Posts tagged ‘CPS’

May 23, 2014

Important new guidance on defences to homicide? – A view from the Joanna Simpson Foundation

I am delighted and honoured for my first guest blogger to be Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, Chair of the Joanna Simpson Foundation (www.joannasimpsonfoundation.org.uk ).  She writes:

“Last week saw the publication of new legal guidance by the CPS on prosecuting Domestic Homicide.  An important step, brought about by extensive discussions with us, the family and friends of Joanna Simpson who was killed by her estranged husband in 2010.  Despite preparing a grave beforehand, her killer could be acquitted of murder due to diminished responsibility.

What are the changes and why are they important?

This guidance requires far more extensive understanding and consideration of the history of domestic abuse, and critically a thorough investigation into the character of the defendant and the victim.  It guards against acceptance of manslaughter pleas using the partial defences of diminished responsibility and loss of self-control.  And it requires prosecutors to engage with expert witnesses (typically psychiatrists) on the broader profile of the defendant rather than just the psychiatric assessment of the defendant through interview.

If properly adopted this will have a significant impact on the quality of convictions in these crimes.  Partial defences are commonly used in domestic homicide (our research showed it being used in 50% of cases).  We talk a great deal about there being no excuses for domestic abuse, and yet when the worst happens the law provides exactly that.  Of course, there are some great examples of prosecutions where past history and character has been very carefully and effectively considered.  There are also examples where circumstances are such that a partial defence is entirely appropriate.   This new guidance is designed to ensure those strong examples become the norm, and that partial defences are only used by the most deserving cases.

Partial defences run on the basis that the offender is not somehow responsible, and offenders who use it typically show little remorse and are in fact running a defence which says it was either because of their state of mind or the circumstances, often citing the character and actions of the victim as the reason for that.  A claim of this kind is accepted at plea without a trial in just fewer than 50% of cases.  Successful or not, victims families have to suffer trials or plea acceptance which often assassinate the character of the victim, poorly challenged by the prosecution.  Where successful they are left with the incomprehensible sense that their loved one has not had a fair trial and the perpetrator has literally got away with murder.  Our research showed that ¼ of all convicted offenders was successful in a defence of this kind.

And what of disposal?  The discount in tariff can be substantial and it is not unusual for those convicted of manslaughter to be released from custody within 5 years of the crime.  Sometimes they get a hospital order and come under the mental health tribunal process, and again it is not unusual for them to be released within 3 years.  It is notable to understand that where the perpetrator is the parent of bereaved children, they still retain parental rights.  The repercussions continue when the family courts look on access requests more favorably where the offender was found not guilty to murder.

So tightening the criminal justice system through this guidance to avoid exploitation of the loopholes in homicide is fundamental if we believe we should send the message that domestic abuse is unacceptable, if we want to give victims’ families the chance to find a way forward, and critically if we want to protect the innocent child victims who live in fear of a violent perpetrator and deserve time to grow and repair in peace.

 

November 30, 2013

The Stalking Legislation – One Year On….full of sound and fury but what does it signify?

ImageThis week saw the anniversary of the introduction of new offences of stalking – which we believe are really important in protecting victims of domestic abuse and many others who suffer from stalking – both on and offline.  The anniversary was accompanied by a letter from the new DPP, Alison Saunders and ACC Garry Shewan about their plans to ensure that the criminal justice system addresses stalking effectively.

According to press reports this week, figures obtained under a freedom of information request showed that between November 2012, when stalking became a crime, and the end of June this year, 320 people were arrested across 30 police forces. Of those 189 were charged – so far six of those have been jailed and 27 given community disposals.

Compare that to the data that we collect directly from thousands of victims of domestic abuse which shows that 35% of those who disclosed harassment or stalking were suffering severe levels.  What do we mean by severe?  Our definition includes;

  • Constant/obsessive phone calls, texts or emails;
  • uninvited visits to home, workplace etc or loitering;
  • destroys or vandalises property;
  • pursues victim after separation, stalking;
  • threats of suicide/homicide to victim and other family members;
  • threats of sexual violence;
  • involvement of others in the stalking behaviour.

Imagine this happening to you – pretty scary and dangerous stuff.

So, we really welcome the call from both the police and the CPS to:

  Improve the awareness of frontline officers about how to risk assess stalking victims.
  Prosecute whenever possible rather than use of police information notices (otherwise known as harassment warnings)
  Ensure Victim Personal Statements are always taken and used in accordance with the Victim’s Code.
  Ensure that further evidence is secured if a charging decision has been taken on the threshold test, so that further evidence supports a charge on the Full Code Test that properly reflects the full criminality.
  Ensure that the charging decision is right first time. Stalking should be charged as a stalking offence rather than harassment.
  Proceed with the charge of stalking in court whenever possible rather than accept a plea to harassment. Acceptance of a plea of harassment rather than stalking by the defendant should only happen in particular circumstances and we should always seek the view of the victim before doing so.
  Ensure that when restraining orders are made in court, the victim’s circumstances are properly taken into account (e.g. all relevant addresses are included).
 
As practitioners, any feedback on how the stalking legislation is working in your area would be really helpful and we can pass it on to the CPS and to ACPO.  
 
These things can change a lot.  When we started CAADA in 2005, restraining orders (also part of the Protection from Harassment Act) were used in about 5% of cases.  They are now used in about 50% of cases and make a real difference to victim safety.  We see similar room for change in relation to stalking as an offence in its own right.  We are delighted to be working with Protection Against Stalking to deliver a one day training course on stalking – how to recognise it, how to respond and how to use this legislation to best effect.  Let’s hope that this time next year, we have added at least one or two noughts to the number of convictions.
 
(For more info about our training on stalking, go to http://www.caada.org.uk/learning_development/CPD-Stalking-Intro.htm )