World Cup Fever And Efforts To Kick Domestic Abuse Into Touch
Published on 02 December, 2022 | Louise Butcher
As I write, England’s footballers are putting the final touches to their preparations for their World Cup knock-out tie against Senegal.
Like Gareth Southgate’s squad, anxieties will naturally rising among supporters.
However, the “years of hurt” referred to in one of this country’s most popular football anthems of the last few decades can be interpreted in very different ways by fans and their families.
Only last week, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) expressed its concerns about how the World Cup and other major tournaments leads to a rise in domestic abuse (https://www.cps.gov.uk/cps/news/world-cup-there-no-excuse-domestic-abuse).
The CPS cited research published last year by the National Centre for Domestic Violence which concluded that incidents of domestic abuse increased by a quarter whenever England played, by more than one-third if they lost and by 11 per cent the day after international matches regardless of the result (https://www.ncdv.org.uk/the-not-so-beautiful-game/).
Just days after the CPS made its appeal for calm, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) issued the most up-to-date figures for domestic abuse (https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/crimeandjustice/bulletins/domesticabuseinenglandandwalesoverview/november2022).
They bore out one of the CPS’s central observations; namely, that there has been a rise in police reports of such misconduct.
In all, said the ONS, 910,980 complaints had been logged by forces across England and Wales in the 12 months to March – a seven per cent increase on the year before.
However, that appears not to be the full picture. If we pore over the ONS data more closely we see intriguing patterns in relation to how allegations of domestic are treated.
The number of complaints which are actually considered by the CPS has fallen by almost 40 per cent in just five years.
Perpetrators are only charged as a result of two-thirds (65 per cent) of incidents – down from almost 75 per cent in 2016-’17 – and the proportion of those ending in convictions is down by nearly two per cent in a year.
When we consider those cases which conclude in no conviction, almost half (49.6 per cent) are down to what the CPS describes as “complainant issues”, which include “retractions, non-attendance at trial or where the evidence of the complainant does not support the case”.
In addition, the average number of days taken to bring charges in domestic abuse-related cases increased for the fourth consecutive year.
That material is not, of course, solely of relevance to criminal lawyers. Domestic abuse is an all too frequent factor in family law cases too.
It assumes particular importance in matters relating to the well-being of children.
Both myself and my colleagues at Hall Brown take every single allegation of domestic abuse incredibly seriously.
We are well aware of how severely behaviour of this sort can affect spouses and children who are on the receiving end.
Discovering the background to what has happened is normally done through something known as a ‘finding of fact’ hearing.
However even when such complaints are made, courts are under pressure to determine whether they are of relevance to the central issue of child welfare.
In March, the President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane, established a group to fashion clear guidance for magistrates and judges about whether fact-finding hearings are necessary (https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Case-management-guidance-March-22.pdf).
He described how “a good deal of time can be wasted finding ‘facts’ which will have little impact (if any) on the ultimate outcome of a case”.
When the guidance was eventually made public two months later, Sir Andrew wrote: “There is a time and a place to determine allegations of domestic abuse, but it may not be in your court” (https://www.judiciary.uk/guidance-and-resources/fact-finding-hearings-and-domestic-abuse-in-private-law-children-proceedings-guidance-for-judges-and-magistrates/).
The emphasis, he said, was to “make every hearing count….remember delay is inimical to child welfare”.
Such clarity can, of course, be very helpful but it sometimes provides little comfort to families in which abuse has occurred.
Sir Andrew McFarlane has made plain how domestic abuse will only be a factor in children’s law cases when it is of relevance. That can be interpreted by victims as their not really being believed.
Hall Brown does its best to give as much practical support as possible.
Nevertheless, I certainly would not be surprised if a failure to win the World Cup prompts an upsurge in abuse allegations.
It would be nice, however, to think that the only thing to be “coming home” to England from Qatar is a trophy rather than the slightly greater prospect of violence against spouses by their partners.