Victims of domestic abuse now have longer to report violence to the police

·4-min read
Photo credit: Alvaro Medina Jurado - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alvaro Medina Jurado - Getty Images

The government have announced that victims of domestic abuse in England and Wales now have longer to report and prosecute an offender for common assault, extending the time limit in which a survivor can go to the police to two years. The authorities will then be given six months from the date a victim reports to carry out their investigation and hopefully achieve justice for the survivor, as per an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts bill.

Previously, there was a six-month time cap on the crime being reported and the case being sent to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which campaigners, such as charity Refuge, MP Yvette Cooper and Erica Osakwe (founder of Victims Too), said was 'timing victims out of justice'. Reports from the BBC also suggest that previously, over the space of the last five years, at least 13,000 cases have been dropped by the police due to that limit.

To recap and clarify (as let's be honest, the legal jargon can get a bit confusing): Say, for example, an incident of common assault occurred on 1 January 2021, but the victim didn't report it until 1 May 2021, prior to this new law change the police would be left with just one month to collect evidence, build a case and send something to the CPS, before the case would have to be dropped.

Many brave survivors were unaware of the previous six-month time cap too, only finding out about it when reporting what had happened to them. Unlike other common assault causes (e.g. a stranger striking another in a pub – something that is likely to be reported immediately), domestic abuse cases are far more complicated. Victims may still be trapped in physically abusive relationships and feeling afraid to speak out, they could also be controlled financially or may share children with the person who committed violence against them.

Photo credit: The Good Brigade - Getty Images
Photo credit: The Good Brigade - Getty Images

Writing for The Guardian as part of her campaign, Cooper said that in theory, while some domestic abuse cases might be picked up by other offences (repeated or serious violence can be charged as actual bodily harm (ABH), where no time limits apply, for instance, and coercive control is now also illegal), in reality this doesn't always happen.

"The trouble is that there are too many domestic abuse cases where either the police or the Crown Prosecution Service conclude that the threshold for ABH or the evidence for coercive control just aren’t met and that common assault is the only charge to lay."

Speaking about the change to the , Refuge's CEO, Ruth Davison, described it as a "huge win and a victory for women and girls experiencing domestic abuse".

Davison said, "Refuge is delighted that the government has listened to, and heard, our campaign with Women’s Aid Federation of England and the Centre for Women’s Justice, as well as the voices of the brave survivors, like Erica Osakwe, who have spoken out about their experiences and helped achieve change.

"Too many have been 'timed out' of accessing justice, with the arbitrary 6-month time limit. It can take many months, even years, for survivors of abuse to feel ready and able to report their experiences. This change means thousands will have access to justice that they had previously been denied."

Having been vocal in supporting the change, Labour MP Yvette Cooper adds that she's glad the government have accepted the proposal she worked on, alongside various female-focussed organisations (such as Refuge, Women’s Aid Federation of England and the Centre for Women’s Justice).

Cooper also said the fight for justice isn't over though. "We will keep up the pressure for more action. This is one of many measures Labour is pushing for to tackle violence against women and girls. Over the last five years prosecutions for rape and domestic abuse have plummeted.

"Too many perpetrators are being let off, too many victims are being let down and the Conservative Government isn’t doing enough to turn that around. Labour has a serious and workable plan to tackle the epidemic of Violence Against Women and Girls. Thank you to everyone who backed the campaign for this change and we will keep pushing for further action."

Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, is available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. You can also visit click here to request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse, see Refuge Tech Safety.

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