Domestic abuse - a case study

What impact does a therapeutic intervention have on sentencing in a case involving domestic abuse?

Mr P faced a serious allegation of assault on his ex-partner. There had been a previous similar assault a year previously to which he had pleaded guilty in the Magistrates’ Court. For that offence, Mr P had received a community order with a single unpaid work requirement. There had been no work done to address his offending behaviour.

Mr P wanted intervention and help. He recognised that there were issues impacting his behaviour including anger management, control, anxiety, depression and confidence which were causing conflict in his relationship with his ex-partner. Through our support, he engaged in a programme of intensive therapy with a clear plan and structure. He was able to recognise his unhealthy behaviours that led to conflict.

All domestic abuse is serious.  This case passed the custodial threshold in principle and there was a real risk of immediate custody. What he had done was unquestionably serious enough to justify time in prison by way of punishment.

However, the overarching sentencing principles for domestic abuse sets out a mitigating factor where there is ‘Evidence of genuine recognition of the need for change, and evidence of obtaining help or treatment to effect that change’.

Mr P could provide clear evidence of recognition for the need to change. He had worked hard with his therapist. Mr P’s therapist was able to provide a case plan setting out his therapy goals and areas that already been worked on, albeit there was more work to be done.  Change must be sustained.

Probation had been instructed by the Court to prepare a pre-sentence report. As a result, of Mr P’s efforts the probation service indicated they would support an accredited programme as an alternative to custody.

The Court decided imprisonment was not an appropriate sentence in this instance. Although prison would have effectively punished Mr P, and he deserved that, it would have done nothing to address his offending behaviour or reduce the risk of reoffending or reduce the risk of harm.  Sentencing is always a balancing act between punishment, deterrence, prevention and rehabilitation.  In this case, the court decided that balance could be best found by punishing Mr P in the community, with a sentence that required him to carry on getting the help and support he plainly needed.  His voluntary efforts had set him on the right path in the regard, and gave the court confidence there was a realistic prospect that he could change.  Mr P was made subject to a robust Community Order which included an accredited treatment and change programme with probation

Mr P was given a chance to rebuild his life and be a better partner and father in the future.  It will be his last chance in reality, but he belatedly chose to get help, and that opened the door to a different, better and safer way of life.