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The criminal justice system is failing to respond to domestic abuse
Report from Advance presents an evidence-based approach to improving the criminal justice system's response to domestic abuse.

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Her Story, Her Justice

A new (27 February 2024) publication from Advance ‘Her Story, Her Justice’ examines how the criminal justice system fails to respond to survivors of domestic abuse and details how the system could work better to secure more arrests, prosecutions, and convictions of perpetrators. This new report explores the vital role played by Criminal Justice Independent Domestic Abuse Advocates (CJ IDVAs) who specialise in supporting victim/survivors through the criminal justice process, as well as the need for Specialist Domestic Abuse Courts (SDACs).

Context

It is estimated that 2.1 million people experienced domestic abuse in England and Wales in the year ending March 2023. Despite legislative and policy progress made in recent years, the data tells a different story – prosecutions in 2023 represented just 5% of reported domestic abuse-related crimes (51,288 prosecutions; 889,918 reported
crimes). Five years ago, the proportion of prosecutions was nearly 15% of all crimes (89,091 prosecutions; 599,549 reported crimes).

Reports of domestic abuse-related crimes have increased markedly but the system has not responded to address this. On the contrary, the response has deteriorated drastically with reports of domestic abuse crimes increasing by 48% and prosecutions reducing by 42% in 5 years.

Evidence shows this is due to a lack of strategic prioritisation, insufficient allocation of resources, and pressures driven by capacity including loss of specialisms in justice agencies, all exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis.

The whole justice approach

Working as part of the Coordinated Community Response, Advance’s Whole Justice Approach aims to improve prosecutions and convictions of abuse by working jointly with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the courts, and the prison services, supporting both professionals and victim/survivors as domestic abuse cases progress through the system.

This approach includes access to SDACs and support from CJ IDVAs throughout the whole criminal justice process: from reporting to investigation, trial, and posttrial, and offers evidence-based solutions to at least some of the problems with the criminal justice process.

Analysis of Advance data shows that when the system works, outcomes for victim/survivors are markedly improved – we have seen a 51% increase in the proportion of arrests leading to charges and a 16% decrease in the proportion of unsuccessful cases based on “victim and witness evidential issues”. There has also been a 34% increase in convictions of domestic abuse cases in the boroughs where Advance facilitates the Whole Justice Approach.

Yet despite the positive impact of this approach and decades of evidence from frontline services, there continues to be a failure to make effective services available to women everywhere.

Recommendations

Advance calls on the Government and criminal justice agencies including the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, and the courts, to invest in the Whole Justice Approach, both financially and strategically in order to:

  • improve access for victim/ survivors to life-saving community-based support
    services and protection
  • increase confidence in the system
  • increase the rate of convictions.

It sets out a number of specific recommendations organised under three headings:

  1. Victims/Survivors’ rights and support
  2. Building trust in the criminal justice system 
  3. Transparent and accountable criminal justice processes and practices

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