Closed petition Abolish time limits to bring charges for offences for acts of domestic violence

Since Domestic Violence is not a specific Criminal Offence, suspects will be investigated for related offences. If the reported abuse is categorised as ‘Common Assault’, time limits mean victims can be denied an investigation despite building the strength, courage and willpower to come forward.

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There are currently thousands of organisations, charities and support groups for Domestic Violence victims. Yet, as it stands, the law can prevent abusers from being investigated and charged.

As a victim myself, it took over a year from starting counselling to speak up about all my pain and suffering. Only to be told I was too late. Not only is this damaging, it may fail to prevent new victims. We are victims too. Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. More need to be done to protect people.

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Government responded

This response was given on 16 April 2021

Where the 6-month time limit prevents a domestic incident from being charged as a common assault, alternative charges to which it does not apply include other assault offences and coercive behaviour.

In recognition of the terrible effects of these crimes, the Government has committed unprecedented amounts of funding to supporting victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence during the pandemic and beyond. The police take allegations of domestic abuse extremely seriously and we are clear that all allegations need to be vigorously investigated and pursued through the courts whenever possible. In addition, the Government is committed to recruiting an additional 20,000 police officers over the next three years, which will improve the police response to all vulnerable victims of crime.

In relation to the time limits for prosecution, in England and Wales there is no time limit for starting a prosecution for indictable offences (i.e. offences that can be tried in the Crown Court). But under section 127 of the Magistrates’ Courts Act 1980, a prosecution for a summary offence (which can only be tried in a magistrates’ court) must begin within six months of the day when the offence was committed, unless there is specific statutory provision for a different time limit. There are two opposing considerations – on the one hand the need for justice to be done; and on the other hand, the right of suspects to finality and certainty. For summary offences, which are less serious, the priority is to avoid unnecessary delay in disposing of them, whereas for indictable cases, which are more serious, it is important that passage of time should be no obstacle to prosecution.

The Ministry of Justice considered in 2020 whether the six-month time limit should be extended as regards summary offences related to domestic abuse, as had been recommended by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and supported by the Home Affairs Select Committee. We concluded that extending the limit (or removing it altogether) would be limited in its benefit, as common assault, the least serious of a range of offences against the person, covering acts such as a push or shove that does not lead to injury, is the only offence likely to be relevant in this context that is affected by the limit. The other assault offences are not summary offences and, in recognition of the need for justice regardless of the time since the offence, there is no time limit for prosecuting them. Nor is there a time limit for prosecuting the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour, which includes threats of violence, and which the Domestic Abuse Bill will extend to include post-separation abuse.

Whist recognising complainants' disappointment where prosecution for a common assault alleged to have been committed in domestic circumstances is time-barred, the range of potential alternative charges made available by the government are in place to ensure that justice is done.

Ministry of Justice