Originally published in The Huffington Post UK
As social scientists, we must take the motto of the Royal Society, ‘nullius in verba’ (trust not in words) seriously. Don’t take somebody’s word for it, look at the facts. In our recent report, Better Courts: A snapshot of domestic violence courts in 2013, we have tried to do just that. So while we are pleased that there was been a continued policy priority on violence against women and girls from the last Government to this, it is not good enough to simply trust policy pledges from Whitehall. We have tried to look at what is actually happening.
The most troubling result we have identified is that the number of convictions for domestic violence has declined by 11% in the last two years. This is at a time when reporting of domestic violence to the police has continued to grow. At a time when more victims, often vulnerable and having experienced serial cases of abuse, are stepping forward, the justice system is not bringing more perpetrators to justice.
We need to put that worrying result in perspective. Over the past 8 years, the number of courts that have specialised arrangements for domestic violence has grown. The evidence base that they hep keep victims safer has gown with them. And, for six years, the growth of these courts occurred in tandem with a growth in the number of perpetrators brought to book. This has meant that, despite the recent decline in convictions, there are now almost double the number of convictions for domestic violence in 2013 than there were when the first domestic violence courts were set up in 2005. You are more likely to see the perpetrator of domestic abuse convicted now than you would have eight years ago.
And the reasons for the recent decline in convictions are complex. We know that the police have referred 13% less cases to the CPS and courts over the past two years than they were previously. We also know, from our work on the ground with practitioners, that some of the key agencies in the justice system have struggled to maintain a focus on domestic violence against a backdrop of re-organisation and cuts.
So, what needs to change? It is time to focus on the quality of delivery, not issue new policy documents. The process to review and support practitioners working in these specialised courts, which used to be in place and was abandoned, needs to be revitalised. And in revitalising that, the courts themselves need to be re-energised and need to look at new developments in the evidence, in the use of better technology and in strengthening the support given to victims. Only then will our conviction to tackle domestic violence be met by our deeds.