Now that I am retired having been many years a magistrate with a long awareness of the declining freedoms enjoyed by the ordinary citizen and a corresponding fear of the big brother state`s ever increasing encroachment on civil liberties I hope that my personal observations within these general parameters will be of interest to those with an open mind. Having been blogging with this title for many years against the rules of the Ministry of Justice my new found freedom should allow me to be less inhibited in these observations.




Comments are usually moderated. However, I do not accept any legal responsibility for the content of any comment. If any comment seems submitted just to advertise a website it will not be published.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST AND PROSECUTIONS INVOLVING DOMESTIC VIOLENCE



On 3rd March I posted on the subject title “Are Some DV Prosecutions Politically Motivated?”.  I chose those words with some care on the assumption that protocols and methods employed at my court are typical of others and on the basis that there is now very little independent action possible within the magistrates` courts system and what is generally good for the goose court  is equally good for the gander court. 

At my court we have what I suppose can be termed a DV co-ordinator who liaises with the other organisations inputting into the system; CPS, police, probation and who produces annual reports.  CPS as is widely known have a distinct policy on domestic violence.  The section on public interest and withdrawal is of particular interest.  The position of the police has changed in the last 15 years from taking a passive attitude to being able to apply for a 28 day exclusion order from the marital home for a suspect who has not even been  arrested for any offence. Probation Service has formulated many programmes within supervision and community orders in attempts to change the mind set of those convicted of violent offending within a domestic context.  And to cap it all new legislation will be debated in the next parliament vastly expanding the parameters of what actually does constitute the term “domestic violence”.  I list all these factors to demonstrate that there is rightly or wrongly an overt political will determined to show that action must and will be taken to punish DV perpetrators.    One would have thought that all the input on the subject would be available to our legislators in order to provide a statistical basis for the promised new legislation.  According to the response from the Ministry of Justice to a recent Freedom of Information request one would have been mistaken.  The question submitted was;” Please inform me of the numbers of those charged with assault under the domestic violence protocols at magistrates courts in England and Wales and acquitted at trial for last five years for which figures are available. Please also supply numbers of acquittals as above as percentage of those charged. If possible also supply the reasons for acquittals eg cracked or ineffective trials, vacated trials .

The reply received was, “Your request has been handled under the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA).  I am afraid that I am not able to confirm whether the Ministry of Justice holds the information you have requested. On this occasion, the cost of determining whether we hold the information would exceed the limit set by the Freedom of Information  Act and, as a result, I am afraid will not be taking your request further. In this letter I explain why that is the case and I also provide you with some advice as to how you could refine your request so that we may be able to answer it. The law allows us to decline to answer requests under FOIA when we estimate that  it would cost us more than £600 (equivalent to 312 working days’ worth of work, calculated at £25 per hour) to confirm whether the department holds the information requested.  It may help if I explain that the MoJ Court Proceedings Database holds information ,on defendants proceeded against, found guilty and sentenced for criminal offences in England and Wales. This database holds information on offences provided by the  statutes under which proceedings are brought but not all the specific circumstances of each case. It is not possible to separately identify from centrally held data the relationship between victim and defendant; hence it is not possible to separately identify which offences proceeded against at magistrates’ courts involving assault between adults constituted a domestic violence offence. This detailed information is not reported to Justice Statistics Analytical Services due to their size and complexity.  In this instance, to determine if all of the information requested is held, we would  be required to contact all the courts in England and Wales and ask them to search  individual case files for all offences involving assault between adults to establish the relationship between the victim and defendant, in order to determine whether the  offence constituted a domestic violence offence. To assess whether we collect and  can collate the information you require, on the scale that you have requested, would therefore exceed the ‘appropriate limit’ set out in section 12(2) of the FOIA. You can find out more about Section 12(2) by reading the extract from the Act and some guidance points we consider when applying this exemption, attached at the  end of this letter. You can also find more information by reading the full text of the Act, available  at ttp://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/36/section/12 and further guidance http://www.justice.gov.uk/information-access-rights/foi-guidance-for-practitioners/ exemptions-guidance . Whilst you could narrow the scope of your request in order to try and bring it within the cost limit, for example by requesting information for a particular magistrates’ court, I would like to take this opportunity to advise you that it is very likely that any information that may be held which would determine whether an offence constituted domestic abuse may be exempt from disclosure under the FOIA under the terms of Section 32 (Court Records). Therefore it is likely that any subsequent narrowed request asking for domestic violence conviction rates or statistics could be refused under Section 32.  

I am sorry that on this occasion I have not been able to answer your request. You have the right to appeal our decision if you think it is incorrect. Details can be found in the ‘How to Appeal’ section attached at the end of this letter.
Disclosure Log
You can also view information that the Ministry of Justice has disclosed in response to previous Freedom of Information requests. Responses are anonymised and published on our on-line disclosure log which can be found on the MoJ website:"



Following that reply the questioner replied as follows,” Considering that every judge and magistrate in England and Wales has specialist training in domestic violence and particular protocols must be followed for every case and results reported I find your answer that such statistics are not centrally collated quite astonishing. Only a few months ago government spokesperson discussed the likelihood of new offence of assault within a domestic context. How can such legislation even be mooted when conviction rates under current legislation are unavailable as per your reply to my FOI request?"

So I ask again:- are some DV prosecutions politically motivated?




1 comment:

  1. Why is anyone surprised that the incompetent and overpaid occupiers of the MoJ can't even answer a simple question. Perhaps they are paid so much that the £600 figure only accounts for a tiny fraction of their time. And why, if their story is true, do the courts routinely flag DV cases as special?

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