The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has released their annual review on violence against women and girls. Sarah Evans, Partner at Coodes Solicitors, comments on the findings.
The Violence Against Women and Girls report analyses the prosecution performance in a broad range of offences including domestic abuse, rape, sexual offences and stalking.
The latest figures in the report are extremely concerning and shows worrying trends in many areas, including an 8.2% reduction in the number of suspects being referred to the CPS by the Police as compared to the previous year.
Even though the reporting of domestic abuse has increased by nearly 90% since 2014, there has been a decline in the arrest rate since 2017.
This highlights the difficulties victims of abuse can face when they finally find the courage to report the abuse and are later let down by the Justice System. This issue is very real and all too familiar to me. I have had a number of cases where the victims have reported incidents to the Police, but have been told there is a lack of evidence or that it amounts to one person’s word against the other. This has left them feeling as though it has not been taken seriously. Worryingly, this has been the case even where there has been evidence of physical injury.
I do of course appreciate that the Police often find themselves in a difficult position where they are trying to do the best they can in a tough situation. As these are often ‘hidden crimes’ with no impartial witnesses, securing convictions can be extremely difficult.
The drop in convictions
Whilst it is positive that the conviction rate for domestic abuse cases in Devon and Cornwall is one of the highest in the UK at 84.8%, the report shows an overall decrease in cases going to CPS and suspects being prosecuted.
Particularly alarmingly, there is a growing gap between the number of crimes recorded and the number of cases going to court in relation to rape and sexual assault. This is a 27% drop from last year. As well as this, only around 3% of all reported rape cases end in conviction. These are the lowest figures for any year since records have been compiled.
There has also been a decrease of 9.2% in pre-charge decisions completed by the CPS and a 13.2% drop in charges being brought by the CPS.
These figures are devastating, particularly as the number of people killed in domestic related incidents in the UK last year rose to 173 deaths, 32 more than 2017. This is the highest level in five years.
More needs to be done to support victims of domestic abuse
Sadly, many victims still suffer in silence and I am concerned that not enough is being done to support victims of domestic violence. We are trapped in a vicious cycle where often victims see little point in reporting further abuse where previous reports have not resulted in an arrest or conviction. However, the harsh reality is that quite often there are not enough resources available.
Many victims have felt they have not been appropriately supported or listened to and I believe it would be beneficial to have more specially-trained police officers dealing with such sensitive cases.
The report highlights room for improvement in a number of key areas with the priority being for the CPS to continue to work with the Government around the eagerly anticipated Domestic Abuse Bill. There is an urgent necessity for the Bill to be enacted, which will include greater powers to bring perpetrators of abuse to justice and transform the response within the justice system. The Government has also committed to providing new and additional training for police, social workers and probation staff to help them recognise and appropriately tackle abuse, which I very much welcome.
Where can I go to for support in Cornwall?
I work closely with some fantastic Independent Domestic Violence Advisors (IDVA) and organisations who provide support and advice to victims of abuse across Devon and Cornwall. Their work is essential in ensuring victims get the appropriate help they need. Please see my previous blog for more information on local services.
At Coodes Solicitors we have a number of specialists in domestic abuse and are on hand to support clients to obtain Non-Molestation or Occupation Orders if required. We hold a Legal Aid contract and will always offer a free legal aid assessment for those who may be eligible.
If you have been affected by any of these issues please contact our Family Team on 0800 328 3282 or firstname.lastname@example.org