Police forces to be given powers to charge domestic abuse suspects under Labour

Six police forces would be given powers to charge domestic abuse suspects under a Labour government, the party said as it criticised a “breakdown in communication” between prosecutors and officers.

Rape victims would also be offered specialist support advisers to sit alongside them while giving evidence in court under proposals backed by the Opposition to reform the criminal justice system.

The recommendations were made as part of a review by Labour’s charging commission, which the party has tasked with drawing up plans to help increase the number of offences solved if it wins the next general election.

Dame Vera Baird
Dame Vera Baird chairs the commission (PA)

The expert panel, chaired by former victims’ commissioner Dame Vera Baird, has warned of a “chasm” in joint working between police and the Crown Prosecution Service which it says causes delays in the justice system.

Under its recommendations, some forces would be permitted to charge domestic violence suspects where releasing them from custody could endanger the victim and where lawyers have been unable to make a charging decision in time.

It follows a pilot by the chief constable of West Yorkshire Police whereby emergency powers can be used when an alleged abuser in a high-risk case is under arrest but due to be bailed before the CPS determines whether to prosecute.

The trial would be expanded to the six forces with the highest file quality standards, Labour said.

The four other key recommendations made by the charging commission, which have been accepted in full by the party, are:

– Giving rape, domestic abuse and sexual assault victims the right to have specialist support advisers throughout the criminal justice process, including sitting alongside them as they give evidence at trial in court
– A statutory duty on chief constables and chief crown prosecutors to develop new “joint justice arrangements” in every area and devise an annual “joint charging action plan” as part of efforts to improve co-operation between the two agencies
– Annual joint inspections to ensure the CPS and police boost communication, reduce delays, bolster case file quality and drive up the charge rate
– Changing data protection laws so police no longer have to redact case files before they are sent to crown prosecutors, saving thousands of officer hours every year.

The commission concludes that there has been a “breakdown in confidence and communication” between the police and the CPS with officers and prosecutors often refusing to speak to one another.

Burdensome red tape and poor quality case files prepared by police are adding to the problems, according to the panel.

The commission gathered evidence from policing bodes including the National Police Chiefs’ Council as well as the CPS and a number of forces.

One lawyer who had been working for the CPS for more than three years said they had never spoken to a police officer, it said.

Emily Thornberry
Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry (PA)

Some 1.6 million victims dropped out of the process last year alone, the commission also found.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: “After 14 years of Conservative government, more criminals are being let off and more victims are being let down. The catastrophic collapse in the proportion of crimes being charged must be reversed if victims are to have confidence in the system again – and the police and CPS must both play their part in turning things around.

“This expert commission found a breakdown in communication and confidence between the two agencies which is resulting in devastating delays and poor outcomes for victims. Labour will implement its common-sense recommendations to ensure the criminal justice system delivers for the people it is there to serve.”

Shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry said: “The paramount concern of the police and CPS should be delivering for victims, not defending their own turf. That means working hand in glove throughout the process, with joint action plans to reduce delays and friction, and get charge rates back up to where they should be.”

A Conservative Party spokesman said: “Wherever Labour are in charge, they have failed to reduce crime – letting down local people who deserve to feel safe on their streets.

“Only the Conservatives have a plan to tackle crime and our plan is working. We have driven crime down by over half since 2010 and recruited 20,000 more police, giving our police the resources they need to keep our communities safe.”