Domestic Abuse: Policy Statement
- About the CPS
- How we review evidence and make decisions
- Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Strategy
- CPS Commitment to Victims of Domestic Abuse
- Communicating with and engaging victims of Domestic Abuse
- Tackling Domestic Abuse
- Policy Statement Review and Evaluation
This policy statement sets out how the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) addresses domestic abuse and our commitment to doing so. It reaffirms our ambition to increase the volume of domestic abuse prosecutions and improve criminal justice outcomes for victims whilst focusing on casework quality. It will be of most interest to those who support victims of domestic abuse, whether professionally or personally, members of the public, or those working within the criminal justice system with a shared commitment to addressing domestic abuse.
Domestic abuse consistently represents a third of all crime received by the CPS and almost 20% of our casework. However, in recent years we have seen a year-on-year fall in the number of referrals of domestic abuse cases from the police to the CPS. During this period the charge rate has remained steady at over 70%, but the volume of cases charged has fallen in line with referrals. We recognise this is a cause for concern and are working across the criminal justice system and with victim support groups to understand and address this through this policy.
The CPS’ ambition is to secure justice in every possible domestic abuse case. As the principal prosecution service for England and Wales, we want to make sure that all victims, irrespective of background or circumstance, see justice done.
There are some 2.3 million victims of domestic abuse a year aged 16 to 74 (approximately two-thirds of whom are women and one third of whom are men) and more than one in ten of all offences recorded by the police are domestic abuse related. We aim to help victims understand how they will be supported if they come forward to report domestic abuse and their case is passed on to us by the police.
When reading this information, ‘victim’ is used to describe someone against whom an offence has been committed. It is important to note that when a victim is involved in a case, they are the ‘complainant’ or ‘witness’ and this is how we refer to them in our work; the term ‘survivor’ might also be used – but within this document, for ease, we refer to ‘the victim’. A ‘suspect’ is someone who the CPS is considering charging. A ‘defendant’ is someone who has been charged by the CPS. An ‘offender’ is someone who has carried out a crime or has admitted it or been found guilty.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 creates, for the first time, a cross-government statutory definition of domestic abuse, to ensure that domestic abuse is properly understood, considered unacceptable and actively challenged across statutory agencies and in public attitudes.
Domestic abuse cases are amongst the highest priority work in the criminal justice system. They are regarded as serious offences by the CPS with victims being automatically entitled to an enhanced service. The safety of victims, both adults and children, in addition to the suspect’s accountability is important when prosecuting cases of domestic abuse.
Whilst there is no specific offence of ‘domestic abuse', the term can be applied to a number of offences committed in a domestic environment. The domestic nature of the offending behaviour is an aggravating factor to an offence because of the abuse of trust involved. Victims will know and often live with, or have lived with, the offender. There may therefore be a continuing threat to the victim's safety, and in the worst cases a threat to their life or the lives of others around them. We also recognise the interconnection between domestic abuse and other Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) strands including so-called honour-based abuse and rape and acknowledge the additional complexities this can create.
Domestic abuse can result in lasting trauma for victims and their extended families, especially children and young people. The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 makes clear that children who see or hear or experience the effects of domestic abuse involving someone with parental responsibility for them (either the victim or the perpetrator) are themselves victims of domestic abuse. Often, when people hear the term ‘domestic abuse’ they picture acts of physical violence, but there are more subtle forms of behaviour that are equally harmful. Since 2015, the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour within a relationship has been illegal in England and Wales. While this abuse takes many forms, it typically involves manipulation, humiliation, intimidation, and isolation to control and instil fear in victims – leaving untold emotional scars.
The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 extended the definition of abusive behaviour to also include economic, psychological, and emotional abuse.
This abuse has no place in our society.
We want to help victims to understand what constitutes domestic abuse and controlling or coercive behaviour – and warn offenders such behaviour may be a crime that will not be tolerated.
The CPS is responsible for making sure the right person is prosecuted for the right offence. We are part of the criminal justice system and work in partnership with other agencies and people within it, including the police, the courts, defence lawyers, the Witness Service, and prisons services. Although we work closely with the police, we are independent of each other. We are answerable to Parliament through the Attorney General.
- Decides which cases are prosecuted
- Determines the appropriate charges
- Advises the police in the early stages of investigations in more serious cases
- Prepares cases and presents them at court
- Provides information, assistance and support to victims and prosecution witnesses
We build strong partnerships across the criminal justice system (CJS) and cross-government to drive improvements, both in our own work and through support for our partners, to encourage more people to come forward to seek redress through the criminal justice system, to bring offenders to justice and safeguard victims.
We work closely with the police to build the best possible cases as quickly as possible. The police are responsible for investigating reports of domestic abuse or gathering evidence. The police do not send every complaint of a criminal offence to us.
Where the police think there is enough evidence to support an allegation of domestic abuse and that it is in the public interest to prosecute the suspect, they refer the case to the CPS. Charging decisions in domestic abuse cases are made by the CPS, not the police. However, in some exceptional circumstances the police may decide to offer a caution for a lower-level domestic abuse case if it involves a summary or either way offence (a criminal offence that can be heard in either the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court), but not if it is indictable only (a criminal offence that can only be heard in the Crown Court). The police can also consult and seek ‘early advice’ from us from the beginning of an investigation to build and strengthen a case.
Not every complaint of domestic abuse is referred to the CPS for a charging decision; however, we are determined to see more offenders brought to justice and will work hard with criminal justice partners to increase the number of victims for whom we can secure justice. When a case is received, we will not hesitate to prosecute whenever our legal test is met.
When deciding whether to charge a criminal case, our prosecutors must follow the Code for Crown Prosecutors (the Code) in applying the law. The CPS considers the full facts of the offending behaviour, relevant background, and history. We look at all cases that are sent to us and every decision we make is based on the following two-stage test:
Stage 1 – The evidential stage - Does the evidence provide a ‘realistic prospect of conviction’? This means that having looked at all the evidence, we think that a court is more likely than not to find the defendant guilty. All decisions we make must be fair, objective, and independent, based on the facts and merits of each individual case.
Stage 2 – The public interest stage - If the case passes the evidential stage, we must decide whether it is in the ‘public interest’ to charge. This means asking questions including how serious the offence was, the harm caused, the impact on communities, and whether a prosecution is the right response.
Given the seriousness of domestic abuse offending, a prosecution will normally be required when the evidential requirements under the Code are met.
Within our domestic abuse legal guidance, there is information to challenge myths and stereotypes and to raise awareness of the impact domestic abuse has on certain groups, including the additional barriers to reporting or supporting a domestic abuse prosecution. This enables our prosecutors to build strong cases based on the evidence within the case and not on preconceived judgements
If a prosecutor makes a decision not to prosecute, the victim has a right to request that the decision is reviewed through the CPS Victims’ Right to Review scheme.
The CPS is committed to strong leadership in addressing domestic abuse. Every member of staff involved in the prosecution process is accountable for reinforcing our ambition to secure justice in every possible domestic abuse case.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), supported by CPS senior leaders, is committed to building strong partnerships and robust working relationships to lead improvements on domestic abuse across the whole criminal justice system.
Our senior leaders take proactive steps to address this high priority work. The Director of Legal Services and Director of Strategy and Policy are responsible, and accountable to the DPP, for the delivery of the Domestic Abuse programme, ensuring it responds to the evolving nature of domestic abuse to deliver justice. To build on this commitment, the CPS has a highly experienced Chief Crown Prosecutor as our national Domestic Abuse Champion. The role is dedicated to offering expertise to promote continuous improvement and promote our strategic vision for addressing domestic abuse throughout our organisation and with our stakeholders.
Domestic Abuse is part of the overarching Violence Against Women and Girls strategy to address crimes that have been identified as being committed primarily, but not exclusively, by men against women. While we use the term ‘violence against women and girls’ throughout this policy statement, this refers to all victims of domestic abuse.
Prevalence studies of domestic abuse evidence the disproportionate experience that women have of domestic abuse; however, we do also see cases where trans or non-binary individuals and men are victims, and cases where victims are children. The CPS recognises the experience of male victims and its distressing impact on them. This is affirmed in the Public Statement on Male Victims for crimes covered by the VAWG Strategy.
The CPS has in place guidance and advice for our prosecutors to ensure all victims are supported without any generalisations or stereotyping. The CPS applies its policies fairly to all victims, irrespective of gender, or sexual orientation, in accordance with the Code, and we are committed to securing justice for all victims.
The CPS is committed to taking all possible steps to help victims through the often-difficult experience of becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
Wherever there is an identifiable victim, the CPS will follow the commitment given in the Prosecutors' Pledge. The pledge outlines what you can expect the CPS to do if you are a victim or member of a victim’s family.
To support victims and build public confidence and trust, it is critical that we better explain the role of the CPS, how and why we make decisions, and what support is available for victims. The more the public understands our role and trusts in the decisions we make, the more likely they are to report abuse, support prosecutions as victims or witnesses, and engage with the criminal justice process. We are committed to working jointly with criminal justice and third sector partners to increase the number of domestic abuse prosecutions and improve outcomes for victims. Victims who are engaged in the process are often key in us successfully presenting cases in court, and ultimately securing justice.
On our website there is detailed information about the support available to victims and witnesses and our commitment to them, including information on how we prosecute domestic abuse cases. We recognise that not all victims are the same, and some victims may face multiple barriers when accessing the criminal justice system, for example, disability, sexuality, or race.
We are committed to supporting all victims.
Victims can be supported by Independent Domestic Violence Advisers (IDVAs) or other support services who provide emotional and practical help. You do not have to make a report to the police to receive help. See the following page for more information: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-abuse-how-to-get-help#get-help-and-support.
At a local level, our Inclusion and Community Engagement Managers work directly with communities to build confidence and promote the use of local information to ensure good quality decision-making. This insight shapes and informs our policies, legal guidance, and casework strategy.
The CPS will tackle domestic abuse by:
Joint working, at local and national levels. Addressing these persistent crimes requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach. We will work with partners across the criminal justice system, across government, and with victims’ groups to achieve justice in every viable domestic abuse case and to support victims.
Delivering on the Domestic Abuse delivery programme, which sets out our work to translate policy changes into operational change. It is underpinned by a commitment to prioritise referrals and joint working to increase the volume of domestic abuse prosecutions. 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.
Domestic Abuse Legal Guidance for our prosecutors sets out how they should apply the Code for Crown Prosecutors, to ensure that decisions are fair, transparent, and consistent when considering any offences that fall within the definition of domestic abuse and promotes evidence-led prosecutions throughout. The guidance assists prosecutors with decision making by helping them to identify, understand, and respond to the needs of victims. This includes information to address and challenge myths and stereotypes, or to understand victim behaviour which prosecutors may come across in their casework.
To assist with investigations or in providing information to victims, our legal guidance and the government’s Domestic Abuse Statutory Guidance may be helpful for the police, support services and other agencies within the criminal justice system. That is because they explain our role and how we consider, charge, and prosecute domestic abuse cases.
Taking a suspect-centric and evidence-led approach to case building, which involves looking closely at the actions of the suspect before, during, and after an alleged offence. We will advise investigators to pursue reasonable lines of enquiry. This may include an analysis of the suspect’s digital communications, analysis of their behaviour from CCTV or statements from third parties who may have knowledge of the parties or had disclosures made to them. This approach is conducive to building the strongest case possible whilst ensuring that the investigation is fair.
Supporting victims and witnesses to give their best evidence. Giving evidence at trial can feel daunting for anyone. Some victims may find it difficult to give evidence in the sight of the defendant. We can ask the judge to put in certain adjustments – called special measures – which aim to make victims and witnesses feel more comfortable in giving evidence in court. Victims of domestic abuse are automatically eligible for special measures, examples include giving evidence through a TV link, video recorded evidence, evidence given in private (this is when members of the public are not allowed in the courtroom), screens, examination through an intermediary or use of communication aids.
Our prosecutors can help vulnerable or intimidated victims and witnesses access a variety of these adjustments depending on what they and the prosecution team feel will help them the most – it is a victim’s right to decide whether special measures could help them give evidence. Many areas have Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts to deal with such cases.
We will continue to work closely with IDVAs and other support services who can provide professional support, advice, and help for victims of domestic abuse.
Safeguarding victims by applying for protective orders, such as restraining orders, or new Domestic Abuse Protection Orders, being introduced by the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, to improve the safety of victims of domestic abuse. We will swiftly prosecute those who breach such orders wherever our legal test is met.
Developing the Domestic Abuse Best Practice 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 other support services, and in-court services to improve wraparound support and deploy highly trained staff in magistrates’ courts.
The core principles of the best practice framework include a clear multi-agency approach that addresses risk management, safeguarding, and that 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.
Revising our approach to training on domestic abuse by using prosecutorial insight to shape and inform training. We will also incorporate in our training experience from outside the CPS to ensure that our learning and development offer benefits from external insight. There is a range of training courses available to CPS staff, such as training on trauma, evidence-led prosecutions, and special measures . We will continue to expand and invest in our staff learning and development so we can equip our people with the skills, tools, and support they need to respond to the evolving nature of domestic abuse.
Developing our understanding of equalities in domestic abuse cases by deepening our understanding of issues experienced by different groups and communities to access justice. We will work with our stakeholders to learn from their expertise and experience. We will use this insight to shape and inform our revised training programme, including addressing myths and stereotypes, and increasing our understanding of the needs of victims from different groups , communities, and cultures.
Monitoring the impact of this policy through the governance of the Domestic Abuse Steering Group, a cross-departmental group with responsibility for domestic abuse, to ensure commitments are developed, enacted, and implemented as we intend. This includes monitoring how policy changes have translated into operational change to increase the volume and quality of domestic abuse prosecutions. A key responsibility is scrutinising performance - by better understanding our domestic abuse data, we will identify where we can enhance expertise on the frontline and provide a better experience for victims and witnesses.
The Steering Group ensures we build and coordinate our relationships with external stakeholders to deliver better policy development and casework outcomes.
We will review the effectiveness of this statement on a biennial basis. To ensure continuous improvement, we will make the necessary amendments to this policy to address any changes in legislation, best practice, or operational issues.
The impact of this policy and Domestic Abuse programme is monitored through the CPS Business Plan and evaluated through the Domestic Abuse Steering Group.