Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary note submitted by Mr David Calvert-Smith, QC, following the evidence session on 26 February 2002

  When I appeared on 26 February, I agreed to provide further information on guidance on domestic violence. In response to Mr Watson's question:

    Q 88  "Can I draw to your attention the Home Office Circular 60/90 which directs police forces to liaise with Chief Crown Prosecutors in this area (of DV)? What we are trying to look for is, if that is not taking place, if there is not consistency of aims, that you have got a framework in place with which you can identify that problem and deal with it as there seems to be something falling through the net here".

  I would make the following comments.

  Home Office Circular 60/90 was replaced by HOC 19/2000. The CPS had some input to the drafting of the new circular, which provides guidance to Chief Constables on tackling domestic violence. The guidance includes:

    (a)  the observation that the police cannot tackle domestic violence alone but must work with other agencies, including the CPS;

    (b)  a cross-reference to CPS policy on domestic violence;

    (c)  advice to police forces to liaise with CPS Area Chief Crown Prosecutors "when formulating policy, to ensure consistency of aims and approach" and that CPS/Police Joint Performance Management meetings provide an ideal forum to resolve issues relating to file preparation and timeliness; and

    (d)  advice to produce Police/CPS service level agreements on domestic violence cases.

  The revised CPS Guidance expressly refers to HOC 19/2000 and, for ease of reference, reproduces it in full as an Annex. Both the CPS Policy statement on prosecuting domestic violence cases and the supplementary CPS Guidance promote inter-agency working. The Guidance specifically commends regular and effective communication with the police and suggests that from time to time, common systems and local inter-agency initiatives should be reviewed with the police (para 1.10).

  Many CPS Areas already have CPS/police protocols or, as a result of the revised CPS policy, are currently involved in drafting new agreements. This is one of the issues to be discussed at the CPS National DV Co-ordinators' conference (24 June 2002); the Solicitor General and I will be attending). Examples of existing protocols have already been exchanged between Co-ordinators Areas over the past nine months but some updating may now be necessary to reflect developments, for example: the national roll out of the CPS Direct Communication with Victims initiative and the introduction of Victim Personal statements.

  CPS National DV Co-ordinators—since November 2001, each CPS Area has a national Co-ordinator for domestic violence issues. Through this network Co-ordinators can identify issues/trends, address problems and promote good practice in relation to domestic violence cases thereby improving CPS and police performance at local and national level.

  The CPS is also engaged at national and local levels with police training to help under-pin joint working.

  Sir Robin Auld's report of his Review of the Criminal Courts (published October 2001) recommended that there should be a shift in responsibility for the charging decision from the police to the CPS. Specifically, Sir Robin recommended that the CPS take responsibility for the charging decision in all but minor routine cases of where a holding charge was required (recommendation 154). Both the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation have welcomed the broad thrust of this recommendation. In essence, the recommendation proposes that the CPS should be engaged with cases pre-charge to help ensure cases are properly prepared and prosecuted. The potential advantages with this are to reduce delay and wasted police/CPS/court resources, raise the quality of prosecutions, better management of victim expectation and better protection of defendant rights. The CPS sees this as an opportunity for early weeding out of cases that should not be prosecuted (insufficient evidence or not in the public interest) and for feeding in more of the right cases. This latter aspect is particularly significant in respect of domestic violence cases. There is a significant attrition rate between cases that come to the attention of the police and the far fewer number of cases passed-on to the CPS. We believe that with the early involvement of the CPS, giving advice on evidence and charging, the attribution rate for domestic violence cases could be reduced. With support from the trilateral criminal justice Ministers, the CPS and ACPO have established a pilot to test the practicalities of Sir Robin's recommendation. Whilst it is early days there are positive signs that the pilot will show that Sir Robin's recommendation can have a positive effect on the attrition rate generally.

  Finally Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate proposes to conduct a thematic inspection of domestic violence cases in 2003.

June 2002

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