On 6th September the Home Secretary, Theresa May, asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) to carry out an inspection into the police response to domestic violence by April 2014. The review’s terms of reference, which are still to be finalised, will cover four key areas:
- The effectiveness of the police approach to domestic violence and abuse.
- Whether victims deemed to be at risk in the future are appropriately managed.
- Whether police are learning from past experiences and adapting their response.
- Whether any changes need to be made to the overall police approach.
The review was announced in response to ‘a number of high profile cases’ and looks like yet another knee-jerk response from government to a serious issue that deserves to be treated as more than just a PR damage-limitation exercise.
In one way at least the review is to be welcomed; the police response to domestic abuse is on the whole seriously inadequate. A series of reviews has found shortcomings in the protection given to victims of domestic violence after they go to the police for help. The Home Secretary, in announcing this review, is at least not blind to this fact. But on the other hand it is to be damned for failing to be what it should be: a joined up inspection (or better still a fully independent review) involving health, social services, housing, education, the CPS, the courts I could go on. If ever there was a wicked issue that requires a joined up response from government, this is it. At the very least, the review should cover the rest of the criminal justice system. What is the point of having a Minister of State for Policing and Criminal Justice that spans the divide between the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice if it can’t join up policing with thecrown prosecution serviceand the courts on an issue that so clearly demands it?
Virtually every local authority in the country now holds regular multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) where information is shared among a wide range of practitioners from the statutory and voluntary sectors. So in this sense at least, the Home Secretary appears to be seriously blinkered. How will the inspection judge whether victims deemed to be at risk are appropriately managed when it is the MARAC that signs off the safety plan? And how will police performance in supporting victims be assessed when support is being eroded by the cuts to legal aid and the shortage of independent domestic violence advisors (IDVAs)?
Theresa May claims that ‘This government is serious about keeping women and girls safe’. The ring-fencing of nearly £40 million for victim support and the piloting of Clare’s Law (which helps women find out whether they might be at risk from a partner) and domestic violence protection orders are (rightly) cited as testimony to this. But the timing of this announcement just days after official figures showed a 13 per centfall in the number of domestic violence attacks considered for prosecution1 combined with the narrow terms of reference looks cynical rather than sincere.
1 The number of domestic violence cases referred by the police to the Crown ProsecutionService fell from 101,242 in 2010-11 in England and Wales to 88,110 in 2012-13.