Thursday, April 10, 2014

Domestic Science

For many years neither the police nor the courts took domestic violence as as seriously as we do today. There was an underlying assumption that a man (usually a man) had a right to beat his wife, and old-time police were quite accustomed to turning up at a domestic incident only for both parties to turn on the officers.

All magistrates have now been trained in DV issues, as have the CPS and the police, and the resultant cases form a large part of our workload. There seems to be a higher proportion of not guilty pleas as cases are often a matter of  'he said, she said'. which can be tricky for a court to sort out. There is also a good proportion of withdrawn complaints. A screaming late night row including blows being struck can bring a police visit, but in the morning when the booze and the adrenalin have worn off the victim may well go back to the police to make a withdrawal statement. Such cases are now looked at carefully, and the CPS may go ahead using the statement made at the time, but that is not always a certain solution.

Recently we saw a case in which the victim had to be coached by our excellent Witness Care people before she would  even come to court, and when she finally took her place behind the screens that we had provided, she simply said "I don't want to give evidence". What do we do then?

The lady solved our problem by failing to return from the lunch break, when the CPS threw in their hand.

One person who saw this case asked me why we didn't proceed against the lady for contempt. I didn't answer directly, but my expression probably gave a clue. Not a chance as far as I am concerned.

16 comments:

  1. Can you elaborate on why there is no chance you would find her in contempt? Obviously, one can understand her position, but I'm not sure the guy's next partner would be so understanding.

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  2. I am not the man to make someone a victim twice over. If she is unwilling to speak in court (as are so many people) that is a shame, but I cannot see myself using the flat-footed majesty of the law in an attempt to compel her. And if we did, what would be the value of her evidence?

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    1. True, but it would send a message that, once you have agreed to go to court, you are wrong to then withdraw that agreement to give evidence. This would perhaps reduce the number of these and save time and money overall.

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  3. I’m a little disconcerted by the word ‘coached’

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    1. Yes, my mistake, as I had meant to write 'coaxed'. I was at the end of a long day driving from the Somme to home via the Tunnel, with a 75-minute delay on the M25. Sorry.

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  4. Its about time the hysteria surounding this was put to one side. If there has been an allegation of a bit of trouble and there is no obvious reason it seems barmy to me to make a crime of it, especially if the so called vistim doesn't want anything further done.

    Making such a person a victim twice is just bonkers and in my view not what the justice system is about.

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  5. "What do we do then?" - 'nothing' is never an acceptable option for the police or CPS when it comes to the inevitable media dissection of DV cases so why should it be for the courts?

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  6. Having been to many domestics,I have come to the conclusion that unless some real injuries are caused, it is better for the Police to act purely as peacemakers and try to take the heat out of the situation. Easier said than done when drink and/or drugs are involved.I have been attacked by both parties when trying my diplomatic skills.

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  7. I have never been a victim of DV.

    My husband was with a partner for a number of years who subjected him to DV. This included, amongst other things, serious stabbing wounds. He was told by nurses at the hospital where he was treated that he must report the abuse. He was too ashamed to do so. Eventually his (female) partner was sectioned.

    I have a friend whose partner reported him for DV regularly. The police would attend and arrest him. The following day she withdrew the allegation. She got an injunction to keep him away. The following day she invited him home, and then called the police for the breach. Repeatedly over a number of years.

    DV is a very complex issue. Straightforward offence - arrest - conviction does not work. There needs to be some form of intervention that understands the complexities and deals with the underlying situation. Not something that the criminal justice system can do.

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    1. Most magistrates will agree. We take cases as they come day by day.

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    2. My thoughts entirely. I work in a domestic violence unit at a very busy London station. We probably process 10 prisoners a day and a similar number of 'non-crime' domestics (usually a row where either one party or a neighbour has called the police, but no criminal offences have been committed). The vast majority of my victims don't want to go to court. What they want is for the violence to stop. The criminal justice system is, in my opinion, the very worst and least effective means of stopping it. It is slow, cumbersome and completely ineffectual. What they need is help to get away from their abusive partner, child etc (the definition of domestic violence is far wider than just between partners). They need counselling and support. What they don't need are two lawyers arguing in a courtroom.

      Our borough will only rehouse victims of violence, not perpetrators, so violent offspring invariably end up back at home and the whole problem starts again. There are some, rare, cases where a victim needs to be moved to somewhere where their partner cannot find them, Fortunately, not many because finding a place in a refuge is next to impossible. Mostly, one partner or child needs to be taken away from the home and given somewhere else to live. Of course there are not enough flats, houses or even hostel places... I could go on and on.

      Suffice it to say, the domestic violence posting has been the most miserable one I have had to undertake. I can safely say that I have helped nobody at all because the help they want is not in my power to give.

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  8. And does it do any good?

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  9. Solution: give the victim notice that unless they give evidence, no further free treatment on the NHS. Next time they get beaten, they have to handle the outcomes themselves.

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  10. If they don't come to court, they don't come to court.

    If the CPS ask to use the statement on the grounds that she is in fear, ask when it was made and does it say "I am willing to attend court and give evidence" - it invariably does.

    Then ask what the evidence is that she is in fear now if she was not then. If there have been no allegations of breach of bail that should be the end of it. Dismiss the application; no evidence will be offered; charge dismissed. Do NOT buy the argument that "She is not here because she is in fear, and she must be in fear because she is not here" - that is circular.

    It's not ideal, but the c.j.s. does not have all the answers.

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  11. Proceeding against someone for contempt in a magistrates court is fraught with difficulties. Take this case, the witness has vanished - an order can be issued for her to be brought before the court - it is unlikely she will be found and returned that day so the substantive case cannot carry on. Later, she can be brought before a bench (unlikely to be the same bench) and asked to purge her contempt. She must have legal advice. If she apologises sincerely the bench have to release her. Will the CPS retry the substantive case ab initio? no chance. If she refused to purge her contempt, the matter has to be tried - possibly before a third bench or a DJ. If found guilty, she faces maximum a month in jail (ie two weeks) or max £2500 fine. In the meantime, the original matter has long been forgotten. The fundamental problem is that contempt is really a tool for the higher courts where judges can act on their own motion. In the magistrates courts it is a statutory process with all the safeguards and delays of that process.

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