Police and the Criminal Justice Process

You (or someone else on your behalf) may decide to contact the police for help. There is no specific offence of ‘domestic violence or domestic abuse’; however, the term can be applied to a number of offences committed in a domestic environment such as assault, criminal damage, threats to kill, harassment and stalking.

The police are the first port of call in emergency (by dialling 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?

When the police have been called, their first priority should be the safety and well-being of you and your children, and to protect anyone present from injury or further harm.

The police should help and support you by:

  • Speaking to you away from the abuser.
  • Protecting you and your children.
  • Removing the risk of further violence by arresting and removing the perpetrator.
  • Arranging first aid or other medical assistance (such as an ambulance).
  • Finding out what has happened.
  • Offer you support and reassurance.
  • Helping you to access other agencies such as Safer Futures.
  • Arranging transport to a safe place, if you want this.
  • Provide you with an interpreter if you need one, and should never ask your children or other family members to interpret.

If there are reasonable grounds to justify an arrest, the police should do this without asking your “permission” or insisting on a statement from you first – though they will need to take one later.

They 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 before they need to charge him.

What happens next?

If the police arrest your abuser, it can act as a deterrent against re-offending. It can demonstrate to your partner that the police take domestic abuse seriously, and that the behaviour is not acceptable.

The police will gather evidence and then present it to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) who will make the charging decision. See the section below on the criminal prosecution process.

Police bail

If the police arrest and and the abuser is charged, they will then make a decision whether to keep that person in custody or to release them on bail.

If they release them on bail, they will attach conditions to this, aimed at protecting you, your children and any witnesses from further intimidation and violence.

They should also inform you of any conditions they have placed on the abuser, what these conditions mean and what action you should take if these conditions are broken.

They should give you as much information as possible and should explain that the responsibility for complying with police bail conditions rests with the abuser.

Domestic Violence Protection Orders

Domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) are available across England and Wales. They can be put in place by the police and magistrates to put in place protection in the immediate aftermath of a domestic abuse incident.

When a DVPO is put in place, a perpetrator can be banned with immediate effect from returning to a residence and from having contact with the victim for up to 28 days, allowing the person time to consider their options and get the support they need.

Clare’s Law – The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme

The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme is also known as Clare’s Law, named after Claire Wood who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2009.

Clare’s Law gives members of the public a “right to ask” police where they have a concern that their partner may pose a risk to them or where they are concerned that the partner of a member of their family or a friend may pose a risk to that individual.

If an application is made under the scheme, police and partner agencies will carry out checks and if they show that the partner has a record of abusive offences, or there is other information to indicate that there may be a risk from the partner, the Police will consider sharing this information.

If you want to find out more information about the scheme in relation to your own or a friend or family members situation, call your local police on the non-emergency number, 101 to ask for further information on how to apply.

The Criminal Prosecution Service (CPS) Process

Once an abuser has been arrested and charged, the file may be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The police and the CPS have agreed charging standards for certain types of offence, including assaults. These guidelines aim to ensure that consistent decisions are made in relation to charging.

Police custody officers should liaise with the CPS at an early stage to seek advice on the sufficiency of the evidence, type of evidence required and the most appropriate charge(s). Custody officers should ensure that all advice given by the CPS is recorded on the prosecution file.

What does the CPS do?

The CPS will take into account the safety of the victim, and any others (including children) who are involved.

They also take the views of the victim into consideration when deciding whether to proceed with a prosecution – but this is not the sole determining factor.

The CPS produces various publications on domestic abuse, including a leaflet entitled “Domestic violence: How prosecution decisions are reached” (which is available in several languages), and a more substantial document, “Domestic Violence: Policy for prosecuting cases of domestic violence” (also available in a variety of languages). Click here for the CPS website.

They also have a policy for prosecuting cases of rape and sexual assault. See the CPS website for these documents.

Withdrawing your support for a prosecution

You are likely to be interviewed by a police domestic violence officer, who will try to find out why you are wanting to make this decision, and whether any pressure has been put on you.

In certain circumstances (for example, if you have been intimidated) your statement can be used as evidence without you being called to court.

If you do decide to withdraw your statement, your wishes will be taken into account, but the final decision about prosecution will be taken by the CPS in conjunction with the police.

They may decide that the “public interest” supports going ahead with the case, despite your wishes. These are called ‘victimless’ prosecutions.

CPS decides to proceed

If the CPS decides to proceed, the abuser will initially be taken to a Magistrates’ Court, after which (depending on the seriousness of the charge) he will either be remanded in custody or released on bail.

If bail is given, then conditions can be imposed by the court (for example, that the abuser stays away from you and your home, or your place of work, or that he lives at a certain address).

Domestic violence courts

In Cornwall we have Specialist Domestic Violence Courts. Read more here.

If the CPS decide not to prosecute

If the CPS decide not to prosecute you have a right to know why and to ask them to review the case.

Providing evidence

It may be several months before the full case is heard. During this time, the police may contact you again for further information. You may be asked to make a “victim personal statement”, which will add to the information you have already given in your initial statement.

This gives you a chance to talk about how the abuse has affected you (both this particular incident and in general) and to raise concerns about fear of intimidation, and whether you want to claim compensation or request support from other agencies.

Any additional evidence you can give the police at this stage will be very helpful.

For example, you may give as evidence:

  • Medical reports of injuries and other effects of the abuse.
  • Statements from neighbours who have witnessed or heard the abuse.
  • Names of any other agencies to whom you have reported the violence in the past (for example, housing, social services, your health visitor, GP or midwife).
  • Reports from the children’s schools on the effects on the children.
  • Any injunctions (court orders) which are in place against your abuser, or which you have applied for previously.
  • Any particular fears you have, or threats he has made.

The case may be heard in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court (depending on the charge). You will only be called to give evidence if your abuser has pleaded not guilty at the initial hearing.

If he pleads guilty, or if he is found guilty after the evidence is heard, then the court will usually adjourn for reports from the Probation Service before sentencing.


The sentence depends on the seriousness of the offence and whether your abuser has had any previous convictions. It can range from a conditional discharge to a prison sentence.

The criminal law can offer you some protection, particularly if your partner is given a custodial sentence, but it is primarily aimed at dealing with the offender.

Under new legislation, a restraining order can be attached whenever criminal proceedings have been taken against your abuser (even if the conviction has not been upheld) if the court believes you are at risk.

Alternatively (or in addition), you could consider applying for an injunction under the civil law. See Getting an injunction for information on this process.