UK: Not Yet Ratified the EU Convention Combating VAW + Accusations of Failure to Adequately Protect Victims of Domestic Abuse & Sexual Violence
Date: April 11, 2019
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has submitted a super-complaint to a national watchdog which accuses the police of a ‘systemic failure’ to protect a ‘highly vulnerable section’ of the population ( Getty )
The Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) has submitted a super-complaint to a national watchdog which accuses the police of a “systemic failure” to protect a “highly vulnerable section” of the population.
The complaint to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services makes four key claims that focus on bail for rape suspects and failures linked to non-molestation, domestic violence and restraint orders. ogah Ofer, a solicitor at the CWJ who prepared the super-complaint, said police units dealing with domestic abuse and sexual offences are “chronically under-resourced” and police guidance, training and supervision needs to be improved.
“There are a whole range of measures in law to protect women that are not being used,” she said. “There is a problem around the understanding of domestic abuse and the culture of police.”
“I don’t think the domestic abuse bill is going to address these problems. If it carries on like this, it will not be used. Passing new laws is not addressing the current problem.”
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.
Frontline services say increasing numbers of women have been withdrawing their decision to press charges against abusive partners since the law had changed, Ms Ofer said.
She said this was the result of perpetrators being able to get in touch with victims and potentially harass or threaten them due to no longer being restricted by bail conditions.
“This is particularly true for cases of coercive control,” she added. “The change is leaving women exposed.”
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 domestic violence protection orders 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.
Harriet Wistrich, founding director of the CWJ and award-winning human rights lawyer, said: “As reported last week, in one in five women murdered by a partner had previous police contact. This is the ultimate, potentially preventable and shocking consequence of a failing system.”
A domestic violence victim from London, who campaigners spoke to, said she was repeatedly contacted by her ex-partner immediately after bail was lifted while he was still under investigation for assaults and attempted rape.
“I have been petrified of leaving my home and unable to continue leading my everyday life as I am scared that my ex will try to contact me again,” she said.
The complaint, which looks at the reasons why police are not using legal powers at their disposal, is only the second super-complaint to be submitted since the new system was introduced in November 2018.
The super-complaint system, which covers all police forces in England and Wales, 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.