The police and criminal justice

The issue

The criminal justice system is a critical part of the national response to domestic abuse, and we often hear from victims and survivors about the poor response they receive from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the courts.

While the number of victims of domestic abuse coming forward to the police has increased, the Commissioner is concerned that charge and conviction rates for domestic abuse have dropped significantly since 2016, and remain unacceptably low. Vital protections such as Clare’s Law and domestic abuse protection orders are applied and policed inconsistently – leaving a patchwork for victims. In turn, revelations of horrendous abuse perpetrated by serving police officers have left victim trust in the police at an all time low.

The vision

A trusted and accountable criminal justice system, which provides a just, safe, competent and transparent response for all victims and survivors of domestic abuse, and an informed and proportionate response to perpetrators.

The Commissioner’s work

A key priority for the Domestic Abuse Commissioner is to ensure victims and survivors of domestic abuse are protected and supported when they report to the police – and perpetrators of domestic abuse are held accountable by the justice system.

The Domestic Abuse Commissioner meets regularly with stakeholders in government and across every stage of the criminal justice system – including the National Police Chiefs Council, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Police and Probation Inspectorates, the Head of Probation, and the courts, as well as Police and Crime Commissioners locally and individual forces – to ensure these agencies do everything they can to better protect victims and survivors. We also work regularly with domestic abuse services at a national and local level, victims and survivors, academics and other experts to ensure this evidence closely informs our work to recommend and drive forward change.

The Commissioner’s research team is working to ensure we have better evidence of victims’ experiences at every stage through the criminal justice system, from reporting to the police through to sentencing decisions and offender management – to help us understand why we have such low charge and conviction rates, and to drive end-to-end improvements in the system. In policing particularly, the Commissioner is calling for the Home Office to urgently halt new counting rules, which may be causing a reduction in the number of domestic abuse crimes counted nationally.

The Commissioner is also highlighting the vital role played by specialist domestic abuse advocates, who work alongside the police and support victims and survivors through their criminal justice journey. The Commissioner is also working to identify and promote the best practice in holding perpetrators of domestic abuse accountable and changing their behaviour. The Commissioner will also focus on how the role of Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts and wider problem-solving courts models can better support victims, through a coordinated community response.

Perpetrators of domestic abuse and sexual violence should have no place in the police. The Commissioner is calling for a robust response to police perpetrators, including through the Criminal Justice Bill, so that victims and survivors can feel safe to report crimes. The Commissioner is also raising concerns about new measures to reduce the number of people sent to prison on short sentences, included in the Sentencing Bill. The Commissioner is calling for an exemption so that victims and survivors of domestic abuse are not put at risk by these reforms.

If you are a victim or survivor of domestic abuse who has written to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to share your perspective on the police or any other criminal justice agency, your email will be read by the Commissioner’s team and used anonymously as a key part of this work to drive policy and practice change for all those subject to domestic abuse.

Recent work

The Criminal Justice Bill
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner has written a briefing for MPs, calling for amendments to strengthen the Criminal Justice Bill so that police-perpetrated domestic abuse is robustly tackled. Read the Commissioner’s briefing for the Criminal Justice Bill here.

The Sentencing Bill
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is concerned that new measures in the Sentencing Bill to reduce the number of prisoners on short sentences could leave victims of domestic abuse at risk. Read the Commissioner’s briefing for the Sentencing Bill here.

New police counting rules
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner is concerned that changes to the way that police count domestic abuse are downplaying number of domestic abuse reports to the police. Read the Commissioner’s briefing on the counting rules here.

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