Six-month time limits on reporting domestic abuse to police 'should be scrapped'

Time limits on women reporting domestic abuse to police should be removed to stop perpetrators “getting away with it,” says MPs and victims’ campaigners.   They claim the abusers are escaping punishment for their crimes because there is a six-month time limit on reporting so-called summary offences to police, after which they will not take action prosecute.   These offences include common assault such as  like a push, raising a fist or being spat at which may not result in actual bodily harm.

Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party home affairs committee, said it was a problem that had not been “taken seriously enough” and had got worse at a time when there were increased delays in police  She said some victims of domestic violence are not aware of the limits set out by the current legislation. “I’ve been working with somebody locally who’s been in exactly this situation and she was told that charges couldn’t be put because the six-month limit had been reached,” she added.

“She didn’t know that there was a six-month limit, and what that means is that perpetrators of domestic abuse, of horrible violence can end up getting away with it. Can end up there being no justice and therefore no protection for future victims, for future people in relationships as well.” Ms Cooper argued that the time limit should be removed because it took time for victims of domestic abuse to leave a relationship or build up the strength to face going through the criminal justice system.

A parliamentary petition calling for the abolition of the time limits has already garnered more than 50,000 signatures.

Women and men who are violently assaulted by their partners have just 6 mths to do something. Then the aggressor is safe. Breaking free can take years.

And then it’s too late. Signing this petition will force parliament to reconsider this dangerous rule. https://t.co/gB7YjlHtAd

— Sali Hughes (@salihughes) March 18, 2021

Writer Sali Hughes told of a friend who was abused by a violent controlling partner but whose attempt to prosecute was thwarted when police told her it had been timed out beyond the six month deadline. “Women and men who are violently assaulted by their partners have just six months to do something.

Then the aggressor is safe. Breaking free can take years. And then it’s too late.

Signing this petition will force parliament to reconsider this dangerous rule,” Ms Hughes wrote. The calls for a rethink have been backed by Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner. She said: “Reporting domestic abuse to the police is a serious decision for victims and needs urgent action and support as a response. 

“It is well-known that victims of coercive control are put at further risk if their perpetrator sees them trying to take a stand or to escape. The abuse and particularly violence get worse as he tries to re-assert his control.   “Summary court cases, those which can only go to the magistrates’ court, can’t be prosecuted after six months.

So, if time passes whilst the victim makes arrangements, or packs or gets harassed into staying a bit longer, the chance for justice disappears.   

“Worryingly, this means that the chance for restraining orders to protect her at this highly vulnerable time also disappear. 

“Yvette Cooper’s grassroots experience with her constituents shines a light on this problem and the government, which is currently looking closely at how female victims are supported by the criminal justice system, should take this point on too.”

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