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Domestic Violence: Prosecutions

Volume 671: debated on Thursday 13 February 2020

2. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the effectiveness of the CPS in prosecuting cases involving domestic violence. (900798)

Domestic abuse offences are horrific crimes that can have long-lasting traumatic effects on victims. It is of the utmost importance that victims are provided with robust protection to protect them from repeat offending. The Crown Prosecution Service is committed to prosecuting these crimes and ensuring victims are supported. That is why the CPS led the implementation of a national domestic abuse best practice framework for magistrates court cases in 2019. The framework provides a holistic approach, going further than the criminal justice system and ensuring consistent good practice by all agencies.

Nearly three quarters of a million domestic abuse-related cases were recorded in total—a rise of almost a quarter on the previous year. What is the Attorney General doing to combat that and to ensure that many more cases are prosecuted?

I thank the hon. Lady for raising this important issue. In 2007-08, offences involving violence against women and girls accounted for 7.1% of CPS case load. The figure is now 17%, but I very much accept that more work needs to be done. There has been a rise of over 8% in prosecutions for crimes of violence against women and girls, and the conviction rate has risen—it is now 78.2%. However, I agree that more needs to be done, and it will be.

In the year to March 2019, which is the last year for which we have a full set of statistics, the number of domestic abuse incidents and crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales increased by over 118,000 on the previous year. However, over the same period, police referrals to the CPS fell by 11%. What are the Government going to do about that?

The Government are working very hard in this area. In fact, I have personally dealt with a case in the Court of Appeal, trying to get the sentence raised on a domestic violence rape. However, I understand that the reduction in the number of suspects charged, together with the falling charge rate, is a cause for concern. We await the findings of what the hon. Gentleman knows is the cross-Government review of the criminal justice system’s response to this matter, but the report by Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate identifies a number of relevant issues, and I urge him to have a look at it.

The statistics show that 2.1 million people experienced domestic violence over this period—1.4 million women and 700,000 men. There is also this shocking disparity between the number of incidents and the number of subjects charged. The Solicitor General talks about there being a cause for concern and about reviews, but surely, given the scale of the problem, we need action now.

Action is being taken now. CPS policy on charging these matters, including on the charging of rape, has not changed. The code test has not changed; it still applies to all cases, no matter how minor, no matter how serious. Prosecutors do not apply a bookmaker’s test on this. They do not try to second-guess the jury. Where there is sufficient evidence to prosecute, they do, and they will. The CPS will not hesitate to do that.

My constituent Chloe was held captive by her former partner for several months, but she found the time waiting for her abuser’s trial almost as traumatic. Does the Solicitor General agree that if we are to expect the survivors of domestic abuse and violence to have the bravery to come forward, they need to be confident that they will get the support they need at this horrific time?

Yes, it is very important that they have the maximum support. Delay is always undesirable. I might add that, in an inspection into domestic abuse cases that was published only a few weeks ago, inspectors noted that CPS prosecutors had applied the code correctly in 100% of cases they examined.

The recent criminal justice joint inspection report noted that

“the domestic abuse caseload for both the CPS and the police has increased by 88% against the backdrop of a 25% reduction in police and CPS funding.”

This is leaving staff stretched and facing difficult decisions. Will the Solicitor General pursue the Chancellor for the resources necessary so that decisions are made according to public interest, rather than budgetary pressures?

These decisions are always made according to public interest and not to budgetary pressures. As I have mentioned before, the Treasury has already supplied £85 million more to the CPS, which is a very welcome sum and will be well spent.