Measures to boost conviction rates in domestic violence cases which provide extra support to victims are to be adopted nationally by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Prosecution rates in some areas have improved by almost 10% using techniques developed in pilot projects over the past two years, including enabling witnesses to give evidence from behind screens.
The scheme’s rollout across England and Wales is being announced at a law enforcement conference in Birmingham on Tuesday ahead of Christmas and the new year which are traditionally the busiest periods for domestic violence.
On Christmas Day last year, CPS Direct, the prosecution department which liaises with police, took 592 calls from officers seeking charging decisions. At peak times, 68 calls an hour were received. On New Year’s Day last year, there were 914 calls from police seeking charging decisions. The call rate reached 76 an hour at its height.
Additional prosecutors, working from their homes, will be on duty on New Year’s Day this year to advise on charging decisions. Domestic violence accounts for the majority of CPS Direct’s workload over the holiday periods.
The new prosecution measures have been developed in CPS pilot projects in London, Nottingham and Yorkshire since 2016. They include:
Making sure victims can visit court before trial to familiarise themselves with surroundings.
Allowing victims, as long as the courts permit, to give evidence from behind a screen.
Providing separate courthouse entrances for victims and offenders where possible, as well as childcare facilities.
Better support from an independent domestic abuse advisor (IDVA) to support victims.
Known as the domestic abuse best practice framework, it is due to be introduced in domestic abuse courts across England and Wales from January.
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A recent report by the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Dame Vera Baird QC, highlighted the absence of IDVAs and inadequate training for staff as key problems that undermine the effectiveness of specialist domestic violence courts.
There has been a decline in the number of domestic abuse cases referred to the CPS by the police recently, a drop linked by many to problems of police resources. In 2017-18, there were 110,562 referrals flagged up by officers as being related to domestic abuse. The overwhelming majority of victims were women.
Kate Brown, who is chief crown prosecutor for CPS Direct and the CPS’s national lead for domestic abuse, said: “We are developing a clear multi-agency approach and ensuring that we have consistently trained staff.
“It’s always been the case that the guilty plea rate in domestic abuse cases is lower than in general crime because offenders hope that victims will not see the trial through. We want to see that [fallout rate] reduced by taking away the stress of the experience for victims.”
The CPS says its research demonstrates that a targeted approach provides victims of domestic abuse with better support through the criminal justice system and is having a significant impact on conviction rates, guilty pleas and reducing the number of cases that fail due to victim and witness reluctance to participate.
On its pilot programme in London, at Highbury court, the CPS’s four measures generated a 7.9% rise in the rate of early guilty pleas and an 8.2% rise in the overall conviction rate.
Another pilot in Nottingham achieved a 9.5% increase in the rate of convictions after trial. At the third site in Yorkshire, there was a 4.1% fall in the attrition rate of victims dropping out of prosecutions because they were unhappy with proceedings.
The conference in Birmingham will be attended by the new director of public prosecutions, Max Hill QC, the National Police Chiefs Council and HM Courts and Tribunals Service.
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