Roles of Prosecutors

See also the Justice Sector Module.

The UN Handbook sets forth basic obligations for prosecutors with regard to cases of violence against women. Legislation should:

  • establish that responsibility for prosecuting violence against women lies with prosecution authorities and not with complainants/survivors of violence, regardless of the level or type of injury;
  • require that complainants/survivors, at all relevant stages of the legal process, be promptly and adequately informed, in a language they understand, of their rights;
    • the details of relevant legal proceedings;
    • available services, support mechanisms and protective measures;
    • opportunities for obtaining restitution and compensation through the legal system;
    • details of events in relation to their case, including specific places and times of hearings; and
    • release of the perpetrator from pre-trial detention or from jail; and
  • require that any prosecutor who discontinues a case of violence against women explain to the complainant/survivor why the case was dropped.

(See: UN Handbook)

Drafters must ensure that crimes involving widow maltreatment are not treated less seriously than other crimes. Legislation should state that ex officio prosecution is exercised in all cases of violence against widows, many of whom may lack the resources to initiate a prosecution claim themselves. For example, in the law of Austria, ex officio prosecution is exercised at all levels of injury in cases of violence. (See: UN Handbook, 3.8.2)

Legislation should require prosecutors to ensure that all available evidence has been collected by the police investigating body. By relying primarily on the evidence collected by the police rather than the victim’s testimony, prosecutors may be able to reduce the risk of retaliation by an abuser and increase the likelihood of a successful prosecution.

Legislation should mandate that prosecutors investigate the level of risk to widows in maltreatment cases and consider appropriate protective measures in cases of high risk. (See: Section on Lethality or Risk Assessment, Domestic Violence) Other agencies of the criminal justice system, including police and judges, should also assess the level of risk to widows.

(See: Role of Prosecutors, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights; Prosecutorial Reform Efforts, StopVAW, The Advocates for Human Rights)

Legislation should require that prosecutors keep the complainant/survivors informed of the upcoming legal proceedings and their rights therein, including all of the court support systems in place to protect them.

Promising practice: The law of Spain creates the position of “Public Prosecutor for cases of Violence against Women,” who must supervise, coordinate, and report on matters and prosecutions in the Violence against Women Courts. Article 70 The legislation also requires prosecutors to notify complainant/survivor of the release of a violent offender from jail and requires prosecutors who dismiss cases of violence against women to tell the complainant/survivor why the case was dismissed.



Legislation should include a pro-prosecution policy in cases where there is probable cause that violence against the widow has occurred.  This will ensure that the violence is treated seriously by prosecutors and allow complainant/survivors to retain some agency about the decision. See: UN Handbook, 3.8.3

(See: Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, Sex Trafficking of Women and Girls, Harmful Traditional Practices, Honour Crimes, Implementation of Laws on Violence against Women and Girls)