His Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has published a new report highlighting the flaws in the Crown Prosecution Service’s (CPS) handling of domestic abuse cases.
HMCPSI inspectors noted there were “areas for improvement” to ensure domestic abuse victims receive a better service from the CPS and stronger cases are getting to court.
The report identifies that there needs to be consistent consideration at an early stage of all relevant information.
This includes information provided on police risk assessments conducted with victims, and addressing whether cases can be progressed in cases of evidence-led prosecution.
A previous report in 2020 looked at whether the police and CPS built viable evidence-led prosecutions where appropriate, concluding that the handling of such prosecutions required improvement.
The findings from the current inspection indicate that evidence-led prosecution was not properly considered in over half of all pre-charge cases considered, a drop in performance from the 2019/20 inspection. However, there was an improvement in consideration of evidence led prosecution in reviews after charge.
HMCPSI has recommended the CPS improves key aspects of the quality of casework, provides better support, protection and engagement with victims, and delivers training to improve prosecutors’ knowledge and understanding of the impact of trauma on victims.
The report does, however, recognise that domestic abuse is a priority area for the CPS. Indeed, inspectors found that the CPS has committed resources, training, and support to secure justice for victims.
The report also acknowledges the CPS is working closely with the police on a joint plan to improve handling of domestic abuse cases and improve victim experience, highlighting what needs to be done locally and nationally.
“An estimated 2.4 million adults suffered from domestic abuse in the year ending March 2022 and domestic abuse accounts for almost 13% of the CPS’s overall caseload,” said HMCPSI’s Chief Inspector Andrew Cayley, adding:
“It is a prevalent crime in our society and women and children are disproportionately the victims.
It is right that we have made a rigorous assessment of how the CPS is performing in its prosecution of domestic abuse so that victims and the public can have confidence in the CPS’s approach to prosecuting cases of domestic abuse.
Our inspection found that there is excellent work being carried out by dedicated and passionate CPS prosecutors and staff. But our report also shines a light on improvements that need to be made to ensure domestic abuse victims and survivors are properly supported and that outcomes improve.”
Kate Brown, Chief Crown Prosecutor and national lead for domestic abuse at the CPS, said:
“Domestic abuse is a priority for us – we recognise there is more work to be done and want to give victims confidence that we’re committed to securing justice in as many cases as we can.
We are working collaboratively with the police on domestic abuse cases […] We are developing joint actions with police to drive improvements in our collective handling of domestic abuse cases so we can better meet the needs of victims.”
Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs expressed concern at the “worrying trends” highlighted in the report such as falling prosecutions, failure to meet disclosure standards in nearly half of cases, and the majority of cases not meeting the standard for risk assessments:
“The CPS must address these issues as a matter of urgency if they genuinely want to improve their track record on domestic abuse prosecutions to deliver better outcomes for victims and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Lucy Hadley, head of policy at Women’s Aid said:
“Despite commitment to prioritise domestic abuse, serious issues remain with how prosecutors respond to survivors. The court process is traumatic for survivors of abuse and it is vital that all agencies within the justice system respond effectively to reduce this burden.
Reporting abuse to the police and supporting a prosecution is a time of significant risk to survivors. Yet the issues with communication, support and protection from the CPS to survivors uncovered in this report show that far too often their safety is not prioritised in this process.”
Hadley welcomed the recommendations for prosecutors to have consistent trauma training, though said “major gaps” remain in the provision of specialist advocacy services for survivors, highlighting the importance of “by and for” support services being sustainably commissioned and funded locally as a matter of policy.