisions.
  • CPS DA strategy, policy and guidance is informed by stakeholder expertise and insights.

Casework Quality

  • Work with police ensures decision making is informed by risk and addresses by the specific vulnerabilities of  all victims, including addressing trauma.
  • Policy, practice and communication with partners  is informed by performance data and information.
  • Reflecting changes in practice as a result of Covid-19 incorporate learning from the DABPF to adapt processes and procedures.

Public Confidence

  • CPS DA public policy statement is informed by public consultation and improves understanding of CPS DA practice.
  • A joint communication strategy with partners encourages victims to report crimes, including in the context of Covid-19.
  • Communication with victims and support services  is timely, effective and sensitive to their individual needs, acknowledging any intersectionality.

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 and share expertise.
  • Learn from innovation introduced as a result of the emergence of Covid-19 and the implementation of the DA Best Practice Framework - including what went well and what could have been improved.
  • Explore advancements in technology which have led to dramatic and rapid changes in the use of social media, and technology including spy malware, apps and use of trackers. We will incorporate learning and understanding about the psychological and physiological reactions occurring at the time of a traumatic event, which can impair an individual’s ability to recall an event and provide a coherent and consistent account of their experience. We are committed to raising awareness of these issues to inform our work along with addressing any myths and stereotypes through our casework.
  • Put in place and encourage opportunities to share good practice locally and nationally and develop innovative ways to address issues, especially those that have arisen or have been highlighted since the emergence of Covid -19.

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. Relevant data is available from different sources, recorded in different ways and over different timescales. This can make tracking the progress of specific cases across their lifecycle difficult, creating barriers to meaningful analysis. 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 complainants are kept informed about decisions that are made and what is being shared and why.
  • Use technological developments to support prosecutors to the development of robust case strategy in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.

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 complainants are kept informed about decisions that are made and what is being shared and why.

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.
  • ontinue 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 the current DA Bill and cross government programme of supportive non-legislative work, including the pilot work on domestic abuse conditional cautions.
  • Use insights gathered at the Community Accountability Forum on domestic abuse and Covid-19 held in October 2020 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 at this time.

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 Covid-19 outbreak has presented an unprecedented challenge for the criminal justice system. It has significantly limited the number of cases that can be dealt with physically in a court. Despite current circumstances, criminal cases continue to be heard and it is essential that perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse and their families understand that the criminal justice system is effective.

Multi-agency working is a core component of the DA Best Practice Framework. We know from the pilots and initial implementation of the framework through England and Wales that the relationships developed through the framework have helped support the recent work required as a result of the emergence of Covid-19.

We will:

  • 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 embed the implementation of the DA Best Practise Framework and use local experience to inform and shape our decisions.
  • Develop and pilot innovative ways to work creating a robust response to the changes that have emerged since the onset of Covid-19.  
  • 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 BAME 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.

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 DA Covid-19 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. Within the policy we will clearly set out what victims, witnesses and defendants can expect from us and what, in turn, will be expected from them and why.
  • 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 assessible, inclusive and nuanced to the needs of all victims.
  • Publish clear and accessible guidance which explains the disparity between volumes of reported incidents and criminal justice outcomes as well as outlining the CPS’s work on domestic abuse.
  • 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.

Delivery

Leadership across the CPS is collectively accountable for the delivery of the domestic abuse programme. The work in this programme will be delivered through a range of project groups which will take forward specific areas of work.

One of the core components of this multi-agency working is the DA Best Practice Framework. The framework aims to improve the capacity and capability of the criminal justice system to respond effectively to reports of domestic abuse offending, whilst providing a level of service to victims that increases their safety and their confidence in the criminal justice system. Where multi-agency work is required the Framework’s National Delivery Group will take forward cross CJS work streams identifying best practice as well as areas of joint concern.

This group is chaired by the CPS legal lead Kate Brown who is the Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS Direct. It includes the DA Commissioner, key criminal justice agencies, specialist support organisations, and cross government officials. The group can escalate issues to the National Criminal Justice Board or National Oversight Group for Domestic Abuse Honour Based Abuse and Harassment or Stalking as appropriate.

We will also provide regular updates to our Violence Against Women and Girls External Consultation Group and national and local victims’ groups on progress against delivery.

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