Victims to get more time to report domestic abuse in England and Wales

By Alex Forsyth
Political correspondent, BBC News

Image source, skynesher

Home Secretary Priti Patel has backed calls to change the law to give victims of domestic abuse more time to report a crime, the BBC has been told.

There is currently a six-month time limit for a charge to be brought against someone for common assault.

But Ms Patel has agreed to extend the timeframe to up to two years.

It comes after the BBC revealed 13,000 cases in England and Wales had been dropped in five years because the six month limit had been breached.

The change is expected to come as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament.

Campaigners have said the move would be very welcome, but they are waiting to see an official announcement.

Common assault cases include things like a push, threatening words or being spat at and are normally dealt with at magistrates court.

The clock starts from the date of the incident, and within the next six months, a victim needs to have come forward and the police have to have carried out their work to secure a charge against the alleged perpetrator, or the case will be dropped.

Victims of domestic common assault are sometimes reluctant to report incidents and the cases can be complex - which is why campaigners say the police should be given more time before having to bring charges.

The argument for the time limit was to keep the criminal justice system moving, especially when there is now such a backlog of cases to be heard following Covid.

But Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Committee, said the number of incidents being "timed out" because of the six month factor was "shocking".

The BBC has been told this time limit will now be extended to two years, and there will be a renewed push to ensure police and prosecutors are alive to incidents of coercive control, which are often linked with incidents of domestic abuse.

Ms Cooper said the change would be "excellent news", adding: "Making this simple and practical change would give domestic abuse victims more time to report assault and means stronger action to tackle violence against women and girls - something that is badly needed right now."

Three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases - including sexual assaults - are closed early without the suspect being charged, according to a report by HM inspector of constabulary.

And just 1.6% of rape allegations in England and Wales result in someone being charged - something the government has said it is "deeply ashamed" about.

Figures obtained by the BBC using Freedom of Information from 30 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales, revealed a huge increase in allegations of common assault involving domestic abuse - but a fall in the number of charges being brought.

From 2016-17 to 2020-21 there were at least 12,982 cases of common assault that were flagged as involving domestic abuse in which no-one was charged due to the time limit.

In the same time period, the total number of common assaults flagged as instances of domestic abuse increased by 71% from 99,134 to 170,013.

But the number of these common assaults that resulted in charges being brought fell by 23%.

A government spokesman said all allegations should be investigated and pursued where possible, and money had been invested into supporting victims of such crimes during the pandemic.