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Consultation response to the revised Statutory Guidance for the Conduct of Domestic Homicide Reviews

This post is by Dr James Rowlands, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Westminster and Dr Elizabeth Cook, Senior Lecturer at the Violence and Society Centre at City, University of London and Co-Investigator of the VISION consortium research project.

The post draws on a consultation response to the revised Statutory Guidance for the Conduct of Domestic Homicide Reviews prepared by James, Lizzie, and Sarah Dangar, PhD candidate at City, University of London.

Last month, the Home Office launched the draft revised statutory guidance for conducting domestic homicide reviews with an open consultation ongoing until 29th July 2024.

What to make of it? On the one hand, a revision is well overdue, given the guidance was last issued in 2016. Considering the developments in the domestic abuse policy landscape, it was likely that significant changes to the statutory guidance were going to be required. First, by 2023, around 1000 reviews had been completed. Therefore, 13 years after their first implementation and seven years since the last revision to the statutory guidance, we have a better sense of what works and what does not. Second, the government’s reform agenda – including the introduction of a DHR library, the change to the definition and naming of reviews, the roll-out of training for chairs, and the development of an oversight mechanism by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner – means that there is an ever-developing framework to support the conduct of reviews. Third, the evidence base on reviews is expanding. That includes a better picture of case profiles, learning, and recommendations. The recent reports from Beyond the Streets (looking at reviews concerning individuals involved in the sex industry) and HALT (reporting on an analysis of a sample of 302 reviews following domestic abuse-related deaths between 2012 and 2019) are examples of this. There is also an increasing amount of research into how reviews are undertaken, including research which has explored their complexity in practice (see, for example, this recent article into ethics in review that we authored with colleagues). Yet, much also remains unclear, including the impact that reviews have and the best way to track this (as summarised in this recent article).

Given all these developments, any revision to the statutory guidance needed to be more than an update in content: it also needed to set out a future direction of travel and account for what’s been achieved.

So, does the draft revised statutory guidance deliver and address the need for an update while also taking on these broader issues?

That’s something we have been considering, and which led us to bring stakeholders together online and in person at a roundtable last week in an event co-hosted by the Violence and Society Centre (City, University of London) as part of the UKPRP-funded VISION consortium, and Westminster University’s Centre for Social Justice Research (CSJR). The aim of the roundtable wasn’t to develop a shared consultation response because individual attendees and their organisations will be doing that for themselves. Instead, we wanted to create a space for dialogue. Given the rich and varied conversations between the stakeholders about the draft revised statutory guidance, we think it’s fair to say we achieved that aim. Moreover, if the conversations we heard are a guide, the Home Office will receive some well-thought-through submissions from various stakeholders in due course.

The roundtable was also an opportunity for us to test our thinking. Since then, having worked to finalise our own consultation response, simply put, our view is that while the draft of the revised statutory guidance is a start, it doesn’t go far enough.

Let’s begin with the positives. There are some valuable changes, including breaking the text into different sections and introducing more detailed templates. It is also good to see a commitment to underlying principles, including learning and implementing change, the importance of being victim-centred and trauma-informed, and the role of family and others who knew a victim. In addition, the requirement of a rationale from Community Safety Partnerships (CSPs) where a decision is made not to commission a review is a very positive step in increasing the transparency of commissioning processes at a local level. Other changes relate to detail on what it means to be an Independent Chair in practice and the Panel as ‘co-producers’.

Yet, at the same time, as drafted, the revised statutory guidance seems incomplete, lacking in both breadth and depth.

For example, while an emphasis on being victim-centred and trauma-informed is welcome, how to achieve and operationalise this in practice is unclear. There are also significant gaps. For example, while recognising the importance of expertise on a review panel, the draft leaves unaddressed questions of capacity (both for Community Safety Partnerships who commission reviews and to ensure specialist domestic abuse service and led-by-and-for provision is around the table). Missing, too, is a workable definition of what constitutes a domestic abuse-related suicide, something that we know is affecting commissioning decisions (as explored in this article). Even more, the draft guidance risks repeating the confusion around suicides by extending the scope of reviews to include deaths from neglect and unexplained circumstances while similarly leaving them undefined. Finally, the sections on what happens after a review – including publication and the delivery of action plans – lack detail.

Given reviews are a response to profound trauma for families and communities, as drafted, the changes proposed do not match the importance of the task. In short, there is more to do to ensure we can work together to honour victims, hold perpetrators accountable, identify and share learning, and drive meaningful change.

To progress this work, we make a simple call: we would encourage the Home Office to adopt the spirit and practice of review. To do that, we make two important recommendations. First, the Home Office should review its mechanisms for oversight and accountability to date. This means undertaking an appraisal of its responsibility over reviews since 2011 and what has changed since this point. Second, the Home Office should engage in meaningful co-production as it moves forward, ideally by establishing a taskforce that includes representation from key stakeholders to complete the work to finalise the revised statutory guidance.

We’ve set out our thinking on the draft revised statutory guidance, including how to develop it further, in a consultation response co-written with Sarah Dangar. While we hope that the UK government will consider our recommendations, we also hope that our response is of interest to others as they finalise their consultation responses too. You can access our consultation response to read and / or download below.

If you would like to respond to the consultation, further information, as well as guidance on how to submit a response is available here.

A written response from Dr James Rowlands, Dr Elizabeth Cook & Sarah Dangar – 1 download