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DPP: Prosecutors and police must protect women in the home

12/04/2011

Women in England and Wales are still more at risk of crime in their own homes than anywhere else, the Director of Public Prosecutions said in a speech today entitled 'Domestic Violence: the facts, the issues, the future'.

Speaking at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) headquarters in central London, Keir Starmer QC said domestic violence is a "serious and pernicious" form of crime and that while much progress has been made in prosecuting offenders in recent years, police and prosecutors must do more to tackle it. Recent statistics show that nearly one million women are abused every year, two are killed every week by partners or ex-partners and more than half of all victims of serious sexual assaults have been attacked by partners or ex-partners.

Figures also show that young women between the ages of 16 and 19 are the most at risk of domestic abuse (12.7% according to the British Crime Survey). Mr Starmer said: "What that tends to show is that there may be a next generation of domestic violence waiting in the wings.

"Domestic violence is serious and pernicious. It ruins lives, breaks up families and has a lasting impact. It is criminal. And it has been with us for a very long time, yet is only in the last 10 years that it has been taken seriously as a criminal justice issue.

"Some good progress has now undoubtedly been made since those administering criminal justice woke up to domestic violence... These statistics are shocking and demonstrate that women are still more at risk of crime at home than anywhere else.

"Although greatly reduced, the refrain 'It's just a domestic' is still heard far too frequently. The steps that we and our criminal justice partners are taking to tackle domestic violence risk limited success unless this complacency is tackled head on. A change in attitude is clearly needed."

He added: "The entire criminal justice system has taken some great strides in recent years, including the training of all prosecutors in handling domestic violence cases; the setting up of specialist courts; and the creation of independent advisors for victims. We have seen the conviction rate for domestic violence offences rise from 49% in 2002 to 72% today, but domestic violence is still endemic in our society and we must take further steps to stop it.

"Gritty problems persist in the prosecution of domestic violence. Over 6,500 domestic violence cases failed in 2009-10 because the victim either failed to attend court or retracted their evidence. We prepare our cases with this knowledge and, if needed, we can issue a witness summons. But such summonses should be the last resort - it is far better to proceed on the basis of other evidence and ensure the victim has been made aware of the available specialist support services."

To that end, the CPS will be working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to produce guidance for police officers and prosecutors across England and Wales on what evidence should be gathered and provided to the CPS in every domestic violence case. Where police and prosecutors are already using this best practice when gathering and using evidence, convictions rates have increased significantly. For example in Suffolk, the conviction rate is 84% - 12% above the average.

Mr Starmer said: "We need to be sure that we are applying best practice everywhere and consistently - for example police routinely supplying the CPS with 999 recordings and photographs of victims and crime scenes immediately after the offending has occurred.

"Gathering all of the right evidence at the right time can have a substantial impact on the likelihood of securing a conviction. Building a robust case on evidence leaves offenders with little option but to plead guilty and reduces the opportunity to apply pressure on victims to retract allegations. We have seen in Suffolk that gathering the right evidence at the right time produces clear results."

Chief Constable Carmel Napier, ACPO lead for domestic abuse, said: "We are pleased to be working in partnership with the CPS to develop best practice guidance for the police and the CPS in relation to evidence gathering and sharing in the prosecution of domestic abuse incidents. Not only will this improve the conviction rate for perpetrators of domestic violence, and make victims safer, it will enable our officers to ensure that appropriate evidence is collated and shared with our CPS colleagues in a way that supports getting it right in the first instance. Building this confidence and mainstreaming this approach with our officers and CPS colleagues will strengthen the prosecution approach to domestic abuse incidents."

Prosecutors were also encouraged to make better use of victim support services. Mr Starmer said: "Victims must be supported both during and after criminal proceedings to ensure that they are protected throughout the process and justice is done. 

"A recent study for the CPS by Coordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse (CAADA) has revealed that 66% of women facing serious abuse who were supported by an independent domestic violence adviser reported that the abuse stopped after criminal proceedings. This was clearly significant as 91% of the victims supported by independent domestic violence advisors through the justice process had experienced physical abuse, 67% strangling or choking.

"Making full use of the assistance that they can provide to victims should be a priority for every prosecutor in every case. Together with better evidence gathering we aim to improve both justice and safety."

Diana Barran, Chief Executive of CAADA, said: "Over the last few years, the CPS has implemented one of the most robust and effective strategies for tackling violence against women of any government department. The measures it has taken have made a real difference to victims of domestic abuse. Despite facing large budget cuts over the next four years, the CPS is pledging to continue its hard work to support domestic abuse victims in the future, and this is to be commended."

Anthony Wills, Chief Executive of Standing Together Against Domestic Violence, said: "We at Standing Together have been consistently impressed with the CPS's commitment to effectively prosecuting domestic violence cases. Their clear and powerful policies are based on an understanding of the issue and these are supported by a real drive to make them work. The recent and swift response to difficulties with DV and rape victims who may say their original statement was untrue in order to nullify a prosecution has provided more evidence that their focus on achieving justice for victims will continue."

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  3. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Group, Special Crime and Counter-Terrorism, and Organised Crime. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  4. The CPS employs around 8,316 people and prosecuted 982,731 cases with a conviction rate of 86.8% in the magistrates' courts and 80.7% in the Crown Court in 2009-20010. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  5. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.