Many prosecutions take place when alleged victims do not want to support them. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service are aware of the many reasons for such lack of support and particularly in cases where the allegations relate to domestic violence. Often a victim may feel a prosecution will make things worse. They may fear a future without their partner due to other reasons such as care for children or financial dependency.
The difficult task for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service is deciding when to intervene to try to protect those individuals even if they do not want or think such protection is needed. Experience shows that sometimes, when there is no intervention, matters can escalate resulting in more danger or harm. The Office for National Statistics released a report on homicide (13th February 2020) and contained the following points:
- The number of female victims increased from 220 to 241 (up 10%); the second consecutive annual increase and the highest number since the year ending March 2006.
- Female victims (aged 16 years and over) were more likely to be killed by a partner / ex-partner (38%, 80 homicides), while male victims were more likely to be killed by a friend or acquaintance (27%, 105 homicides).
Mindful of what are seen as risks based upon statistical analysis and experience, it appears more likely today than ever before that a prosecution for a domestic violence related offence will be commenced even if the alleged victim does not wish to support it. As a former chief crown prosecutor recently commented, of 750,000 domestic abuse incidents, 75,000 resulted in prosecution and of those 75% were convicted. There were also more than 120 domestic homicides in the same year, which were prosecuted without the victim’s evidence. To summarise his view as to why the Crown Prosecution Service take such matters seriously, he suggested that "it’s to avoid the latter that prosecutors pursue the former.”
A prosecution can progress even if there is no support from a key witness or victim. However, there must be some evidence. Evidence can come from things said in the heat of the moment by one party or the other that can be recorded and later relied upon in a court trial. Recordings can be made by police officers writing down what they heard and repeating it in court. Body worn cameras (now common place) carried by police can record what the police see and hear when they arrive at an incident. Calls made to the emergency services can also be important evidence of not just what is alleged but sometimes what can be heard in the background.
What is most important is a thorough assessment of the evidence that is available – with or without the co-operation of the alleged victim. Each case must be considered very carefully on its own unique circumstances as to whether the public interest demands a prosecution. Decisions should not be made for or against a prosecution based upon the gender of the alleged victim. The obvious major difficulty is not knowing what the future will be. Such a future when looking at the statistics indicate the most terrible scenario can follow – that being when no action is taken and matters escalate, one or the other parties in a relationship can suffer even more serious harm or worse.
Of course when a prosecution is commenced, no matter what type of evidence is potentially available to put before a court, none of this means that any offence took place. The accused person may be entirely innocent. It is for the court to make those decisions having heard both the prosecution’s case and a properly prepared professionally advanced defence.
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