Domestic Violence Charges

Domestic Violence Charges

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.”

In guidance to magistrates and judges having to decide on offences related to domestic violence or abuse, the Sentencing Council makes it clear they are regarded as particularly serious within the criminal justice system.

The advisory body states: “The domestic context of the offending behaviour makes the offending more serious because it represents a violation of the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship. Additionally, there may be a continuing threat to the victim’s safety, and in the worst cases a threat to their life or the lives of others around them.”

Such cases are renowned for a victim withdrawing from the prosecution. But that does not indicate a lack of seriousness in the case “and no inference should be made regarding the lack of involvement of the victim,” the council added.

When deciding the sentence on the accused, the council says magistrates and judges should consider these aggravating factors:
  • Abuse of trust and abuse of power
  • The victim is particularly vulnerable
  • Steps taken to prevent the victim reporting an incident
  • Steps taken to prevent the victim obtaining assistance
  • Victim forced to leave home
  • Steps taken to exclude the offender from the home to ensure the victim’s safety
  • The impact on children
  • Using contact arrangements with a child to instigate an offence
  • A proven history of domestic violence or threats
  • A history of disobedience to court orders
While a general principle of sentencing is that a court will take account of an offender’s positive good character, the council makes it clear: “It is recognised that one of the factors that can allow domestic abuse to continue unnoticed for lengthy periods is the ability of the perpetrator to have a public and a private face.

“In respect of offences committed within a domestic context, an offender’s good character in relation to conduct outside these offences should generally be of no relevance where there is a proven pattern of behaviour.”

No stereotype

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.

Civil Law

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:

  • Non-molestation order – chiefly used to stop a perpetrator from attacking, intimidating, pestering or harassing their ex-partner and children. It is a criminal offence to break a non-molestation order.
  • Occupation order – these say who can reside in the family home. They are often applied to stop the abuser from living in the family home with the victim.
  • Prohibited steps order – Granted by courts when a person with parental responsibility for a child has taken that child away from their ex-partner, attempted to take the child or refused to return the child after contact.

By Fiona Bawden, Times Online (8th May 2007)

“Steve Connor, a student at City Law School, is a man on a mission. Six years ago he was a fairly directionless 27-year-old. Today, as well as taking the Bar Vocational Course, he is chairman of the National Centre for Domestic Violence, a ground-breaking organisation that he dragged into existence after a friend could not get legal help to protect her from an abusive partner.

Connor’s route to the Bar has been circuitous. In 2001 he returned from a year in Australia (he says that he would not dignify describing it as a gap year), and took a job as a process server in South London. The job (“I just saw it advertised in the paper”) was not quite as dull as it sounds. On one occasion he was threatened with a machete, on another, he was nearly stabbed by a man he had arranged to meet on Clapham Common to serve with a non-molestation order: “He’d seemed really friendly on the phone…”

The turning point in his life came when a friend, who was being abused by her partner, turned to him for support. Connor went with her to the police. She did not want to press criminal charges so the police suggested that she visit a solicitor to take out a civil injunction. “We must have seen 12 solicitors in a morning. We just went from one to the next to the next to the next. Everyone was very eager to help until we sat down to fill in the forms for the legal aid means test,” he says. The woman, who had a small child, did not qualify for public funding. But, Connor says, her financial situation as it appeared on paper did not bear any relation to her financial situation in reality. “She had a part-time job and she and her partner owned their home. Yet she didn’t have any money. Her boyfriend was very controlling and controlled all the money; he kept the chequebooks and didn’t let her have access to the bank account.”

The injustice of the situation got under Connor’s skin. “I just couldn’t believe that there was no help available to people who did not qualify for public funds but could not afford to pay.

I just kept feeling that this must be able to be sorted if only someone would address it.”That “someone” turned out to be him.

In 2002, thanks entirely to Connor’s doggedness, the London Centre for Domestic Violence was formed. It started out with him and a friend, but is now a national organisation, covering 27 counties, and has helped approximately 10,000 victims last year to take out injunctions against their partners.

NCDV now has nine full-time staff, 12 permanent volunteers and has trained over 5000 law and other students as McKenzie Friends to accompany unrepresented victims into court. We have also trained over 8000 police officers in civil remedies available regarding domestic violence. The National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) has branches in London, Guildford and Manchester and is on track to have branches in 16 areas within the next two years.

NCDV specialises exclusively in domestic violence work and could be characterised as a cross between McDonald’s and Claims Direct. The high degree of specialisation means that its processes are streamlined: clients can be seen quickly and the work is done speedily and cheaply. “Sometimes, we will have one of our trained McKenzie Friends at a court doing 10 applications in one day,” Connor says.

Clients are not charged for the service. NCDV staff take an initial statement: clients who qualify for legal aid are referred to a local firm; those that don’t get free help from the centre itself. It runs on a shoestring, heavily reliant on volunteers and capping staff salaries at £18,000 a year.

Steve expects to qualify as a barrister this summer and hopes that having a formal legal qualification will give the centre added clout. “We are already acknowledged as experts and consulted at a high level, so I thought it would be helpful if I could back that up by being able to say I’m a barrister,” he says. He is just about to complete a one-year full-time BVC course at the City Law School (formerly the Inns of Court Law School) and, all being well, should be called to the Bar in July. Although Connor sees his long-term future as a barrister, he says that he has no immediate plans to practise. “I want to get NCDV running on a fully national level. Then I may take a step back and have a career at the Bar.”