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A duty to protect

Police use of protective measures in cases involving violence against women and girls

HMICFRS’s report published on 24 August 2021, following a super-complaint made by the Centre for Women’s Justice

Executive summary 

Following a joint investigation by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (‘HMICFRS’), the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the College of Policing report has been published that found there were good examples of the police using their powers to protect women and girls from domestic violence. However, the report also found that there was a lack of understanding within police forces over how and when to use protective measures, which means support for victims is sometimes not good enough.

Background

In March 2019, the Centre for Women’s Justice made a super-complaint to HMICFRS highlighting their concern that the police were failing to utilise the full extent of the tools at their disposal to protect women and girls from domestic violence; specifically:

  • Pre-charge bail
  • Non-molestation orders
  • Domestic Violence Protection Notices (‘DVPNs’) and Domestic Violence Protection Orders (‘DVPOs’)
  • Restraining orders

HMICFRS consulted with 37 police forces, discussed the matter with experts and reviewed available information and found the following:

  • There has been a dramatic fall in the use of bail in rape, domestic abuse and harassment and stalking cases, and a corresponding increase in the use of ‘released under investigation’.
  • Despite an increase in the number of non-molestation orders being issued and an increase in the reports of those orders being breached, there has been a decrease in the number of offenders being sentenced for any breach.
  • More than half of the 37 forces consulted found DVPNs to be time-consuming, complicated, bureaucratic and difficult. In those forces, use of DVPNs tended to be falling. However, in forces where use of the DVPN/DVPO was high, officers understood DVPNs and there was an embedded process supported by a legal team.
  • 32 of the police forces routinely considered asking the CPS to apply for a restraining order in domestic abuse cases.

As a result, the report made fifteen recommendations directed to the Police, Home Office and Ministry of Justice including:

  • Chief Constables should ensure their officers understand all the protective measures available.
  • Chief Constables should review and, if necessary, refresh their policy on how the force processes notifications of non-molestation orders, so officers can easily identify if a non-molestation order exists.
  • Chief Constables should review and, if necessary, refresh their policy on DVPNs and DVPOs to prioritise their effective use and monitor accordingly.
  • Chief Constables should consider what legal support they need to use protective measures and secure this support.
  • Chief Constables should assure themselves that their officers are fully supported in carrying out their duties to protect all vulnerable domestic abuse victims.
  • The NPCC should consider whether regional or national legal (or other) expertise could be made available, so forces can easily access specialist support and can maximise efficiency and consistency.

Comment

Making sure women and girls are properly protected isn’t a matter for the police alone. It requires a multi-agency approach tailored by the local police force and locally available services. However, the police do have a variety of tools available and it is important that they are used as widely as possible to ensure there is the best level of protection afforded to those who are exposed to domestic violence.

Weightmans assist police forces with applications for DVPOs and Stalking Protection Orders. Since their introduction, Weightmans have secured in excess of 2,500 DVPOs and 150 Stalking Protection Orders.

Weightmans help with the following:-

  • DVPO process design and implementation
  • Tried and tested workflows that are straightforward and quick
  • Officer/Superintendent Training (video/in-person/live/recorded/on demand)
  • Performance dashboards
  • Automated data collection and data reporting
  • Victim hotspot mapping – to visually show under use
  • Simplified court fee payment processing and fixed legal spend
  • Bundle prep or checking
  • Court advocacy

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