Domestic violence and domestic abuse in themselves are not criminal offences. But many types of conduct associated with them are criminal offences.
The main forms are making a threat to kill, physical assault, sexual assault, rape, false imprisonment, coercive control, criminal damage, theft, fraud, harassment and stalking. So-called honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation can also be included.
Victims have the right to be protected under criminal law if their partner has shown any of those behaviours. A perpetrator is at risk of being charged through the legal system.
Once police have been called to an incident of domestic violence or abuse, a priority is to protect everyone present from injury or further harm, with a focus on the safety and well-being of the complainant and any children.
Officers can use their powers to arrest the perpetrator if they feel it is justified; they do not need permission from the injured party. Warrants are not required when officers suspect someone has or is about to commit an arrestable offence.
An alleged abuser can be held for up to 24 hours, or 36 hours at weekends, before police need to charge them.
The police also have powers to serve a Domestic Violence Protection Notice (DVPN) on someone who presents an ongoing risk of violence. Initially lasting for 48 hours, the order can be extended up to 28 days by magistrates granting a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO). The measures require the abusive partner to leave the premises and not contact the victim.
After the initial incident, police will gather evidence, such as photos of damage or injuries and statements from any witnesses, to build up a prosecution case without having to rely solely on what a victim is saying.
The police are obliged to follow set Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) guidance before charging someone with any offence. With serious cases, the decision to charge has to be referred to the CPS.
It is also up to the CPS if someone is then prosecuted and the service’s lawyers have to decide if the evidence is strong enough to justify proceeding. The severity of the charge determines whether the subsequent case is heard in a magistrates’ court or crown court.
For its part, the CPS says it is committed to taking all practicable steps to help victims of domestic abuse or violence through the often-difficult experience of becoming involved in the criminal justice system.
The CPS has developed what it describes as a proactive approach which includes looking at how strong cases can be presented at court without a victim having to attend, such as use of technology like police body-worn video footage and recordings of 999 calls.
The service also cautions: “It recognises that there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ victim.”
The Sentencing Council prefaces its guidance by stating: “Care should be taken to avoid stereotypical assumptions regarding domestic abuse”, and goes on to point out it can occur between all genders, ethnicities, sexualities, ages, disabilities, religion or beliefs and socio-economic backgrounds, and between family members as well as between intimate partners.
While a major purpose of criminal law is to punish an offender, the civil law can also be used to protect victims of abuse. To help someone survive life after domestic violence, or to keep them safe from non-criminal forms of abuse such as verbal, emotional, psychological or financial, there are three orders, a civil Court can impose: