Inspectorate publishes report on handling of domestic violence and abuse

Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) has examined how incidents of domestic violence and abuse are handled by the criminal justice agencies in its latest inspection report published today (Wednesday 1 December).

The inspection looked at the issue of domestic violence and abuse from the point at which an initial report was made through to its investigation, prosecution and court disposal.
"In 2009-10 police officers responded to 24,482 domestic violence and abuse incidents which equates to one incident being reported every 21 minutes, said Dr Michael Maguire, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Domestic violence and abuse is a significant problem that can occur regardless of gender, social group, class, religion, age, race, disability or sexual orientation.
"We found that there have been improvements in the manner in which domestic violence and abuse incidents are handled by the criminal justice agencies. There has been a growing recognition of the need to understand the issues around domestic violence and abuse and to take action when incidents occur," he said.
Dr Maguire continued: "Inspectors identified some good practice including the links between the justice agencies and the voluntary and community sector and in particular, the service provided by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Domestic Abuse Officers."
However, CJI has made13 recommendations aimed at strengthening the way in which domestic violence and abuse cases are dealt with.
"Inspectors identified a need to improve the consistency of service across PSNI Districts in relation to how officers responded when called to domestic violence incidents. We have recommended that supervisors should proactively review the approach taken especially where decisions not to arrest have been made and to ensure that in cases of serious crimes, an effective and consistent investigation takes place," said the Chief Inspector.
Inspectors have also encouraged the PSNI to review the role and skills of Domestic Abuse Officers and consider the need for a proportion of officers working in this area to be trained to a higher investigative level.
As part of this inspection CJI reviewed the approach of the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS) to domestic violence and abuse cases.
The inspection report found that all prosecutors had undertaken training on domestic violence and abuse cases and that domestic violence and abuse specialists had recently been appointed.
Inspectors found that prosecutors dealt with large volumes of cases with a domestic motivation.   PPS statistics for 2008-09 indicated that in just over half of these cases (52.9%), a 'no prosecution' decision was taken as the cases were found not to have met the Test for Prosecution. 
This figure is impacted on by a high number of victims withdrawing their support for the prosecution and their complaints and where the PPS have to, in many cases,  direct 'no prosecution' due to lack of evidence other than the victims’ statement.
CJI welcomed the PPS's 2008 review to establish how its policy for prosecution cases of domestic violence was being implemented, which included an examination as to whether prosecutors were properly applying the Test for Prosecution.
"In light of this we recommend the PPS continue to review domestic violence and abuse cases where a 'no prosecution' decision has been made. This should be carried out in an effort to establish whether actions could be taken, where appropriate with the police, to improve the likelihood of the Test for Prosecution being met," said Dr Maguire.
Summing up the Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice indicated the inspection report did not identify one single issue arising that would significantly improve its overall performance of the criminal justice system.
"While the nature of incidents of domestic violence and abuse means it is a complex problem for which there are no quick fix answers, more could be done to support and care for victims of domestic violence and abuse," said Dr Maguire.
"Multi-agency risk assessment conferences which bring together representatives from the police, probation service, health and social care trusts, Housing Executive and relevant voluntary and community organisations have recently been rolled out in Northern Ireland.
"This is a valuable step which could be further enhanced through the involvement of a properly resourced Independent Domestic Violence Advisor service to address the safety of victims at high risk of harm from intimate partners, ex-partners or family members," he concluded.