Policing Domestic Abuse in the age of
Austerity and “Lockdown”

27 March 2020

Sadly, the uncertain period of "lockdown" is likely to place a considerable strain on many relationships. The inability of family members to leave the house, the fear of unemployment and consequent financial pressures which arise from “lockdown”, have the potential to cause difficult times for many relationships. 

Prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, the police and the CPS pursued a proactive approach towards domestic abuse, which often resulted in the partner who was the recipient of the complaint being arrested and/or prosecuted. In particular, police forces often describe their proactive approach towards domestic abuse allegations as being "a positive arrest policy."

In the last week, a number of Senior Police Officers have warned about the rise in domestic abuse complaints during the period of “lockdown."

Given the concerns about the transmission of coronavirus and the resourcing pressure on police forces, it remains to be seen whether the police may adopt a more pragmatic approach towards dealing with allegations of domestic violence, or whether they will maintain their proactive approach of arrest and/or prosecution. 

A more pragmatic approach may be for the police to seek/persuade one party to leave the home and to live elsewhere for a period of time. This may avoid the need for one of the parties to be taken into police custody, where they are at risk of either being infected, or of infecting police staff and fellow detainees. The police may seek to make use of alternative powers and processes, such as arresting a partner for a breach of the peace. By doing so, the police can remove a partner from a potentially tense or violent situation, to relocate them and diffuse the situation without the need for police resources to be expended in a lengthy investigation and prosecution. Furthermore, by obviating the need for an arrest in such a situation, the police may be able to free up resources in order to be able to focus on enforcing the government's current “lockdown” strategy. 

The police may see a particular attraction to such an approach at the moment as Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) has significantly reduced the number of cases it is able to process during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless, a domestic abuse case is likely to result in the suspect being denied bail by the police, it is unlikely that a domestic case will be brought before a court any time soon. 

However, a more proactive option that the police do have is a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO). A DVPO is a civil order that is designed to fill a “gap” by providing protection to complainants by enabling the police and magistrates’ courts to put in place protective measures in the immediate aftermath of a domestic violence allegation, where there is insufficient evidence to charge a suspect, yet provide protection to a complainant via bail conditions.

Prior to the COVID-19 epidemic, DVPOs were seldom used by the police as their focus had been on arresting and prosecuting those who are alleged to have committed offences of Domestic Abuse. However, the attraction to police forces may be that DVPOs fall within the class of urgent cases that are currently being processed by HMCTS and that they are less resource intensive than lengthy investigations and prosecutions. 

It may be that DVPOs provide for a compromise in the tension between the police and prosecutors desire to take positive action in Domestic Abuse matters, with their limited resources during “lockdown.” In the event that there is more widespread use of DVPOs during “lockdown,” the police may see an attraction to using the power once “lockdown” ends.

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.


About the authors

John Harding acts as Legal Counsel in the criminal litigation team and represents individuals in relation to all areas of crime including police station advice, specialising particularly in relation to allegations of serious assaults, offences of a sexual nature and those relating to child abuse/abuse of positions of trust.


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