"To create a system that provides real protection for victims, there needs to be better effective enforcement of breaches of bail," says Victims Commissioner as she calls for breaches of pre-charge bail to be made a criminal offence.

Domestic abuse victims are being put at further risk because the police are failing to attach bail conditions to suspected perpetrators, a new report published today (24 August) has found.

Responding to the report, Dame Vera Baird called for a bespoke offence of breaching pre-charge bail: “It remains my view that breaches of pre-charge bail must be made a criminal offence – especially in cases of domestic abuse where the risk of harm is so high.”

The joint report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), the College of Policing (CoP) and the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has accused police forces of failing to use all the legal tools at their disposal to protect women and girls from violence and abuse.

The report was commissioned after the Centre for Women’s Justice lodged a super-complaint to highlight the serious failures by police to adequately protect victims of domestic violence.

In the super-complaint submitted in March 2019, based on evidence provided by frontline women’s support services, the Centre for Women’s Justice highlighted how four different types of measures designed to protect victims were being used poorly in many policing areas, leaving women at risk.

The four measures highlighted were:

  • Use of pre-charge bail
  • Domestic Violence Protection Orders
  • Arrests for breach of Non-Molestation Orders
  • Applications for Restraining Orders following court proceedings.

The super-complaint investigation has largely upheld the complaints raised, although it noted that failures were spread across the criminal justice system and lay not just at the hands of the police.

Responding to the report, the Victims’ Commissioner for England & Wales, Dame Vera Baird QC, said:

“Protective measures, such as bail with conditions and restraining orders, are vital safeguards for vulnerable victims. However, as this report makes all too clear, police have been serially failing to deploy these crucial safeguards for years, and, too often, vulnerable women have effectively been left to fend for themselves. While the police have a power of arrest where an officer believes that conditions imposed on pre-charge bail have been breached, this is not a criminal offence and, in practice, pre-charge bail conditions are often simply not enforced. In the absence of genuine bail conditions and protective orders, abusers feel they can act with impunity, putting vulnerable victims at serious – and entirely unnecessary – risk, as some of the horrifying case studies in the report make all too clear.

“As one of its key recommendations, the report recommends the government considers at some speed creating a bespoke offence of breaching pre-charge bail. I wholeheartedly agree; it remains my view that breaches of pre-charge bail must be made a criminal offence – especially in cases of domestic abuse where the risk of harm is so high.

“At the very least, to ensure victims are protected, we must see a process set in place whereby any breach of bail conditions automatically triggers a presumption that police will impose a civil order (a DAPN, or DAPO under the new Domestic Abuse Act regime). A breach of these orders is a criminal offence, so once these are in place, abusers are made plainly aware of the consequences of any further breach – creating a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ process and affording the victim some protection.

“To create a system that provides real protection for victims, there needs to be better effective enforcement of breaches of bail. With the Policing, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, we have this opportunity to introduce the necessary protections, whether criminal or civil. I encourage the government to seize it.”