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Director of Public Prosecutions quizzed on reports of rising domestic abuse

20 May 2020

A reported increase in lockdown domestic abuse cases will be a key subject of questioning at a Justice Committee evidence session with the Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service, Max Hill QC, on Thursday May 21 at 0930 HRS.

Mr Hill will also be asked about other effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the prosecuting arms of the courts and legal system.

The Victims' Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, told MPs on April 15 that the campaigning organisation Counting Dead Women had recorded 16 domestic abuse killings in the previous three weeks alone:

“We usually say there are two a week”, Dame Vera said; “that looks to me like five a week. That is the size of this crisis”.

Alongside these reported deaths, the charity Refuge said there had been a 150% rise in visits to its National Domestic Abuse helpline website in the early days of the lockdown. Requests for direct help, through calls or online requests to the helpline, Refuge added, had increased by 25% since the restrictions on peoples' movements were announced.

The Committee will question Max Hill on how domestic abuse is - and will be - dealt with during the pandemic by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS has prioritised prosecuting cases of domestic abuse, serious sexual offences and abuse of children. But the pandemic has lengthened the already large backlog of cases of all sorts that come to court. This is caused by the necessity of social distancing and other Covid-19 related problems over the attendance of victims, defendants, lawyers and others.

The Director of Public Prosecutions may also be asked about the apparent confusion over cases specifically brought under the Coronavirus Act (2020). On May 15 the CPS announced that all 44 cases brought under the Act, almost all by the police, had been wrongly charged and would be dropped. This was mainly because the Act was aimed at controlling people who may be infectious - and none of those charged was.

Mr Hill is also likely to be questioned about the serious effect Covid-19 has had on the legal profession. The Committee learnt, in earlier evidence sessions, of falls in work for barristers and solicitors of up to 75%. There is particular concern about drops in funding for the legal aid sector.

Representatives of the legal profession have told the Committee that unless younger lawyers are nurtured through the system there is a real danger that there will not be enough practitioners in the future.

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