Domestic Violence Step-By-Step

Action Before Charges

  • The police will be called the scene of the incident
  • The police will log a report
  • The victim will be asked for a witness statement

Criminal Crown Prosecution Service

  • If someone is charged with a criminal offence they have to go to court.
  • The police will investigate criminal offences and then pass evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) for a charging decision.
  • The CPS will also prosecute (prepare and present) the case at court.

When deciding whether to charge a suspect, the CPS must consider

  1. An evidential test, and
  2. A public interest test

When an individual is charged with a criminal offence and the case goes to court, the complainant should be given a single point of contact for updates and information on the court proceedings. This can either be by:

  • A police officer assisting on the investigation or
  • Contact with a staff member of the Witness Care Unit.

Witness Care Units

  • Witness Care Units are responsible for managing and supporting anyone who gives evidence for the prosecution in criminal proceedings.
  • If not advised by the police, you may ask to be put in touch with your nearest Unit.

The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime

  • This Code sets certain standards of service that the police, the CPS and other agencies involved in the criminal justice system should offer victims.
  • Most victims of domestic violence will be entitled to an enhanced service, which means that they should be told of major developments in the case (e.g. the decision to charge) within 24 hours.

Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA) and Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (IDVA).

  • ISVAs and IDVAs can assist you in accessing services and support you through the investigation and any subsequent criminal proceedings.
  • Other support groups may also be available.


Where a defendant has been charged with the offence, he or she can either be released on bail to attend the first court hearing, or be remanded in custody overnight at the police station and taken to court the next morning, where he or she can apply to be released on bail.

When deciding whether to grant a defendant bail, the court will consider several factors including:

  1. The seriousness of the offence,
  2. The defendant’s character and
  3. The strength of the case against him.


Bail conditions are any requirements the court considers necessary to ensure that the defendant attends court and does not commit any further offences or interfere with (approach or threaten) witnesses. These can include a defendeant being ordered:

  • Too stay at a certain address,
  • To not contact the victim or witnesses directly or indirectly and,
  • To comply with a curfew.

If a person is concerned about whether or not the defendant will be granted bail, or what the conditions of bail will be, they may discuss their concerns with the police officer or the Witness Care Unit contact.

Once your views have been passed onto the CPS they will take your concerns into consideration.

Court Proceedings

Domestic Violence proceedings will be heard at either:

  1. The Magistrates’ Court.
  2. The Crown Court for trial or sentence or,
  3. A Specialist Domestic Violence Court (a type of Magistrates’ Court that specialises in domestic violence cases).


  • At the Magistrates Court the defendant will be asked at the first hearing if he pleads guilty or not guilty.
  • If the case is sent to the Crown Court at the first hearing the defendant will plead guilty or not guilty at a separate Crown Court hearing at a later date (called a Plea and Case Management Hearing or PCMH).

If the defendant pleads guilty he or she will receive a criminal conviction and be sentenced either on the same day, or a few weeks later if the case is adjourned (postponed) for pre-sentence reports to be prepared about the defendant.

  • The victim will not usually need to attend court if the defendant pleads guilty. However, if the defendant pleads not guilty a trial date will be set.


  • If you are required to attend court and answer questions about what happened to you, you may choose to have a video witness statement which will be recorded. This is referred to as an ABE video.  
  • It is most likely that the video will be played at court and you will not have to go over your evidence again however,
  • If the judge decides the video ought not to be played in court, or you have made a written witness statement, the prosecutor will ask you to attend court to talk about what happened to you.
  • Whether a video is played or not, you will then be asked some questions by the defendant’s lawyer. This is called cross-examination.

Cross Examination

The defendant’s lawyer has to put forward what the defendant says (his ‘defence’) but they should not be aggressive or intimidating. The judge or prosecutor should intervene if they are.

  • If you are worried about this, you can discuss this issue with your police officer or Witness Care Unit contact prior to giving evidence. This is organised by the court Witness Service.

At court there should be a separate waiting area for you. You will also be able to read your statement through or watch your ABE video to refresh your memory before you go into court.

  • An ABE video will have often been edited.
  • The edits are to be negotiated and agreed between both the prosecutor and defence lawyer.
  • If you have concerns about editing, you can raise this with the prosecutor and ask them to explain the edits.
  • Special measures victims of domestic and sexual violence may be entitled to special measures to assist them in giving evidence at court.

Special Measures

Special measures are practical options to help the prosecution give the best evidence possible. These include

  • Giving evidence from behind a screen so that the defendant cannot see you, or
  • Giving evidence by video link so you do not have to go into court.

Special measures need to be applied for by the prosecution on your behalf before the start of the trial. The judge or magistrates will then decide whether to grant the application.

After Evidence Has Been Given

  • After you have given evidence the CPS will present any other evidence they have.
  • The defence then have a chance to present their evidence.
  • The prosecutor and defence lawyer will then make speeches to the court and a decision will follow as to whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty.

In the Crown Court this decision is made by a jury, who are guided on the law by a judge. In the Magistrates’ Court, the decision is made by a judge or a panel of magistrates.

  • If the defendant is found guilty he or she will receive a criminal conviction and will be sentenced, either immediately or after pre-sentence reports are prepared by a probation officer.
  • If he or she is found not guilty then hes or she will be free to leave the court and will not have a criminal conviction.
  • The defendant can only be convicted if the magistrates, judge or jury are sure that he or she is guilty of the offence.

Conviction and Sentence

  • What the defendant gets as his or her sentence depends on different factors including legal guidelines and what the pre-sentence report recommends.
  • The victim’s statement (VPS) will also be read and taken into account by the court at sentence.

A VPS is a statement taken from you after you give a witness statement to the police, or at any stage in the proceedings up to sentence, and is your chance to indicate the impact the abuse has had on you and your daily life.

  • The defendant may get a length of time in prison as his or her sentence.
  • If this happens, he or she will usually serve half of this sentence in prison and then half out of prison (‘on licence’) but monitored by probation services.
  • If the defendant has received a prison sentence of over 12 months then you may be contacted by the probation service when he or she is about to be released to discuss any special conditions you want him or her to have after leaving prison, for example, that he or she must not go within a certain area.
  • If he or she breaks any of these conditions, or commits another offence during the remainder of his or her sentence, then he or she can be returned to prison.
  • If the defendant has committed a sex offence he or she may be subject to orders limiting his or her movements or requiring him or her to report to the authorities at certain times.


While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information provided in this article, it does not constitute legal advice and cannot be relied upon as such. Each legal case and issue may have unique facts and circumstances, as a result legalally does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising as a result of reliance upon the information provided. For further help and guidance, you can always rely on and seek advice from our experienced lawyers.

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