Criminal justice system takes over the burden of dealing with domestic abuse

family law

“It’s a domestic – we don’t get involved in domestics.”

That, or something very similar, would have been the response of most police officers called to a domestic abuse incident back in the 1980s, when I began practising. The police weren’t interested, leaving victims of domestic abuse to seek their own remedies, through the civil courts.

How times have changed. Victims can still seek their own remedies, but nowadays the police, and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), take a rather different attitude to the issue of domestic abuse.

The change was evidenced this week, with the publication of the tenth annual edition of the CPS’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) report, for 2016-17. Obviously, much of the content of the report does not relate directly to family matters, but there are a number of statistics that are of particular interest.

Firstly, the report tells us that in 2016-17 domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences accounted for 19.3 per cent of the CPS’s total caseload. This is up from just 7.1 per cent in 2007-08, a very significant increase. And of that 19.3 per cent, more than 80 per cent of those crimes were domestic abuse related. In short, domestic abuse crimes have risen from what was probably an insignificantly small percentage of the caseload of the CPS when it began operating in 1986 to nearly a sixth of its caseload now.

In terms of numbers, there were 70,853 convictions for domestic abuse related offences in 2016-17, up from 43,977 in 2007-08. Even accounting for repeat offenders, that is by any account a large number of people being punished for domestic abuse, surely sending out a clear message that society will not tolerate such crimes – in clear contrast to the situation back in the 1980s.

By way of comparison, the number of applications to the civil (i.e. family) courts for non-molestation and occupation orders over the last year (July 2016 – June 2017) was 24,160, with a total of 26,475 orders being made (non-molestation and occupation orders being counted separately). In other words, the burden of dealing with domestic abuse has moved from the civil to the criminal courts. Whereas previously it was virtually a matter exclusively for the civil courts, now it is primarily a matter for the criminal courts.

The CPS report is not all good news, though. The report shows a decrease in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions compared with 2015-16, following a two-year fall in referrals of domestic abuse from the police to the CPS.  The CPS say that ‘cross-governmental work with the police is underway to address this fall’.

Leaving that point aside, the question must be: is it a good thing that domestic abuse is now primarily being dealt with by the criminal justice system?

Personally, I think the answer is ‘yes’, for two main reasons.

Firstly, as mentioned above, it sends out a clear message to potential abusers: society will not tolerate your actions. What was once swept under the carpet is now out in the open: domestic abuse is a crime. This must surely be the ultimate way to deter anyone from abusing their partner, and one would hope that it will ultimately result in a significant reduction in the incidence of domestic abuse.

The second reason is a point I have raised here before. Back in January 2015 I said this:

“When I was practising I was always worried that a domestic violence injunction was just a piece of paper and that, unlike the presence of a police officer or two, it was unlikely to deter the determined abuser. Hopefully, the full involvement of the police and the criminal justice system will help to discourage abusers and reduce the scourge of domestic violence.”

Let us hope that this turns out to be the case, that abusers are discouraged and that victims are better protected.

The VAWG report can be found here. And for those wishing to make the point yes, men and boys are also victims of violence, as I have often pointed out here previously.

Photo by Øyvind Wahl via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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14 comments

Mr T - October 12, 2017 at 4:44pm

When the courts are biased – this is absolutely not a good thing!

When it’s so easy for a pathological liar to manipulate the courts by applying for non-molestation orders to cover up their own abusive behaviour – again, no.

This is just making things ten times worse.

Adding more ingredients or changing the cooking tray doesn’t make an edible cake. When the ingredients are wrong in the first instance because they have no cooking training it’s simply not going to work.

There are loads of reasons why this isn’t good the primary one being, an untrained judiciary isn’t going to solve anything. Some of these high conflict cases need alienation, mental health or abuse specialists. Judges, just like social workers, police etc. Have no mental health, alienation or abusive behaviour training so with that in mind ask yourself how is this better?

For the majority sure it’ll be fine. For the high conflict cases, it simply doesn’t work. It’s yet another feeble attempt at a sticking plaster for a problem that is trying to be plastered over.

Mr T - October 12, 2017 at 4:48pm

Proving my point straight out of the gate is the name of the report: “Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG)” Why is it still called this???

Blatantly sexist this whole thing. It’s yet another scheme to leech money of working dads to pay for solicitors and barristers. It’s a disgusting broken system that makes money from misery and abuse at the expense of people’s rights and even children’s mental health and lives in some cases.

How are you happy to back a report named this as a man? Stand up for yours and men’s rights!

Paul - October 12, 2017 at 5:56pm

These are not real cases of DV they are breaches of orders resulting in a manufactured crime. Real cases of DV will not even make a tiny portion of that. The real cases of DV the effected party will not dare to make a complaint.
Pat yourself on the back for this absurd statistic. Just like conservatives with their in work statistics. Your just glossing over bullshit. Storing big issues for future generations. Watch rhis space. This surge of injustice will have a negative impact.
I-ll never trust or help a police officer again. Their is gonna be a whole generation who feel just as strongly. Wait an see…

Stitchedup - October 12, 2017 at 7:09pm

“manufactured crime” well put Paul, that’s exactly what it is. Our justice system is completely screwed. It doesn’t even attempt to deliver justice anymore, it’s all about politics and social engineering. God help us!!

Mr T - October 13, 2017 at 10:00am

Totally agree with both.

Stitchedup - October 12, 2017 at 6:38pm

“The CPS report is not all good news, though. The report shows a decrease in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions compared with 2015-16, following a two-year fall in referrals of domestic abuse from the police to the CPS. The CPS say that ‘cross-governmental work with the police is underway to address this fall’”
So what are they going to do, reduce the burden of proof even further?? Find other ways to get men into the criminal justice system via the backdoor? Why are falls in the number of prosecutions and convictions seen as a bad thing? Surely it’s a good thing!! Men are not even entitled to voice an opinion any more for fear of being labelled controlling or abusive… It’s a pity you haven’t broken down the stats to understand just how many of the so called crimes were harmless breaches of dodgy non-mols secured on the basis of no evidence!!! You mentioned occupation orders, well we all know how was it is for a woman to secure one hand in hand with a bogus non-mol. Why is this a good thing John… It’s abhorrent and causes massive bad feeling and untold damage to families and children… For god sake, wake up and smell the coffee, you’re living in la la land!!! Spouting off outdated politically correct feminist mantra! Most probably most of these cases have not involved any domestic violence /abuse whatsoever, just benign breaches of orders that should never have been made, in other words, men being convicted for actions that would not normally be considered criminal.
(*Comment moderated)

Stitchedup - October 13, 2017 at 8:18am

An alternative title for this article… “family courts burden the criminal justice system with bogus allegations of domestic abuse”. Do you really think a policeman entered the force so that he could arrest fathers for posting Christmas cards through the letter box for his children, texting to say they’re to be late for a contact handover, or voicing an opinion about the sale of the family home!!?? Surely they have better things to do??

Stitchedup - October 13, 2017 at 8:31am

The fact that there has been a decrease in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions would back up what I’ve said above. Most likely a very high proportion of domestic abuse allegations are trivial or not backed up with any evidence. The easy targets are the breaches of non mols, particularly benign breaches where the accused genuinely believes he has not done anything unreasonable and/or feels he has, what most commonsensical people would consider, reasonable excuse. Unfortunately our district judges and indoctrinated magistrates do not appear to be commonsensical. Most such cases are deliberately put in front of a district judge so that he/she can make an example and notch the conviction targets up, as you’ve quite clearly corroborated in your article above. Many of of these cases would be laughed out of court if heard by a jury of peers.

Stitchedup - October 13, 2017 at 10:04am

Oh, and I note we have the quintessential picture of a man’s clenched fist to accompany this article. Why can’t we have a picture of some Christmas cards or a text saying “sorry, I’m caught in traffic”. Perhaps one day we may even see the contorted face of a violent woman raising her hand to a man.

Mr T - October 13, 2017 at 10:26am

I’d prefer a child being taken away by a grinning mother grasping out their arm as daddy gets carted away by the police would be a lot more appropriate.

Cameron Paterson - October 13, 2017 at 11:52am

Mr T - October 13, 2017 at 11:59am

We know Cameron we’ve read it. But the situation remains the same. The courts are sexist. They are prosecuting innocent people (mainly men) every day. It’s this that needs to stop asap! The abusers that don’t throw things and kick. punch and bite are the worst ones! Why? Because they hide behind pathological lies. They manipulate the police, courts, judiciary to continue their campaign of psychological and emotional abuse LEGALLY for years afterwards.

Mr T - October 13, 2017 at 12:57pm

To be honest I’ve just re-read it. It is a good, reasonably fair but not based on (first hand experience) article.

I think the issue here is publicity and challenging perceptions. If you actually look into DV or DA whatever you want to call it, hell we’ve even got the gender friendly IPV \ IPA now (Intimate Partner Violence \ Abuse) but if you actually dig into the detail it’s about 50/50 then add on the 40% of men that don’t report it who probably just leave or neither report it and THAT is what genuinely concerns me.

Catrina - October 14, 2017 at 6:04pm

DV. Invented by wives and if proven, will get them legal aid. No wonder that proscecutions are down, as thank goodness, the CPS and police, sometimes see through the wife’s lies. However the wife will continue to lay the accusations in front of barristers, judges, solicitors, with the results that the husband financially ends up in the gutter. Husband earning net£4000 pm, has no further assets except debts due to children contact court case, interim maintenance court, and financial settlement. Wife’s legal costs paid by her well off father. Wife not working since marriage, will not, perfectly capable, despite having financial responsibilty for her children. Children 10, 15, 17. Case before final settlement April 2018, she wants 100% of net value of house (approx £650,000. Maintenance from husbamd until he is 65!! At FDR judge suggested she gets85% of net value of house. How can this be justice. Unfair, biased, husband worked his socks off during marriage and ends up with a large morgage and she gets a mortgage free house. So wrong! In the whole of Europe the split is 50/50. We should learn from them and have a fairer justice system

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