Investigating Investigations: A Critical Evaluation of the England and Wales Domestic Homicide Review (DHR) Process

  • Grace Boughton

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

Abstract

In England and Wales, the rate of known domestic homicides has remained relatively stable over the last decade (Office for National Statistics, 2021a), despite sustained attempts to reduce and prevent it. Understanding how and why such homicides occur is paramount if future incidents are to be prevented. Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) were introduced in the 2004 Domestic Violence, Crimes and Victims Act, and have been operational since 2011 (Home Office, 2016b). DHRs are instigated when a suspected domestic homicide or suicide occurs, and the offender is either an intimate partner or someone the victim lived with (Home Office, 2016b). Each DHR is set up to objectively assess cases on a local and multi-agency basis, and to identify good and poor areas of practice, with the overarching aim of reducing and preventing future domestic homicide (Home Office, 2016b).

The aim of this PhD research is to examine and critically analyse both the principles and operation of Domestic Homicide Reviews (DHRs) in England and Wales. Thirty-four semi-structured interviews were held; thirty-two with professionals involved in the DHR process, and two with co-victims of domestic homicide. Six observations were also undertaken of selected components of the DHR process, totalling to just under twenty hours of observations. Private documents (such as case details, Terms of Reference, agency chronologies or Individual Management Reviews, and draft overview reports) were acquired and analysed, which contextualised the data that emerged from both the interviews, and the observations.

The findings reveal that the current DHR system is flawed in a number of ways. First, this research demonstrates that there are issues with how the DHR process itself is conducted. For example, reviews regularly exceed the prescribed 6-month timeframe; the DHR data collection method is outdated, and DHRs are not a priority for all agencies involved. Second, the findings reveal an influence of organisational culture in the DHR context. For instance, agency panel members can exert different levels of influence over DHR proceedings, depending on how engaged they are in the process. Last, the no-blame approach that underpins the process has theoretical importance that does not always translate into practice. The research provides evidence that no-blame is a difficult concept to understand, and difficult to implement in the DHR context. The implications of these findings for policy and practice are considered and the thesis concludes by stating that the DHR process needs to undergo a series of changes as soon as possible, so that it can truly cement its importance within both criminal justice and society more generally.
Date of Award2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of South Wales
SupervisorCheryl Allsop (Supervisor), Fiona Brookman (Supervisor) & Mike Maguire (Supervisor)

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