The CPS and police have published the first ever joint honour-based violence/abuse and forced marriage protocol today [14 December 2016], outlining their commitment to the successful investigation and prosecution of these crimes. The protocol recognises the importance of strong partnership working between these two agencies.
The protocol highlights the unique complexities of these cases and the barriers victims face in coming forward to report. For example the potential that these crimes may not only be committed by family members but also by those who are part of the wider community. Rather than families and communities protecting the victim, they will often protect the perpetrator. The protocol emphasises the importance for multiagency working and engagement with specialist third sector organisations.
The CPS has led the development of this protocol, as part of a wider commitment to improve performance in this area. The protocol enables police and prosecutors to quickly understand the action they must take when a crime is reported to the police and referred to the CPS for a charging decision, ensuring the safety of the victim is at the heart of the process.
Jenny Hopkins, Chief Crown Prosecutor for CPS East of England and lead on Violence against Women and Girls said:
“This protocol emphasises how important it is for the police and CPS to work together closely, from the outset, to build the strongest possible cases. These cases are complex and the safety of the victim is vital.
“So-called honour-based violence/abuse and forced marriage is increasingly being committed online, usually by victims’ families, extended families and communities. We know that offenders follow a course of conduct which is used to control, coerce, dominate or exploit a victim.
“It is important for police and prosecutors to remember that these cases may involve some of our most vulnerable victims and witnesses who may have the least confidence in the criminal justice process.
”In improving the criminal justice response to these crimes, this protocol is a key step.”
The protocol highlights:
- A number of offences can be committed in the context of honour-based violence/abuse and forced marriage, including common assault, GBH, harassment, kidnap, rape, threats to kill and murder.
- A victim’s family and/or members of their community may go to great lengths to discover their whereabouts once a crime has been reported. The risks to the victim from their entire family, the offender’s family and the community should be considered – not just the direct risk of the immediate perpetrators on the victim.
- Cases may involve vulnerable victims and witnesses who may have the least confidence in the criminal justice process. Victims often feel a loyalty to their family/community and this may make them particularly reluctant to support a prosecution.
National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Honour-based Abuse, Forced Marriage and Female Genital Mutilation, Commander Mak Chishty said:
“So-called honour based violence/abuse and forced marriage are distressing and complex crime types which blight, and in some cases take, lives. Often the victim will feel unable to speak out about the abuse they are experiencing and will suffer in silence.
“The police service and CPS have an equal role to play in supporting victims and witnesses of these harmful practices whilst bringing offenders to justice. Our focus remains on putting victims, their safety and well-being at the heart of our investigations.
“I will be working with chief officers across England and Wales to ensure that this protocol is shared and used by officers on the ground.”
Hannana Siddiqui, Head of Policy and Research at Southall Black Sisters said:
“Southall Black Sisters welcome this protocol. It is urgently needed to improve the policing and prosecution of forced marriage and honour based violence, which have a devastating effect on the lives of women and girls from black and minority communities.
“The protocol also recognises the need for the police and CPS to work in partnership with third sector black and minority women’s organisations like ourselves, which are on the frontline of enabling survivors to access the criminal law and support them through the legal process.
“We hope that this protocol and partnership working will help more women and girls to come forward to obtain both protection and justice.”
The protocol is a key component of the Honour-Based Violence/Abuse and Forced Marriage Action Plan introduced by the CPS earlier this year.
The Action Plan also includes:
- Additional training for CPS staff to increase awareness and expertise of prosecutors handling these cases
- Supporting the granting of anonymity for victims of forced marriage
- Raising awareness among prosecutors of specific new and emerging trends (the CPS will work closely with third sector experts and specialist prosecutors on this)
- Examining how forced marriage offences are being prosecuted currently, to take steps to address identified issues
- CPS has data on cases flagged as forced marriage, as well as those which have been considered and prosecuted under the new forced marriage legislation. In 2015-16, the volumes of forced marriage referrals (90), cases charged (57)and prosecuted (53) were the highest volumes ever recorded. 60.4% (32) of these cases were successful.
- There were five prosecutions under the specific forced marriage offence in 2015/16 – these involved five defendants prosecuted in two cases. Both prosecutions were unsuccessful as the victims withdrew their support for the prosecution. There were six prosecutions for a breach of a forced marriage protection order in 2015/16. One defendant was successfully prosecuted and another was convicted of more serious offences. Two were unsuccessful due to victim issues, and one was unsuccessful at trial.
The protocol can be found here.