Concerns have been raised after it emerged the use of a civil order to protect domestic violence victims has plummeted in the last three years in Lancashire.
Police are able to apply for Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPOs) at the magistrates courts in order to impose conditions on suspected perpetrators for up to 28 days, in the hope the added protection from the police and courts will encourage reluctant complainants to make a formal statement and support a prosecution.
But a Freedom of Information request to Lancashire Police revealed just 32 orders have been sought so far this year, compared to 99 over the course of 2016.
In 2016, 98 DVPOs were agreed in Lancashire’s courts, with 27 of them breached.
In 2017 80 orders were imposed, with 20 flouted.
In 2018, this fell to 53 orders agreed at court, with 14 breached.
However, as of October 2019, only 32 had been imposed, with six breached already.
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A solicitor who works closely with victims of domestic abuse said the figures raised concerns.
But Lancashire Police say they are pulling all the stops out to tackle the issue, with the number of officers who deal with the orders being doubled.
The police can issue Domestic Violence Protection Notices (DVPNs) and then, with a superintendent’s approval, apply to a magistrates’ court within 48 hours for a Domestic Violence Protection Order (DVPO).
Both powers, which were introduced with the implementation of the Crime and Security Act in 2010, are designed to tackle domestic abuse investigations where there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction - such as where a formal complaint statement has not been given.
Magistrates can impose DVPOs even in circumstances where the alleged victim does not consent, though the court must be satisfied the subject has been violent, or has threatened violence, to the associated person, and that making it is necessary to protect that person from violence.
A breach of a DVPO is a criminal offence which can result in a prison sentence of up to two months - though taking no action is also an option.
Rachel Horman, domestic abuse, stalking and harassment lawyer, said: “DVPOs are an important tool in providing women with protection and a breathing space while they consider their options.
“The police are instead referring women to a service out of the area who claim to provide ‘free injunctions’, however women are often approaching us with complaints about that service and have been left at court without representation.
“Local judges are also criticising this approach by the police and the service victims are receiving.
“A woman shouldn’t need to go and get her own injunction - the police should be doing this with the DVPOs - rather than forcing them to start again.
“This was the intention of the DVPOs when the government introduced them and to me the reduction in numbers looks like yet another example of ‘lazy policing’.”
But Det Insp Jane Newton, of Lancashire Police said she believed a big part of the drop was due to officers focusing their attention on obtaining more robust bail conditions during investigations into alleged domestic abuse.
Imposing strict bail conditions - obtaining similar terms to a DVPO - means officers spend less time having to go to court and having to complete the necessary paperwork to apply for DVPOs.
She said: “In the past people shied away from bailing people with conditions, so we relied more on DVPOs, but we’ve had quite a turnaround in court with more rigorous ways of dealing with perpetrators.
“An injunction is a route for victims go through, but if there are grounds for an order, we will seek one.
“Before the bail act changed two or three years ago, we could have people on bail while we ran an investigation, with no restrictions on length of time, but now after 28 days we have to go to court to extend bail.
“Imposing the right bail conditions is a better route to go down if we are looking at a prosecution.
“We have done an audit to look into why DVPOs have dropped. We’re not saying there isn’t room for improvement.
“Previously, three officers were dealing with DVPOs, including the paperwork for them and standing up in court. But we now have six, and they also deal with Clare’s Law disclosures.
“I do anticipate the numbers will increase now there’s more staff in place.”
The force is also planning to use a “vulnerability app” for officers, which will, among other things, contain the advice officers need to apply for an order and a direct link to a form they need to e-mail straight to a superintendent for permission.