New process contributes to fall in domestic-abuse court cases
THERE has been a decline in the number of domestic-abuse cases in the Island’s higher court following last year’s introduction of ‘a new process’ for assessing prosecutions, the Law Officers’ Department has revealed.
The continuing decline in Royal Court cases of domestic abuse – from a 2014 peak of 22 to just four last year – and a corresponding rise in conviction rates, to 86% last year, is ‘due to a number of factors’, according to the department’s annual report.
Assessing the 2018 performance and workload of the States’ legal department, the report attributes the ongoing reduction in the number of domestic-abuse cases to the new process for assessing potential prosecutions, which requires the police to seek legal advice at an earlier stage than in previous years.
This has resulted in only the stronger cases being brought to trial, which has also positively affected conviction rates.
While the effects of this have been particularly pronounced in the area of domestic abuse, this procedure of strength-testing cases before bringing them to court has been applied across the board.
The result has been that the number of early-stage ‘advice files’ opened by Law Officers in 2018 more than quadrupled, with 357 last year compared to 82 in 2017, and 53 of those 2018 files referred solely to domestic abuse, as opposed to just three in 2017.
‘This new way of working provides stakeholders with early legal advice in order to ensure that the two-stage test under the Code on the Decision to Prosecute is rigorously considered when a charging decision is required,’ the report explains.
‘As a result, cases which might not previously have been referred to the Criminal Division for advice are in nearly all cases. This new approach has resulted in an increase in advice files being opened and fewer cases being discontinued post-charge. This saves court time and costs and ensures that only strong cases are prosecuted.’
However, the report emphasises that, despite reductions from the 2014 peak, the number of domestic-abuse cases brought to court last year was ‘still significant’.
These results come at a time when the police have warned that there are still major barriers to victims of domestic abuse from minority communities coming forward and seeking help.
Domestic abuse, the police say, is still under-reported in Jersey. DC Lidio Szejko said under-reporting was a particular issue in minority communities. Victims of domestic abuse can contact the police on 612612 or 999 in an emergency.
Jersey Domestic Abuse Support can be called on 880505 while the Jersey Women’s Refuge operates a 24-hour helpline on 0800 7356836.