New figures from 31 police forces across England and Wales show a fall in domestic violence actions with Suffolk Constabulary recording 239 fewer prosecutions, a 37% drop.
The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information, show significant variations in levels of prosecutions across forces with more than half recording a fall in domestic violence prosecutions.
Neighbouring Norfolk saw 159 fewer prosecutions, a drop of 21%.
Overall, 2,820 fewer people were charged with domestic violence offences in the first half of 2016 compared with that same period in 2015 – reversing previous years’ trends.
Emma Pearmaine, Director of Family Services at Simpson Millar has actively campaigned on the issue of domestic violence since 2012. She is concerned that the fall in prosecutions might not be a positive sign but rather a symptom of a cash-strapped support system.
She said: “For several years we have seen a steady rise in domestic violence prosecutions which was largely attributed to an increase in public awareness and a change in the attitude within police forces to pro-actively tackle these cases. It is rather idealistic or hopeful to assume that we are witnessing a society-wide fall in instances of domestic violence, regardless of how much I wish that was true.”
Emma suggests that legal aid cuts are starting to filter through in terms of the number of people who have access to legal advice. She explains: “A cut in the legal aid budget has had a negative impact on the level of access people have to legal advice; this could now be having serious implications for abuse victims.
“My team of family lawyers and I always advise victims of domestic abuse to report it to the Police – even when it is a matter of coercive control and not yet physical violence. But in the past 12 months we have seen a marked fall in those cases which is reflected in the latest police statistics – with some regions showing a particularly significant drop in prosecutions.
“In some police authority areas, the number of prosecutions has fallen by over a third from one year to the next. We urgently need to understand why this might be to make sure victims are not suffering in silence.”
Emma, who is also Chair of domestic violence charity, Corporate Alliance, adds: “If there is a problem we need to resolve it and make sure the Police have the tools they need to bring perpetrators to justice and protect victims. It could be that some forces would benefit from additional awareness and training in how to spot the signs of domestic violence.”
Emma added: “Victims of domestic violence need to know that they can come forward and ask for help from either the Police, their lawyer or other support agencies for help. But I fear that fewer people now feel and understand that help is within reach.
“For women aged 15-44, domestic violence is the single greatest cause of injury and illness and we need to make sure that the law is being applied so that they can live without fear and harassment.”