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Police and the Criminal Prosecution Process

Most forms of domestic abuse are criminal offences, and it is your right to contact the police and ask for help. You may also ask someone to contact them on your behalf.

The police are a 24 hour agency and they are your first port of call in emergency (dial 999).

Being assaulted, sexually abused, threatened or harassed by someone you know or live with is just as much a crime as violence from a stranger, and is often more dangerous.

What can the police do?

Once you have contacted them their first priority will be the safety and well-being of you and your children; they will do what is needed to protect you and anyone else present from injury or further harm.

Their role is to investigate – not to mediate, counsel or allocate blame by asking inappropriate questions.

If you call the police because you are experiencing domestic abuse, they should always give you the opportunity of being listened to and spoken to separately, away from your abuser.

You may also ask to be seen by a woman police officer (WPC).

If you need an interpreter, the police should provide you with one. They should never ask your children or other family members to interpret in cases of domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse should be treated every bit as seriously as an assault or threat from a stranger. Each police officer can use his/her powers to intervene, arrest, caution or charge an abuser.

The police should help and support you by:

  • Protecting you and your children.
  • Removing the risk of further violence – ideally by arresting and removing the perpetrator if there are sufficient grounds for doing so. They do not need to ask your permission to do this or insist on a statement first, although they will need to take a statement later.
  • Arranging first aid or other medical assistance (such as an ambulance).
  • Finding out what has happened, taking into account the known risk factors associated with domestic abuse.
  • Offering you support and reassurance.
  • Helping you to access other agencies (for example, West Cornwall Women’s Aid).
  • Arranging transport to a safe place, if you want this.

It is worth noting that the police do not need a warrant to arrest someone who they suspect is about to commit an arrestable offence, nor do they need to witness an assault. The abuser can then be held for up to 24 hours (or 36 hours at weekends) before they need to charge him/her.

If the perpetrator has left before the police arrive, the police should circulate a description and make every effort to find him/her. Officers should also gather alternative evidence (for example, photos of damage or injury) in order to charge and build a prosecution case that does not rely entirely on your statement.

They should ensure that you and your children are safe while they do this.

If you do call out the police, and they take action against your abuser, make sure you get a crime reference number and keep it safely as this may be helpful when you contact other agencies.

If your immigration status is insecure, a record of police attendance to an incident of domestic violence might form part of your case to apply for leave to remain in the UK.

What happens next?

If the police arrest your abuser, it can act as a deterrent against re-offending, at least for a short time. It can also demonstrate to your partner that you are prepared to take appropriate action and that the police themselves take domestic abuse seriously, and that this behaviour is not acceptable.

Arrest does not necessarily lead to a charge. If the police decide to proceed, they will consult the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and will then pass the papers to the CPS who will make the final decision as to whether to continue with a prosecution.

Prosecution does not in itself guarantee protection or safety in the long term, and there may be increased danger of reprisals from a vengeful partner or ex-partner. You may also face a number of practical and emotional difficulties.

Nevertheless, the criminal justice system has an important role to play in preventing and challenging domestic abuse, both symbolically and practically, and it is worth seriously considering all the options.

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