The scandal of thousands of domestic abuse cases being abandoned

17th November 2021

The scandal of thousands of domestic abuse cases being abandoned

Karen Gray, Associate in the Higgs LLP Family team, looks at why so many domestic abuse cases are dropped without charge – and calls for change

It was alarming – but not surprising – to read recent reports about the staggering number of domestic abuse cases which are abandoned by police simply because they are ‘timed out’.

The time limit to charge someone with common assault, which includes cases of domestic abuse, is six months from when the alleged incident took place. Once this time limit is reached, cases must be discontinued.

Data obtained by the BBC showed that almost 13,000 domestic abuse cases were dropped in these circumstances in England and Wales over the last five years.

The number of cases which were timed out by a six-month deadline increased from 1,451 in 2016/17 to 3,763 in 2020/21.

And just 1.6% of rape allegations in England Wales result in someone being charged, something the government has admitted it is ‘deeply ashamed’ about.

I have over 20 years of experience working within the family law field, with a particular interest in domestic abuse. Largely because of various lockdown periods since March 2020, incidents of domestic abuse are at an all-time high.

In fact, the number of domestic abuse-related crimes rose by 6% in the year ending June 2021 to almost 850,000 offences.

I am sure that the police feel overwhelmed by this sharp increase – but every case must be investigated properly, and perpetrators brought to justice. 

The six-month time limit is meant to keep the criminal justice system moving – but I make no apologies for saying, when it comes to domestic abuse, that limit should be extended to at least 18 months and perhaps two years.

It is unrealistic to expect all domestic abuse victims to report crimes straight away. Sometimes they lack the courage and worry about the repercussions should they go to the police, particularly if there is coercion at play. Sometimes victims don’t even realise they are being abused straight away.

A longer period would also give police the time they need to gather all the evidence required to bring forward a prosecution.

Police also need to be more aware of domestic abuse. Sure, each force has specialist teams but, in my view, every officer needs specialist training to ensure they can spot the tell-tale signs when they walk into a situation.

The Law

The introduction of the Domestic Abuse Bill was designed to add further protection to those who experience domestic abuse and to strengthen measures to tackle perpetrators.

For the first time in the UK there is now a statutory definition of domestic abuse which addresses the wide range of offences that can take place, including physical violence, emotion, coercive or controlling behaviour and economic abuse.

Victims are also afforded extra protection in that they can no longer be cross-examined by abusers in family courts, and they are also given access to special measures in the courtroom to protect against intimidation, including protective screens or giving evidence via video link.

The Bill is a welcome addition and something that I hope will encourage more victims to feel empowered to come forward.

In addition, the law enables those subject to domestic abuse to apply for various injunctions for protection, including Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders.

If you believe you are a victim of domestic abuse, the Family Team at Higgs LLP can provide you with the best advice, assist in making applications to the courts for protective orders and help obtain the best support

For more information, contact me on 01384 327152 or





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