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Domestic abuse prosecutions soar as prosecutors given new guidelines


• 20,000 more prosecutions for domestic abuse possible by end of 2014/15 compared to two years ago • New guidelines come into force today

New guidance on handling cases of domestic abuse, published today, will help the Crown Prosecution Service deal effectively with up to 20,000 more cases this year than two years ago.

As referrals and prosecutions soar, this updated guidance sets out handling on all aspects of domestic abuse offending including the many ways in which abusers can control, coerce and psychologically abuse their victims and reminds prosecutors that domestic abuse occurs in all communities and to both sexes. It also recognises that there is no such thing as the 'perfect' victim.

In the year 2012/13, there were just over 70,700 prosecutions for domestic abuse. Current projections expect that figure to increase to nearly 90,000 by the end of this financial year. As the number of prosecutions grows, conviction rates have been maintained.

Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders, said: "Domestic abuse can, unfortunately, be a nasty feature of the festive period but the latest guidelines will stand us in good stead as we move into the new year and beyond, with a considerably increased caseload looming. Magistrates and prosecutors across the country are telling me that the biggest change they are seeing in the Magistrates' court room is the increase in domestic abuse cases. This shifting caseload is a real challenge for the CPS but it is a challenge that we are preparing to meet."

The guidance published today was subject to a three month public consultation which saw more than 70 responses. The consultation found that the guidance was very much in the right place, but has assisted with further details being reflected across a number of key issues in the document.

The DPP's guidelines remind prosecutors about the vast array of ways in which abusers can control and coerce their victims, through committing clear offences without necessarily carrying out a physical assault. These include controlling a victim's phone; controlling their medication (where appropriate such as with elderly victims); claiming that victims are suffering from mental health problems; making threats about the way a victim dresses or behaves; forcing the victim to make decisions around pregnancy against their will; and using children, in order to exert control such as by threatening to have children taken into care. There is also an expansion of the issues relating to specific groups of people including, for the first time, enhanced guidance on issues relating to children of adult victims, teenagers in abusive relationships and teenagers in gangs.

The Director continued: "These guidelines put the victims of domestic abuse, whoever they may be, at the centre of our work. They make it clear that there is no such thing as a 'perfect victim' and there are many pre-conceptions that need to be challenged. We know, for example, that domestic abuse occurs in all walks of life and is often under reported, sometimes due to issues around fear, intimidation, and shame, but I would urge victims to come forward as they will be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve. I am also clear that we need to consider the implications of our decisions to prosecute, such as working with the police to ensure that victims have the support to leave home on a temporary or permanent basis or that the offender leaves the home, and that they are not prevented from doing so because their abuser controls everything, including finances."

Prosecutors are also being urged to consider situations when victims can be put at risk of further abuse, including starting a new relationship; disclosure of an individual's sexual orientation; moving to a new home or job; pregnancy or loss of pregnancy; and loss of employment.

Alison Saunders concluded: "The predicted increase in caseload should be welcomed as a sign that what used to be a "hidden shame" is now something that victims choose not suffer in silence, but there are still thousands of silent victims who should not be afraid to speak up about their abuse. These new guidelines will help ensure that our specialist prosecutors will handle these cases with the sensitivity, professionalism and expertise they deserve. Victims are right to place their trust in us and we will strive to repay that trust and bring the offenders, who carry the real shame, to justice."

Further additions to the guidance include:

  • Specific tools for identifying and tackling domestic abuse in BME and LGBT communities
  • Sections on "revenge porn" and how this behaviour can feature in domestic abuse cases
  • Encouraging police to take photos of injuries a few days after assault in order to capture vital evidence of bruising
  • Instructions on using bad character evidence in prosecutions to ensure the court understands the full history of a defendant's offending
  • Greater guidance on why complainants may retract or withdraw allegations and how prosecutors can consider use of other evidence to progress without the presence of the complainant
  • Recognition that some perpetrators may pose as victims of abuse and the need to work closely with the police to identify the primary aggressor, without making any assumptions or applying any preconceptions based on the individuals involved.
  • Sections on immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers
  • Improved guidance on disability issues
  • Separate sections on both male and female victims with reference to interpersonal and familial abuse
  • Improved guidance on child to parent violence and domestic abuse; teenage relationship abuse and abuse of older victims
  • Sections on non-molestation orders and restraining orders

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women's Aid, said: "We warmly welcome the publication of this guidance, which has a good understanding of the complexities of coercive control and includes guidelines on dealing with 'revenge porn', which is an increasing form of abuse. We also welcome more information on online abuse, which is another way that perpetrators can track and control their victims. As with all domestic violence guidance, ongoing specialist training is required to ensure that it is used to its full potential, such as the training provided by our National Training Centre, and we would be willing to work jointly with CPS in the delivery of such training.

"Better guidance and an increase in prosecutions means more justice for survivors, which in turn will mean that more women feel able to disclose abuse in the future and take legal action against the perpetrator."


The draft guidance was published in May 2014 for consultation that closed on 9 July. It comes into force today (30 December).

The consultation was preceded by a large stakeholder meeting, hosted by the CPS and chaired by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP); discussions at the meeting were used to inform some parts of the revised guidance. The meeting was attended by police, lawyers, academics, victims' representatives and experts, and other stakeholders with an interest or expertise in domestic abuse and abuse issues. The meeting was widely welcomed as an opportunity to discuss how the CPS can make informed improvements to the revised guidance to be issued.


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 CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three national casework divisions: Specialist Fraud (formerly Central Fraud and Welfare, Rural & Health Divisions), Special Crime & Counter Terrorism and Organised Crime. CPS Direct is a 'virtual' 14th Area which provides charging decisions to all police forces and other investigators across England and Wales - it operates twenty-four hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
  3. At 31 March 2014 we employed a workforce of approximately 6237 staff (full time equivalent), including around 2226 prosecutors and 3629 caseworkers and administrators. Further information can be found on our website:
  4. 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.