Sufferers of domestic violence are able to seek help through the civil courts by seeking a non-molestation order, providing they are considered associated persons within the meaning of s.62(3) Family Law Act 1996. Such injunctions can be sought ex-parte (without notice to the respondent) and can provide the victim with almost immediate protection. Where granted, most injunctions are usually in place for a year, but can be extended where there are grounds to do so.
Alternatively, victims can seek help through the criminal courts. Once arrested and charged, the police can impose bail conditions which prohibit the defendant from contacting the victim up until the trial has concluded. Beyond trial, if the victim is concerned that the aggressor is still likely to continue their conduct, (and they have provided a ‘victim impact statement’) then the court can impose a restraining order, if it considers it necessary. Restraining orders can be imposed on conviction AND on acquittal.
In recent years the government has acknowledged that a large number of victims withdraw their statements, or simply fail to cooperate with the police and do not end up giving evidence against former partners even where the matter proceeds to trial.
In an attempt to secure convictions in cases of domestic violence where the victim is unwilling to cooperate, the CPS is encouraged to consider whether it is necessary to summons the victim to Court to give evidence. Whilst this can secure the victims attendance, it does not ensure that they will give evidence against their former partner. In cases where the victim has made a call to the police or to the ambulance service at the time of the incident or very shortly after then the crown can seek to rely on this evidence, under the principle of Res Gestae, even where the victim refuses to come to court to give evidence, see R v Barnaby  EWHC 232.
Where suffers of domestic violence call the police but do not wish to provide a statement and press charges, the police can issue a Domestic violence protection notice (‘DVPN’). A DVPN is the initial notice of immediate emergency protection that is issued by a police force and requires the abuser to leave the property immediately. A DVPN acts as a summons and requires the defendant to attend the designated magistrates court within 48 hours where the police will apply for a domestic Violence Protection Order (‘DVPO’). If granted such an order may be made between 14-28 days.
Notwithstanding the current practices in place in to help those suffering from domestic abuse, there are still many unreported cases of domestic abuse in the UK every day.
On the 8th March 2016, to mark International Women’s Day, the government announced a new £80 million strategy to prevent violence against women and girls. The new strategy looks at devising ways of helping suffers of domestic violence before it happens and providing further help to those already suffering to prevent entrenched attitudes and beliefs. The strategy acknowledges the wider social implications facing suffers of domestic violence, and encourages local authorities to provide support in the form of refuges and other specialist accommodation, as well as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Forced Marriage Units.
With the help of new technology, including body worn cameras and GPS tracking it is hoped there will be sufficient independent evidence to secure convictions even in cases where victims are unwilling to cooperate.
The new Violence Against Women and Girls Service Transformation Fund comes into effect in 2017. Follow this LINK to access the full report.