Vera Baird

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The Commissioner’s Response to the Home Office Consultation – Revised Statutory Guidance on Domestic Homicide Reviews

14th October 2016

Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird QC’s response to the Revised Statutory Guidance on Domestic Homicide Reviews.

In the five years that have passed since the last review of the Multi-agency Statutory Guidance for the Conduct of Domestic Homicide Reviews, much has advanced in the understanding of what constitutes domestic violence:-

  • The changes in Legal Aid eligibility, only offering those domestic violence victims who meet particular criteria, such as going to a refuge or involving the police the accessibility to funding to flee abusive relationships.
  • The introduction of DVPN’s and DVPO’s
  • The Serious Crime Act (2015) creates a new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in intimate or familiar relationships created.
  • The Governments 2016-2020 VAWG strategy.

It therefore seems fitting to revise the way in which we review Domestic Homicides to ensure that lessons continue to be learnt from the practice that is derived from the changes in legislation and law.

The main changes within the review document highlight the importance of taking a holistic approach when considering the facts presented during scrutiny of practice by agencies and professionals.

Views of main changes

Emphasising the importance of involving family and friends in reviews;

Family and friends often provide a more insightful account of abuse endured by the victim.  The revised document emphasising the need for family and friend involvement in reviews will allow for the inclusion of the full account of occurrences and access to services that professionals and agencies involved in the review may not necessarily be aware of.  However, there needs to be a balance between the disclosures of unnecessary personal information being detailed into the overview report just solely to demonstrate that wider consultation.

This is a critical element of the review and is extremely complex.  Therefore to facilitate it in the most effective and sensitive manner Newcastle City Council now hold strategy meetings to see how best to engage the family with the DHR.

Throughout the review it is essential that the review team make a full commitment to ensure family and friends are provided with updates/progress reports and remain fully engaged.

Cope and recover processes for the family are vitally important following the homicide of a close friend or family member, allowing them to be involved in the DHR process may aid recovery. Therefore it is also vital that we offer post homicide review support to family and friends.

Stressing that DHRs are not just about what agencies knew;

DHRs are a review into the circumstances surrounding a death that has been caused following a domestic related incident.  The review is to explore the events leading up to and the offence itself and establishing if the death could have been prevented.  Reiterating to agencies that the review process is not just about what they knew but it is important to participate in the review enabling them to learn where the victim was ‘let down’ and how to improve processes and working practices to reduce the risk of further fatalities.

Reviewing why a person was not accessing appropriate services is as important as establishing how involved services did not identify heightened risk factors.  For example reviews could identify where access/pathways to services are failing and can be improved. It is essential as professionals that review teams can see that victims and their families are often not embroiled in the system and not aware of what is support is available – reviews should look to the future and how access/information can be improved.

Locally in Northumbria the PCC has led a Workplace Domestic Violence Champions Scheme.  Specially trained ‘champions’ signpost colleagues, who have sought their help, to specialist services in the local area.  In addition the new Women’s Aid ‘Change that Lasts’ programme includes an ‘Ask Me’ that focuses on the provision of community champions and a trusted professional element which trains non specialist staff to recognise and respond more effectively to DV when working with families – such as Troubled Family Workers.  Learning from DHRS can strengthen and improve these new ways of working and influence action points for services.

Reiterating that little or no contact with agencies does not mean a DHR is not required;

If a death occurs and the victim or perpetrator has not been supported by specialist agencies the review is necessary to question why there has been no interventions, how the abuse has been missed and was there any risk indicators from involved professionals that should have been identified.

In practice Newcastle City Council have found that in fact during the review agencies have been exposed as being involved with either the victim or the perpetrator.

Recognising that identifying lead authorities in complex cases can be difficult but local areas must come to an appropriate arrangement;

We agree that having a lead authority in the review process of complex cases is necessary to establish a systematic flow of communications and a responsible body to collate and distribute necessary information.

Ensuring the review panel is sufficiently configured, meets an appropriate number of times and resolves disputes;

This revised guidance should reinforce the need for statutory organisations to remain part of the panel regardless as to whether there service was known or used by the victim/perpetrator.  Every effort is made to configure the DHR Panel to meet the needs of the review, but it must be stressed however that this is not always possible due to resourcing issues, in particular one area has found difficulty engaging GP’s who are often reluctant to share information.

In configuring the panel the arrangements need to ensure that the panel meets an appropriate number of times and members are of the most appropriate seniority within an organisation as this key to ensure dispute resolution is swift.

Clarifying the independence of the chair – suggesting an ‘independence statement’ is included in the report to assure readers;

Yes, this clarity made transparent in an ‘independence statement’ will help to improve the objectivity/impartiality of the report and assure readers that the Chair/Author has no conflict of interest.  However, it is useful to commission a Chair/Author who have some understanding of local issues so a further definition of what is meant by independent would be good for example one area has commissioned a retired police officer to Chair reviews, would this be seen as independent?

If the CPS has had no involvement in the case and can act as independents chairs to the review hearing, why are they unable to do so?  Sunderland has experience of having a member of the CPS act as chair and it was perceived that they demonstrated very strong and constructive challenges of all partners on the panel.

Using pseudonyms chosen by the family;

This can be seen as good practice and is already carried out in at least one area in Northumbria, giving the victim a name humanises the report.  This is seen as better practice in comparison to giving the victim an initial such as ‘Baby P’ making the report hard to read and potentially reducing the human impact of the report and ultimately the crime.

Allowing the victim’s family and friends to feel that they have a role to play in the review process is an expression of compassion and surety that the anonymity of the victim is maintained.

New section on data protection, inc Dept of Health guidance on GPs/clinicians cooperating with DHRs and disclosing all relevant information;

Data protection procedures should be clearly marked in all policy and guidance.  Section 10 gives clear guidance on the disclosure of relevant information relating to the review.  GP’s are very reluctant to share information, introducing a section providing guidelines to GP and Clinicians seems very sensible.

This very relevant information ensures that the story has a clear flow from a broad range of services and professionals enabling the panel to formulate a clear chronological account of events that resulted in the victim’s death from a multi-agency prospective.

Re-working the templates in the appendices to clarify the structure of a standard report (further work needed here).  

We are supportive of a standardised report format, however there is a need to ensure that the unique ‘story’ of each case, including the narrative of case history that is vital to the of the report is still retained and report writers will need to have the skills to do this.

Welcome the inclusion of a target date on the Action Plan Template.

Other Comments

  • Quality of Individual Management Reviews is variable. Organisations should receive minimum guidance on what standard the work should be completed to.
  • Organisations should be encouraged to put more emphasis on self-reflection as opposed to compliance
  • Is it possible to have a national database/forum to share details of DHR Chairs/Authors to speed up commissioning processes?
  • Sharing of lessons learnt is invaluable but should be done in a timely manner to speed up improvements, a regional forum may be more effective than a national forum which may cause time delays.
  • The Home Office has e-learning packages available for chairs of DHR’s, these packages should contain an element on coercive control and the influence and potential impact on family and friends.