Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Southwark News column - 15/08/2013

Last year, 2,000 cases of domestic violence were recorded in Southwark. We have one of the highest rates of domestic violence crimes in London but most of these cases will drop out of the system before they actually reach court. As a result, the conviction rate in Southwark is low.

Domestic violence can devastate the lives of its victims. The support they receive from the criminal justice system can be crucial in helping them to move on and ensuring perpetrators are held to account.

Perpetrators know that the ordeal of a court case is often not something that victims want to face and victims can withdraw the case before the police have a chance to prosecute. The time between incident and court hearing needs to be as short as possible because if the court process is too slow, there is a higher chance that the crime will go unpunished and the perpetrator will be free to abuse again.

One of the reasons cases don’t make it to court is the slowness of the criminal justice system. Domestic violence cases take time to come through the system. Victims are often afraid of reprisals from the perpetrator and can be financially dependent on their abuser. Or if the victims move away and don’t return to give evidence, the case can collapse.

One way of addressing this issue is to introduce a dedicated domestic violence court in Southwark. There are six specialists domestic violence courts in London and these courts have been very effective in reducing this time and consequently increasing conviction rates in those boroughs.

In government Labour made tackling violence against women and girls a priority - and measures such as Specialist Domestic Violence courts, specialist police units and prosecutors, and partnerships with councils and housing to support victims all helped reduce incidents of domestic violence.

But much of that work is under threat at the moment, and the truth is we need more action in the majority of cases which never reach court.   

Sadly in the majority of cases little or no further action is taken against the perpetrator and little is done to prevent repeat violence. The result is that many people get away with it, the violence gets worse and their partners suffer more and more abuse.

Often what is needed in domestic violence cases is a clear message to the perpetrator that it must not be repeated, and a clear message to the victim that the justice system takes this seriously. A specialist domestic violence court in Southwark would reassure the community that tackling domestic violence is given the priority it needs to keep people safe.



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