“For women aged 15-44, domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury and illness and we need to make sure that the law is being applied so that they can live without fear and harassment.”
New figures from 31 Police forces across England and Wales show a fall in domestic violence prosecutions with some regions recording dramatically fewer prosecutions.
The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information, show significant variations in levels of prosecutions across forces. Overall, 2,820 fewer people were charged with domestic violence offences in the first half of 2016 compared with that same period in 2015 – reversing previous years’ trends.
More than half of participating police forces saw a fall in domestic violence prosecutions with the ones seeing the biggest percentage drop in numbers being Leicestershire Police (-46%), Hampshire Constabulary (-42%), Suffolk Constabulary (-37%), Greater Manchester Police (-30%), Nottinghamshire Police (-28%) and Lancashire Constabulary (-24%). By contrast, Hertfordshire Constabulary, West Mercia Police and Northumbria Police all showed an increase in prosecutions into the hundreds, with Northamptonshire Police recording a 52% rise.
For several years we have seen a steady rise in domestic violence prosecutions which was largely attributed to an increase in public awareness and a change in the attitude within police forces to pro-actively tackle these cases. It is rather idealistic or hopeful to assume that we are witnessing a society-wide fall in instances of domestic violence, regardless of how much I wish that was true.
As a Solicitor practicing in Family Law I can see that legal aid cuts are starting to filter through in terms of the number of people who have access to legal advice. A cut in the legal aid budget has had a negative impact on the level of access people have to legal advice; this could now be having serious implications for abuse victims.
My team of family lawyers and I always advise victims of domestic abuse to report it to the Police – even when it is a matter of coercive control and not yet physical violence. But in the past 12 months we have seen a marked fall in those cases which is reflected in the latest police statistics – with some regions showing a particularly significant drop in prosecutions.
In some police authority areas, the number of prosecutions has fallen by over a third from one year to the next. We urgently need to understand why this might be to make sure victims are not suffering in silence.
If there is a problem, we need to resolve it and make sure the Police have the tools they need to bring perpetrators to justice and protect victims. It could be that some forces would benefit from additional awareness and training in how to spot the signs of domestic violence. The Corporate Alliance has recently been working with The Lancashire Police Force to ensure that victims of domestic violence know that they can come forward and ask for help from either the Police, their lawyer or other support agencies for help.