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‘Time for forces nationwide to judge our pilot scheme’

Study praise comes as policing accused of ‘systemic failure’ to protect victims

A regional pilot scheme to speed up domestic abuse investigations through the courts has been hailed a national game changer on the day campaigners accused police of "a systemic failure" to protect victims.

The Thames Valley force today called for a UK-wide rollout of its collaborative project after a university-led research report claimed there was potential for better safeguarding and protection from future abuse.

The force worked closely with Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service to improve efficiency by decreasing the time in which domestic abuse cases are listed to be heard at Aylesbury Crown Court.

Both victims and offenders were asked their views for a study written by Dr John Synnott and Dr Maria Ioannau, from Huddersfield University.

It is estimated that domestic abuse affected two million adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales in the year ending March 2018.

Thames Valley head of criminal justice Superintendent Katy Barrow-Grint said: “The report on the pilot demonstrated that the efficient managing of cases which has taken place, results in a high number of guilty pleas.

“This lessens the impact upon the victim who otherwise would have to go through the process of a trial and helps them to engage with the process.

“Speed is essential in domestic abuse investigation, not only ensuring justice for victims is achieved, but that safeguarding is completed and victims are protected from future abuse.

“By working more closely with our partner agencies, the pilot at Aylesbury Crown Court is proving effective at delivering justice for those who have been subjected to these devastating crimes.”

And she added: “The findings of the report will be shared nationally in the hope the positive impact the pilot scheme has had may be replicated on a national level.”

Thames Valley deputy PCC Matthew Barber, whose office jointly commissioned the report, said: “This pilot demonstrates how a new approach to case management can help protect victims of domestic abuse and bring offenders to justice.

“It is an excellent example of partnership working, the results of which I hope will be looked at nationally.”

During the trial period the report examined, from October 2016 to November 2018, a total of 153 cases of domestic abuse were subject to the protocol.

Some 59 of the 153 cases met the criteria for fast tracking and of these cases more than 83 per cent resulted in a guilty plea. On average it took eight days between a person being charged and their first court hearing.

Praise for the project also came from the study report authors.

Senior lecturer Dr Synnott said: “Attrition rates in domestic abuse nationally are a serious concern and any efforts that try to tackle this and contribute to victim wellbeing following incidents must be applauded.

“The current pilot protocol has shown itself to be a great success and our evaluation of its effectiveness found that this related to the complete buy in and tireless work from all partners across Thames Valley Police, the Crown Prosecution Service and Aylesbury Crown Court.”

Dr Ioannau, reader in investigative psychology and co-director of the Secure Societies Institute at the university, added: “Our evaluation supports this unique approach to case management due to the positive impact we found it to have overall and we recommend in our report that this should be formalised and implemented nationally.”

Meanwhile, forces across the country found themselves under attack from a damning document compiled by the Centre for Women's Justice in only the second super-complaint made to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services.

It claims forces are failing to use existing powers to deal with domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and rape.

Its complaint to HMICFRS makes four key claims that focus on bail for rape suspects and failures linked to non-molestation, domestic violence and restraint orders.

The document says: "Centre for Women's Justice has become concerned that the various legal measures intended to provide protection to women are not being applied properly on the ground.

"This super-complaint addresses four legal powers available to the police in detail and explores the extent to which, and the reasons why, they are not being used adequately.

"When all the failures are taken cumulatively, CWJ believes that there is a systemic failure to meet the state's duty to safeguard a highly vulnerable section of the population."

The campaigners, who gathered information from 11 frontline services, claim that most rape suspects are now released without bail conditions, meaning they are left unsupervised.

One sexual violence survivors service said that of 120 active cases, only five suspects were on bail.

Changes to the law in April 2017 mean that suspects can only be released on bail for a maximum of 28 days, which in practice means many are instead released "under investigation", where no conditions can be imposed.

The complaint also alleges that police treat breaches of non-molestation orders – civil orders made by the family court – as a "trivial matter", even though breaking them attracts a maximum five-year jail term.

It claims that domestic violence protection notices and orders, another way of restricting contact with a victim but that can be pursued without their evidence or support, are rarely used.

In the year to March 2018, there were more than 500,000 domestic abuse crimes recorded, but only 5,600 DVPOs were applied for, the CWJ said.

It also claims that police and prosecutors often overlook the chance to apply for a restraint order at the end of criminal proceedings.

Nogah Ofer, the solicitor from CWJ who prepared the super-complaint, said: "The system is currently failing women.

"We call on the police inspectorate, and the other police oversight bodies, to put protection of women at the top of their agenda and take robust action to ensure that all the various legal powers that exist are actually used in practice.

"Police units dealing with domestic abuse and sexual offences are chronically under-resourced, and police guidance, training and supervision all need to be improved."

The super-complaint system, which covers all police forces in England and Wales and was launched in November, allows organisations to raise concerns on behalf of the public and confront systemic issues.

It was first used in December by human rights campaign groups Liberty and Southall Black Sisters over the "potentially unlawful" police practice of sharing data on crime victims with Home Office immigration officials.

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