PPS unveils new Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Abuse

Publication date:


The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has published its updated Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Domestic Abuse. The policy provides guidance about the different forms of domestic abuse and how we take decisions in these cases. The policy covers the information and support for victims and witnesses during the prosecution process, including Special Measures that can help victims and witnesses give their best evidence in court. It also provides details of specialist support organisations who can help. 

The PPS’s Head of Policy and Information, Dr Richard Scullion said: 

“Sadly we see many cases involving domestic abuse – in 2022/23, domestic abuse cases made up more than a fifth of the PPS’s caseload.

“Domestic abuse causes long-lasting and far-reaching harm to victims and their loved ones, including children and young people, and has a serious impact on wider society. We want to help victims to understand what constitutes domestic abuse and the support available. 

“One of the most effective ways of combating domestic abuse is through the pursuit and disruption of perpetrators, which includes prosecution. Prosecutors taking decisions in cases involving domestic abuse understand the complex dynamics of domestic abuse, and the impact of trauma on victims and witnesses. These cases are a main priority for us, and the safety of victims is at the forefront of our considerations when prosecuting such cases.

“The Domestic Abuse and Civil Proceedings Act (Northern Ireland) 2021 created a new criminal offence of domestic abuse in Northern Ireland. As well as capturing physical violence, sexual violence, and threatening behaviour, this offence also captures controlling or coercive behaviour and psychological, emotional and financial abuse. This ensures that protection is not limited to physically violent behaviour, allowing the PPS to prosecute the full range of tactics an abuser uses to control the victim, where the evidence allows. The updated policy provides details of the 2021 Act and sets out the PPS’s approach to these important provisions.” 

Dr Scullion said: “Although domestic abuse victims are predominantly women, we recognise that anyone can be a victim, or a perpetrator. It most often occurs in intimate partner relationships but can also occur within family relationships. Whatever the circumstances, victims should not feel shame about being abused – the responsibility for abuse lies with the abuser. 

“We recognise that victims of domestic abuse may understandably find it difficult to report their experiences to police and go through the criminal justice system. We work with the Police Service of Northern Ireland to ensure that victims are treated with sensitivity, fairness, and empathy. Our prosecutors are specially trained to recognise the complex features of domestic abuse.  

“We are also acutely aware that there may be a continuing threat to the victim’s safety in domestic abuse cases, and in the worst cases a threat to their life or the lives of others around them.”

Dr Scullion outlined the help that is available to victims. 

He said: “Police and prosecutors are dedicated to tackling these offences. We in the PPS will carefully consider every case we receive and we will robustly prosecute if the evidence allows and the Test for Prosecution is met. We can apply to the court to put in place Special Measures to help victims and witnesses give their best evidence. This may include screening and giving evidence away from the court building in a Remote Evidence Centre. 

“Our Victim and Witness Care Unit provides a dedicated point of contact from when a file is received from police through to the conclusion of any court case. There are also specialist organisations who can offer practical and emotional support to victims and witnesses of domestic abuse. 

“My message to anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse is: Don’t suffer alone - please report what has happened to the police.” 

You can read the policy by clicking the link and find out more about how we approach cases involving domestic abuse on the dedicated section of our website