Is domestic violence a criminal offence?

Domestic abuse isn't a type of criminal offence in itself. Abusers and offenders are prosecuted for other offences instead.

Cover your tracks

If you don't want anyone to know that you're finding out about domestic abuse, find out more about covering your tracks online from Women's Aid and Men's Advice Line.

Contact the police

Call the police if someone in your household has been physically violent, has threatened violence or you are worried that they may become violent.

Call 999 if you are in immediate danger. You can contact your local police station to report a crime.

The police should take any allegations of domestic abuse seriously. They should interview you and may take a statement detailing the violence.

You can ask to speak to a police officer of either sex. Some police forces have specially trained domestic abuse officers.

Take your time when being interviewed. Make sure the police have all the details of any incidents. You can ask to take a break if you feel upset or distressed during the interview.

What the police can do

The police may be able to arrest or detain a person suspected of violence for questioning. This can be useful if you need the person out of the way so you can leave.

The police can

If you have been hurt, the police can help you to get medical attention for any injuries.

Arrest and detention

In an emergency situation, the police can arrest a violent or abusive person straight away. The police can detain someone for up to six hours without arresting them.

The police can charge an abuser with an offence if there is enough evidence.

Someone charged by the police is likely to be held in a police cell until their court appearance. They could be released on bail if the police don't think you are at risk of harm. Bail conditions can be imposed, including a condition to not to go within a certain distance of you. The person on bail risks being held in custody if this condition is broken.

Medical examinations if you report violence

For some types of abuse, you may need to have a medical examination so the police can get evidence for a prosecution. You can ask to be examined by a male or female doctor.

You do not have to agree to a medical examination if you don't feel comfortable about it. Lack of medical evidence may damage the chances of a successful prosecution.

Criminal offences used in domestic violence cases

Criminal laws that can be used to prosecute in cases of domestic violence and abuse include:

  • murder, attempted murder or manslaughter
  • rape or indecent assault
  • unlawful wounding, grievous bodily harm
  • assault occasioning actual bodily harm, aggravated assault, common assault
  • harassment and putting a person in fear of violence
  • forced marriage

If you are taking legal action against an abuser, the following laws can also be used:

  • intimidating a witness
  • harming or threatening to harm a witness
  • breach of an injunction or a restraining order


The police send a report to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) if your abuser is charged,

The CPS decides if there is enough evidence to prosecute and if it is in the public interest to do so. It is usually considered in the public interest to charge a perpetrator of domestic violence.

If the CPS decides to prosecute, the abuser appears in a magistrates' court to enter their plea. They can be sentenced there and then If they plead guilty. This means you won't be called to give evidence. If they plead not guilty, a date is set for a trial. You will probably be called to appear in court as a witness.

You may want to consider civil remedies or bring a private criminal prosecution if the CPS decides not to prosecute. You cannot get legal aid to bring a private prosecution. A solicitor can advise you on private criminal proceedings.

Release on bail

A person charged with a criminal offence can request bail. Tell the police or CPS if you are concerned about what they might do if released on bail.

If bail is granted, it is probably be on condition that the abuser does not contact or come near you.

Contact the police immediately if they break this condition. The person on bail can be arrested for breach of bail conditions.

Who can drop the charges

It's the Crown Prosecution Service that prosecutes the perpetrator and only the CPS can drop the charges.

You may be able to withdraw your statement but you could be charged with wasting police time. In practice this is unlikely, but you should discuss this possibility with your solicitor.

Appearing as a witness in court

If a criminal case goes to trial, you probably have to give evidence as a witness for the prosecution. Anyone else who saw or heard the abuse or its effects may also be called as a witness. This may include children.

If you are called as a witness, you must attend court. If you don't, you could be arrested.

You'll get a letter from the court telling you where and when you have to go. You can claim expenses to cover your travel and any loss of earnings.

Contact Victim Support for advice and help with going to court.

What happens in court

The person accused is usually in court when you give evidence. You won't have to speak to them and they are not told your address.

They may be given a prison sentence if found guilty of a serious offence. If they are not sent to prison, the court may impose conditions on where they can live or restrict where they can go.


You may be able to claim compensation for serious physical or psychological injuries resulting from domestic abuse.

Find out more from about claiming compensation for criminal injury.


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