Reconceptualising ‘Report to Court’ Trajectories

A Qualitative Study of Police Responses to Domestic Abuse.

This collaborative project between Durham University, Cumbria Constabulary and Northumbria Police sought to conceptualise and contextualise police responses to domestic abuse by tracking progression of cases in two forces from the point of first service contact through to charge decision stages.

For further reports from PhD thesis funded by N8 PRP, please see PhD Studentships.

Full Report


The research was conducted across Cumbria and Northumbria Constabularies and tracked the progression of domestic abuse cases from the point of first service contact, through to the initial response, investigation and charge decision stages. This study was conducted with a view to contextualise and conceptualise police responses to domestic abuse – to inform future research involving police data, as well as policy and practice.

Key findings

When examined on force IMS, some of the selected domestic abuse cases presented as involving relatively mechanistic, straightforward trajectories, which parallels with the depiction of case progression in other report-to-court studies. However, during the interviews, when officers were able to reflect on the circumstances and their professional engagement with particular cases, the complexity and ‘messiness’ of case trajectories were emphasised. Three themes were identified that are explored in more depth in the report. Further information is available in the case study and presentation linked above. 

Domestic abuse cases don’t always enter the system ‘at the start’
Many officers described how prior engagement with the victim or suspect, either personally or organisationally, informed aspects of their response.

Domestic abuse cases ‘evolve’ as they progress through the police system
Officers described how the nature of a report can change dramatically from the first point of contact, through to when officers take a first account or statement, and more information becomes available.

Broader policing contexts shape police responses, and case progression 
Examples of this theme are discussed across three different categories: the circumstances of engagement, positive action, and investigation strategies.


Research was undertaken by Dr Kelly Johnson and Professor Nicole Westmarland, Durham University.