A report commissioned on Specialist Domestic Violence Courts (SDVC) by the Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, found evidence of defendants ‘gaming the system’ by pleading not guilty to domestic violence offences in the hope that the domestic violence complainant will not turn up at court and the case will then be dismissed. This was confirmed in observations of 170 domestic violence cases in which significant numbers of defendants changed their pleas from not guilty to guilty at the last minute when the complainant did appear at the court. The authors of the report emphasised that because of the nature of domestic violence crimes, and complainants’ vulnerability to ongoing coercive control, they may not appear in court as a result of intimidation. The authors argue that this reinforces the need for well-funded Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVA) services and for adequate training for magistrates and court staff in order to support victims of domestic violence to pursue prosecutions. Cuts to IDVA services and for training for sentencing and SDVC court staff are a concern. Of interest for our study, the authors note that defendants cited alcohol misuse on the part of complainants as a way to undermine her claims of victimisation. In addition, alcohol intoxication as mitigation for an offenders’ behaviour was observed to go unchallenged by courts although this is not part of sentencing guidelines. The report notes: ‘There were concerns that the most frequent mitigation was that the perpetrator was in drink and that the courts did not, in any hearing, point out that there is no known causative link between the two’
You can access the report here.