3. Policing domestic violence in the UK

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Background to policing of domestic violence (with a focus on the Metropolitan Police Service)

There has been a growing awareness and consciousness of domestic violence and abuse in heterosexual relationships since the 1970s, and particularly since the 1990s in criminal justice agencies. This in turn has shaped policy and policing practice.
In response to a Home Office Circular produced in 1990 (Home Office Circular 60/1990) providing guidance on how domestic violence should be dealt with by the police service, police forces across England and Wales set up Domestic Violence Units with specialist Domestic Violence Officers. The Home Office circular recommended that:

“…police forces develop policy statements and strategies grounded in an understanding that domestic violence is a crime as serious as assaults by strangers, and that the primary duty of police is to protect the victim and her children and to take positive action against the assailant. Police are reminded of their extensive powers to deal with domestic violence under the criminal law and warned of the dangers of attempting conciliation between victim and assailant. They are advised to take positive action in every incident, rarely to attempt conciliation, to interview the victim separately from the assailant, to prepare information leaflets for victims, to arrange for medical assistance, to escort victims to a place of safety if requested, to consider arresting and charging the assailant and not to be affected by the fact that some women withdraw charges, to provide continued support for victims during the pre-trial period, to liaise with other agencies, to set up (where practicable) dedicated domestic violence units, to ensure that all offences are properly recorded and not ‘no-crimed’, and to make records easily retrievable.” (Morley and Mullender, 1994)
Morley and Mullender’s report entitled “Preventing domestic violence to women” (Crime Prevention Series Paper 48) can be seen in full on the following Home Office website:


The Metropolitan Police Service set up Domestic Violence Units in each of the London boroughs in 1990. These units were then relaunched in an extended capacity under the title of ‘Community Safety Units’ in 1999 to cover hate crime as well. The stated aim of these units was to “offer support and protection to anyone targeted due to their race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, disability, or to anyone who has experienced domestic violence”.
Further information about Community Safety Units can be found on the following site:


The Home Office published two further circulars in 2000. The Circular “Domestic Violence” placed greater emphasis on local police policy and sets out how domestic violence incidents should be policed.

A further circular entitled “Break the Chain Multi-Agency Guidance for Addressing Domestic Violence” gave detailed advice on a partnership approach to addressing domestic violence. This can be seen in more detail at the following site:


The MPS Domestic Violence Strategy published in December 2001 stated that the MPS committed itself to an inter-agency approach to responding to victims and outlined its central aims of i) finding ways to ensure the safety of the victim and any children they might have, and ii) making perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Similarly, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) launched its ‘Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Violence’ in 2001 which stated:

We regard domestic violence as particularly serious because there is often a continuing threat to the victim’s safety and, in the worst cases, the victim’s life... may be at risk.”

The government then produced a consultation paper entitled “Safety and justice: The Government’s proposals on domestic violence” in 2003. The issue of policing domestic violence has continued to be at the forefront of the political agenda with the publication in 2005 of a national action plan that set out the progress made so far in tackling the crime and outlined future proposals to further improve support to victims and bring more perpetrators to justice.

Further information on the action plan cen be seen at the following site:



These issues were then directly addressed by the criminal law with the introduction of the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004, which came into force in 2005 and is said to be the biggest overhaul of legislation on domestic violence in over 30 years.
Further information about the Domestic Violence Crime and Victims Act 2004 can be seen on the following sites:



The current domestic violence policy in force in the Metropolitan Police Service can be found at the following location:


The Metropolitan Police Service states that their aim is:

“To investigate the incident and identify, arrest and prosecute the perpetrator. Where a criminal prosecution of a perpetrator is deemed inappropriate, we will identify and pursue alternative courses of action in consultation with our partner agencies to stop the violence and make victims and their children safer."

“The MPS will take a perpetrator focused approach in domestic violence investigations."

“Where a power of arrest without warrant exists and there are reasonable grounds to justify arrest, the perpetrator shall be arrested immediately, if available. Failure to do so may amount to a neglect of duty and the reasons for not doing so must be clearly documented."

“In partnership with the Crown Prosecution Service we will promote positive action for arrest and charge. With effective evidence gathering for corroboration, we will take forward independent prosecutions, removing the pressure and onus away from the victim. Intelligence-led pro-activity and initiatives with our partner agencies to target perpetrators will bring more offenders to justice, prevent re-victimisation and ultimately save lives."

“This approach will require strong leadership, positive supervision and the co-operation of the communities we serve to provide a professional, effective and caring response.”

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