The Sentencing Council is in the process of publishing new guidelines regarding punishment for those convicted of domestic violence offences. The guidelines are due to be published on 1st March 2018. This should result in perpetrators of domestic abuse being more likely to be sent to prison, even if the abuse they inflict is emotional or psychological, rather than purely physical abuse.
The existing guidelines advise that convicted offenders are likely to receive a custodial sentence in the majority of cases if their actions result in serious violence. The new guidelines will extend this principle to include cases where the emotional or psychological harm caused is severe. The guidelines will also recommend that punishment for domestic abuse offences committed within relationships should be greater than those outside of relationships. This is because abuse within relationships is considered more serious because the guidelines state “it represents a violation of the trust and security that normally exists between people in an intimate or family relationship”.
The Sentencing Council has stated that the guideline changes will probably lead to an increase in sentence severity, although Judges and Magistrates should still continue to consider the most appropriate form of sentence. If the details of the offence are such that it is borderline whether or not the perpetrator should be sent to prison, the Court should consider whether a community based sentence is better, for example with a requirement for the perpetrator to attend a domestic abuse programme to address their behaviour.
However, whilst the changes to the sentencing guidelines will be applauded by those supporting survivors of domestic abuse, it was recently reported in The Independent on 17th February 2018, that police forces nationally are failing the most vulnerable victims of domestic abuse, thereby placing them at serious risk of harm or even death. Complaints against officers working on domestic abuse cases to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) rose from 83 in 2011 – 2012 to 342 in 2016 – 2017, which showed a rise of over 400%. There was also an increase in the number of referrals against officers dealing with rape, stalking and child sex abuse cases.
The complaints against the Police in 2016 – 2017 for their handling of domestic abuse cases led to a mere 25 people facing sanctions and only 10 of these receiving written warnings. Grave concerns have been raised by domestic violence campaigners that mishandling of domestic and sexual abuse cases continues to place victims at significant risk of harm, especially as they are extremely vulnerable due to the abuse they have suffered.
If you have made a recent report to the Police that you have been subjected to domestic abuse and you do not feel your complaint is being properly handled, do not hesitate to contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) at Emery Johnson Astills, either by phoning 0116 255 4855, or by emailing DVAD@johnsonastills.com for advice as to what action it may be possible to take in the Family Courts to secure Orders to protect yourself.
A specially trained member of staff in the DVAD of Emery Johnson Astills will be able to provide advice as to what measures you can take to protect yourself and also whether you may be eligible for Legal Aid.