Committee (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee. Welsh Legislative Consent sought.
Clause 2: The victims’ code
Debate on Amendment 13 resumed.
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the chance to participate—I thought I was going to be cut off at the knees at the end of the last session when the Committee was adjourned promptly. I also apologise to the Committee because I did not participate in the Second Reading debate. I intervene this afternoon to support Amendment 14 tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and supported by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the other amendments concerned with restorative justice or RJ.

I have quite a personal reason for this because when I came into your Lordships’ House some years ago, my best friend rang me to say that his best friend from school had just been made a chief constable and was very interested in this thing called restorative justice, and would I be prepared to go and meet him? I said I would, of course. I knew virtually nothing about RJ at that time. I went to meet the chief constable and he explained to me how he thought we were missing a trick in not using RJ more widely to deal with what he described as our lamentable record in reoffending.

He arranged for me to go and get involved in some cases, hear the facts and even, with the permission of the participants, sit in as a facilitator on one or two cases. I got a great deal of first-hand experience of how RJ might or might not work. All he said when I finished was, “Will you just repay me by raising RJ and speaking about it in the House of Lords in the future?”. So here I am this afternoon, keeping faith with my friend, the chief constable. From my great experience, then, the key issue—this important point was made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries—was that it works only if each participant, on the two sides of the argument or the case, is prepared to get inside the head of the other. That was an important part of what I learned while I was there.

I will not talk at length about what I learned specifically, but it is worth briefly recounting one case. A confirmed drug user with a charge-sheet as long as your arm saw an empty house and thought he would break in, find a piece of electrical equipment, take it, flog it and use the proceeds to feed his habit. Unfortunately for him, the house was not empty. The owner of the house, a designer, had a small studio upstairs on the second floor. He came downstairs to find this man in the hall and asked, “What are you doing?”. The man said, “I’ve come to read the gas meter”. The owner said, “Bad idea, because there’s no gas in this house. We don’t have gas”. A struggle ensued, during which the owner of the house hit the man over the head with a flowerpot. There are pictures of the person with blood streaming down his face when the police arrived and arrested him.

From this unprepossessing, unlikely beginning, a case of RJ was introduced. The men met a few times then, as was inevitably right, the burglar got a custodial sentence. The men corresponded while he was in prison and a degree of agreement and understanding—the ability of both sides to put the past behind them and do better in future, from the point of view of the perpetrator —was arrived at. When I talked to the perpetrator, I asked, “What was it?”. He said, “You can see my charge-sheet. All I saw on it were names but, this time, when I met the owner of the house, he said, ‘Do you know what you’ve done? You’ve terrified my family. My two teenage daughters will no longer sleep in separate bedrooms upstairs; they share a room next door to me and my wife. My wife has every single door and window locked—everything locked. You have completely wrecked our security as a family. What do you think about that?’”. Although he did not put it this way, it was a bit of a lightbulb moment for him.

On the other side, when I talked to the owner of the house, he said, “When we began to talk to the chap, he had had a hopeless start. He had a single mum—not much of a single mum, really—and was in and out of care, with little to no educational achievement. Inevitably, his life was largely devoted to crime”. From these two understandings came an ability to work together; it put them, in particular the perpetrator, to an important and life-affirming task to live better and have a worthwhile lifetime.

That is a great, moving story but I said to the chief constable, “There must be a but”. He said, “Of course there’s a but”. He was anxious then, as I think I would be anxious today, not to put too much weight on restorative justice. He said, “There are two things you can do to make sure that RJ does better”. The first is that you need—these are the words from the briefing, not the chief constable—“voluntary and honest participation” by both sides. That is straightforward.

Not in the briefing is the second point that he made: you need expert, trained facilitators. Being expert and trained means, first, that you move the conversation forward but not so that you avoid tackling the awful, painful issues that lie at the heart of the problem; and, secondly, that you are tough enough to blow the whistle when you believe that somebody is not trying. This is not always easy to do because, sometimes, a bit of effort has been invested and people are reluctant to let the case go, but someone has to realise that there are cases in which people will, in the famous phrase, swing the lead in the hope of a reduced sentence. The facilitator needs to be well trained. As the chief constable would say, “A facilitator cannot take on too many cases because they’re quite emotionally exhausting if you get really stuck into these people’s lives”.

The chief constable, if he were standing here, would say, “I certainly would not want RJ to be presented as a silver bullet”—the point made by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier. “Above all,” he would say, “I don’t want it to be presented as a cheap silver bullet because it isn’t—at least, not in the short run. However, if you can turn a number of cases round, the long-term savings and benefits to society are incalculable.

Our re-offending rates remain too high—the same situation as when I met the chief constable. We surely have an opportunity now to be imaginative in our thinking about how to reduce offending rates. We need new tools in our toolbox, and restorative justice would be an important one. I hope my noble and learned friend the Minister will react sympathetically to Amendment 14. That would give me great pleasure, because it would mean that I have kept faith with my friend the chief constable.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that his faith will be even better kept if he keeps on advocating RJ? Does he also agree that it has its limitations, one of which is that there is a need, in the case he has described, for drug addiction treatment to go alongside it in some way? One must look at the underlying causes, as he has well indicated.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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I could not disagree with that. I suspect that there are a whole host of issues behind habitual offending which we need to think about, of which drug addiction is one. People involved in this policy area are clearly more experienced than I am.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, this is the first group of amendments which really gets into victims’ rights—not just what is expressed in the victims’ code, but ensuring that they can access it. The noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, started the group with the important issue of a victim’s right to challenge decisions, including but not only relating to multiple perpetrators. I thank her for that, because that and some of the cultural issues she raised are important in ensuring that victims’ services are tailored to victims’ needs and are not a tick-box exercise.

I thank Restorative Justice for All for its briefing, and all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I will not repeat it all, but we know that restorative justice is a well-established and evidence-based alternative that certainly does not let offenders off the hook; it is as difficult for offenders as it often is for the victims. Restorative Justice for All wrote to us because it is concerned about how long it has been since issues about the right to restorative justice were addressed. It goes back to an EU directive of 2012, yet there is still no absolute right available. That needs to be remedied.

Unfortunately, under this Bill there is no obligation for criminal justice agencies to inform harmed parties about restorative justice systems. When we come to later amendments, we will be fighting hard to ensure that that does become a requirement, because victims deserve no less. The other part of this group also talks about signposting of services. I am grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harris of Pentregarth, who believes that the perpetrators need restorative justice as much. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said that being told there is a code is a start, but much more is needed. I suspect that the Minister will try to say that having such a system would be expensive. However, we know that not having the alternative is even more expensive not just in terms of the consequences for victims’ lives, but for the criminal justice system, parole and stopping recidivism. Without restorative justice, all those costs will continue to pile on.

I do hope that the Minister will bring us some good news. I gently remind him that in the costings for this Bill we were reminded that Part 4, on prisoners, will cost around £0.5 billion, but only a very token amount is allocated for victims’ services. Perhaps that balance is not yet quite right.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, as I often do, that we are now digging into how this legislation can be improved for victims. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on raising the issue of the gap in proceedings whereby, if there are multiple perpetrators, some of whom are not charged and some of whom are, the victim does not have the right to challenge why people are not being charged. That clearly needs to be remedied, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s suggestion.

Amendment 15, to which I added my name, aims to ensure that victims are aware of and signposted to a full range of specialist services, including specialist advocacy support. I read that and thought we were having a “duh” moment: it is completely obvious that that is what should happen—why do we even have to say it? The reason why is that it currently looks like the onus is on the victim to search out the remedies and support they need. This amendment is about reversing that situation, and I would like to thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester for tabling it, even though it is obvious that this needs to happen. We need to say that, and we need the Government to look at how this legislation will ensure that it does.
We had a good exchange last week about the importance of restorative justice, which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, mentioned just now. I think we all agree that of most importance are the use of the word “appropriate”, and making sure that those services are properly resourced and supported to ensure that this happens. We are keen to support these amendments, and I look forward to what the Minister has to say.
Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken to this group of amendments. The Government appreciate the considerable work that goes into preparing amendments and arguments and bringing issues before this House.

By way of a brief reminder, in general terms the Government have a threefold approach to the Bill. The first is to set out general principles of the victims’ code included in Clause 2(3), supplemented by regulations in subsection (4). The second approach is to put the detail and the operational information that victims need in the code, rather than in the Bill. I commend to your Lordships the latest draft version of the code, published in June 2023, which sets out the 12 rights in a particularly user-friendly way. The third approach is to create a system whereby victims are aware of the code, and the relevant criminal justice bodies comply with their obligations under the code. The mechanism for this is set out in Clauses 6 to 10, supplemented by guidance under Clause 11.

I have reiterated that framework because, in the Government’s view, a lot of the debate we have had today is about what should be in the Bill and what should be in the code, in guidance or elsewhere in the framework. There may be no disagreement in principle about the importance of many of the things we are discussing, be it restorative justice or the right to object to a charging decision, but the question we are on now concerns the way the Bill should be drafted. The broad view of the Government on most of the amendments in this group and subsequent groups is that the matter is either already covered in the code or should be covered in the code, rather than being expressly on the face of the Bill. That is the Government’s broad position.

Turning to the amendments, I take first the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, relating to multiple perpetrators and the fact that in some cases if only one perpetrator is charged, the victim may be aggrieved because other perpetrators were not charged. First of all, this is a good example of how it should work; the principle of a right to challenge, from the victim’s point of view, is set out in Clause 2(9). The implementation of that principle in this context is in code right 6, which refers to the victim’s right of review scheme in respect of various police and CPS decisions. The noble Baroness rightly draws attention to an apparent lacuna in the CPS part of the scheme, which currently does not cater for the situation where only one of several perpetrators is charged. The Government are very happy to look again at that issue and to discuss with the relevant agencies how that lacuna should be addressed.

As the Government see it, this is a very good example, rightly drawn to public attention, of a possible gap in the code that should be addressed by making improvements to the code rather than putting the issue directly in the statute. The draft code itself, in its present form, will be subject to further consultation anyway under Clause 3 if and when the Bill is passed. That is essentially the Government’s position on Amendment 13.

I take next the important issue of restorative justice, of which the Government are wholly supportive. Amendment 14, in the name of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, and Amendments 16, 17, 22, 32 and 52, in the name of, in particular, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, aim to ensure that on the face of the Bill victims should have access to restorative justice—that is the broad thrust of it—and that the Secretary of State should issue guidance about that.

The Government entirely accept that restorative justice is extremely important; again, I salute, if I may, the words of my noble friend Lord Hodgson in raising this issue so eloquently. However, important though it is, the Government do not feel that restorative justice should be elevated above all the other victim services by being specifically included in the Bill. Once you start including specific services in the Bill, either you have a very long list or you have to prioritise certain things. The Government’s view is that the structure should be that the Bill contains short principles, and almost everything else is in the code or guidance. To do otherwise is to introduce rigidity and might have the somewhat perverse effect of concentrating what are admittedly limited resources on some specified kind of support at the expense of other, equally valuable, kinds of support.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I think we are all very sympathetic to the idea that a huge amount could go in the code and the guidance, certainly as far as restorative justice is concerned. But the third part of what the Minister said the purpose of this Bill was is to ensure that the criminal justice system knows what its responsibilities are. Surely some things could go in there, including restorative justice. Will the Minister look particularly carefully at the evidence produced by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, about how at least 27% of people would have taken up restorative justice if they had been asked? Would he not come to the conclusion, perhaps, that it is only if it is on the face of the Bill that that situation will be remedied?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble and right reverend Lord invites me, I will look again at that evidence and the whole argument. However, in relation to this aspect, noble Lords should be aware that access to all the supporting services and processes in the criminal justice system are already part of the principles under Clause 2(3). In the implementation of those rights, access to justice is already specifically provided for under right 3 in the present draft code, which, among other things, requires the police to provide all the information you need to exercise that right.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, the problem with Clause 2(2) is that it is followed by Clause 2(3), which starts by saying, “The victims’ code must” but then in all its sub-paragraphs says simply that things “should” be provided, so it is watered down. I apologise for being pedantic on this point but it goes to the heart of what the Minister is trying to do. I believe he is saying to us that there is enough in the Bill that will support victims in regulation, but the problem is that there is no watertight “must” in the Bill as it stands.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I think we will come to the “must”/“should” point a bit later when we discuss the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti. If I may, I will deal with that issue in general, in an umbrella way, in that context.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I want to pick up the point made by the Minister about victim services going into the code rather than into the Bill. I feel I should apologise that although I have three degrees, none of them is in law—I often regret that these days—so perhaps I am wrestling with some technical questions here.

It seems to me that we are not just talking about restorative justice as a victim service. If you have been a victim of a crime, it goes to court, the police investigate and the criminal is punished; all those might be regarded as victim services but they are all in other Acts—they already exist as an absolute legal right that is laid down. What we do not currently have in any Bill is a right to restorative justice that is balanced. We are saying that restorative justice needs to be in there with an equal or at least appropriate level of weight, and it will not have that unless it is in the Bill.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, if I may say so, what one should put in the Bill and in the code are matters of judgment and balance. In relation to restorative justice, which we are on, there have already been extensive discussions in the other place. The Government have said, first, that the code should include the right of victims to receive more information about restorative justice, particularly at the point of sentence, and that the importance of restorative justice services should be included in guidance to police and crime commissioners under Clause 11. I think that partly meets, and maybe substantially meets, the point made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, that you need to have in writing somewhere an emphasis on supplying restorative justice. The Government’s position on restorative justice is that that is a proper recognition of the importance of restorative justice.

One should also bear in mind in this context that restorative justice does not just happen; it also needs the consent of the offender, and is quite a delicate operation. You need a facilitator, and so forth. It is one of many services, mechanisms and procedures that are available. The Government’s position is that we should not spell out in the Bill all the mechanisms and procedures that are available but we should work hard to ensure that the code itself, the guidance thereunder and the arrangements for awareness that we will be discussing in due course together raise the profile of restorative justice so that it has its proper place in the system among other things. That is the Government’s position. No one is denying the importance of restorative justice. No one is saying it is a waste of time or should not be there; on the contrary, we are saying that its profile should be raised. The only argument is about how we do that, and Government’s position is that we do not do it by an amendment to the Bill itself.

On restorative justice, there was one particular point that I think the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, made that I could perhaps quickly deal with, if she would like me to. The right presently set out as right 3 in the code depends on the offence having been reported to the police. As the noble Baroness pointed out, you can be a victim without anything having been reported to the police. I venture to say that the sharp eye of the noble Baroness has identified a small anomaly in the wording there. It may, in the Government’s view, be more of a distinction without a difference, if I may put it that way, because it is most unlikely in practical terms that restorative justice could work without something being reported to the police. I thank the noble Baroness for the point and hope I have responded to it.
Broadly the same arguments apply to Amendment 15, proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, in relation to signposting. It is perfectly clear, as a matter of principle, that victims should be given the information they need, be able to access services, and have the opportunity to have their views heard and so forth under Clause 2(3). The rest of the detailed signposting is, in the Government’s view, a matter for the code rather than the Bill. It is expressed at the moment in some detail under right 4 of the code. We will further have the obligation to promote awareness under Clause 6, and the guidance in that respect to be expected under Clause 11. The Government’s position is that this should result in a robust system for signposting of the kind the right reverend Prelate is quite understandably seeking.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 17, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, regarding a victims’ hub. The Government’s understanding is that several police and crime commissioners are already trialling this model. However, the victim services we are talking about may be provided in many ways, depending on the needs and resources of the area in question. Again, the Government do not feel we should elevate one particular way of doing it—however good, and despite its undoubted attraction—but leave it to local police and crime commissioners to organise their services in a way that is best for their local area. This is potentially a matter for guidance later on.
Given the remarks I have made in reply to the amendments, your Lordships may think it is a strength of the structure of the Bill that is has built into it inherent flexibility and opportunity for criminal justice bodies, wherever they are in the country, to learn from each other and adapt to their own particular circumstances.
Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I am quite a localist normally, but is this not the very point? A single point of contact that is not prescribing what is available locally but is “signposting”—to use the right reverend Prelate’s word—should be provided, so that any victim, anywhere, will know where to go. They might not necessarily take the step of taking advantage of it, but it seems to me pretty central to the way services are made known that something such as this should go into the Bill.

I should also say that my noble friend Lady Brinton was trying to email me something, but it has not come through, so she may have another point.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I shall not be attempting to answer the email that has not yet come through until it does, but my general answer to the noble Baroness is that the whole thrust of the Bill is that each criminal justice body must take reasonable steps to promote awareness of the victims’ code among users of those services and other members of the public, et cetera. I cannot conceive how you could discharge that duty of raising awareness without informing people how to access or go to whatever services they need, so it is implicit in the operation that that sort of information will have to be provided. The way in which it is provided and the detail of it is not for the Bill but for the code and the guidance.

Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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My Lords, I am sorry to delay things, but there is one thing I am not clear about. Restorative justice at the moment is available for the suspect as an alternate to going to court, with the agreement of the victim. If the right is to be given to the victim to insist on restorative justice, is that an addition to a potential court appearance or an alternate? If the Crown Prosecution Service has decided that there will be a prosecution but the victim insists on their right to restorative justice, does that change that decision? I am not quite clear from the amendments, nor the Minister’s response, how that dilemma is resolved. It may be that I have just misunderstood, in which case I apologise, but I do not quite understand how that gets resolved.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I may be as underinformed as anyone but my understanding is that the classic case of restorative justice is that once there has been a prosecution and a conviction, there is a process for some kind of reconciliatory interaction between the victim and the offender—for example, of the kind that my noble friend Lord Hodgson so eloquently described—in a way which enables both parties to process and come to terms with what has happened. It is not typically an alternative to having a prosecution in the first place, as I understand it, although that might arise.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I know there is an unwritten convention that noble Lords should not intervene when they were not able to be here at the beginning of a group, which in this case was last week, but I do not think that convention prevents me asking a question. Is it not really important that people in the prison system are able to understand what they can do for themselves, and for the victim, by engaging with restorative justice? That is one of the reasons I put my name to Amendment 14. The right honourable Stephen Timms in the other place is an excellent example: he has corresponded with, and is arranging to meet, the perpetrator of the attack on him many years ago. That will, I hope, assist them both—the perpetrator in her release and her future—and give some consolation through her coming together with the victim, who in this case was Stephen Timms.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for his question. I would obviously not dream of making any procedural point, as it is a very fair question. I do not think it is clearly envisaged in the Bill or the code, as it stands at the moment, that it should be the perpetrator who is seeking some sort of restorative justice, rather than it being something that the victim is entitled to. The noble Lord’s point is well made and we should think further about it.

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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I thank noble Lords who have spoken on this group and those who supported Amendment 13. I thank the Minister for his response on the concerns raised in the group, particularly on ways to address the gaps in victims’ right to review. Although I am encouraged, I remain concerned, so I hope that the Minister will be able to share a draft code and continue the discussions. For now, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 13.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendments 14 to 17 not moved.
Amendment 18
Moved by
18: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert—
“(3A) Where interpreting and translation services are needed, the victims’ code must specify that specialist, qualified and experienced professionals must be engaged.”
Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak to the four amendments in the second group in my name, which are supported by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. These amendments concern the issue of interpreting and translation in relation to the victims’ code. I gave an outline of my case at Second Reading, so I shall not of course repeat that today.

Since then, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, has been kind enough to meet me to discuss my amendments. I am very grateful to him for taking the time to hear me out. I should first declare my interests as co-chair of the all-party group on modern languages, and vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists. I am indebted to the chartered institute, to the National Register of Public Service Interpreters and to the Bell Foundation for their helpful background briefings, constructive proposals and hard evidence of why these amendments are needed.

Amendment 18 adds an extra specification to the face of the Bill about what the victims’ code must do, in addition to what is already listed in Clause 2(3). The current interim code states that victims have the right of

“access to interpretation and translation services”

if needed.

As a technical aside, the word currently used in the code is “interpretation” rather than “interpreting”. However, I have used the word “interpreting” as it is the more accurate word and the word already used in other MoJ contexts. I have discussed with the Minister why this word should be brought into the text of the code itself. In case other noble Lords are beginning to nod off and think that I am splitting hairs unbearably, I will explain. The word “interpretation” implies analysis and paraphrasing, whereas the word “interpreting” explicitly means repeating in another language exactly, accurately and only what the speaker has said, without any commentary, advice or suggestions—all of which would be totally unprofessional and anathema to any properly trained and qualified interpreter.

With the technical detail over, I go back to Amendment 18. It is vital that this overarching requirement be enshrined in the Bill and not left to the code, guidance or regulations. As I said at Second Reading, it is completely unacceptable that unqualified, underqualified or inexperienced individuals should be used as interpreters, especially in situations which are dangerous, sensitive, emotional or otherwise challenging for victims.

We know from thoroughly documented experience in the criminal justice system, and other areas of the public sector such as the health service, that a general or vague commitment to interpreting and translation services does not always deliver what is needed or required in practice. If it is left to guidance only, we also know from the NHS experience that there is no monitoring of whether the guidance is observed. Public service interpreters are specialist, qualified and trained professionals. A member of the family does not count. A teenage child certainly does not count. A neighbour does not count. A court official who happens to speak the same language at home does not count. Google Translate certainly does not count.

Put simply, fair access to justice for non-English speakers should be a legal right, not a guideline, recommendation or piece of good practice advice. If the need for a professionally qualified interpreter is stated only in a code or piece of guidance, it is in practice effectively optional. If it is on the face of the Bill, it becomes mandatory and enables us to put a stop to bogus or unqualified people pretending to be interpreters. In the world of public service delivery, that makes all the difference.

We know from various surveys, including one commissioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, that awareness that the code even exists is at very low levels. How much lower must the awareness levels be for people with poor or no English?

At the same time, different scenarios might legitimately demand different levels of qualification or experience. This is why the MoJ, in the light of discussions that I held with the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, over the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, embarked on a thorough independent review of the qualifications and experience required of court and tribunal interpreters. I believe that it is close to publication, in time for the issuing of the next invitation to tender for contracted-out language services.

So please let us not fall into the trap with this Bill of the left hand of the MoJ not knowing what the right hand is up to. Let us have a coherent system, without contradictory provisions for language services in the criminal justice system. A victim giving a witness statement in her home, on the street or in the workplace must have the same right of access to appropriately qualified and experienced professional interpreting as the victim giving evidence in court.
My amendment does not propose specifying exactly which qualification for which type or what level of complexity of case we are talking about, as this will vary and must be carefully worked out in a detailed discussion involving all stakeholders. I learned my lesson from the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, that that degree of detail is not appropriate for a Bill—but it is vital to be absolutely clear, as in my amendment, that a non-negotiable bottom line must be that only specialist qualified and experienced professionals be engaged.
I would hope that, when it comes to regulations, the MoJ, whether dealing with courts or victims in other scenarios, will at least match the criteria adopted by the police-approved interpreters and translators scheme, known as PAIT, which uses the level 6 diploma in public service interpreting as a default standard and has adopted the code of conduct agreed by the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. At the moment, neither the police scheme nor the MoJ currently requires interpreters to be on the national register, despite its expertise in standard setting. But the CPS does, so the requirement is potentially worth keeping under review.
The next two amendments in this group, Amendments 25 and 33, simply tidy up and complete the need to be explicit and avoid the all too frequent outcome of overlooking the needs of victims whose first language is not English. Amendment 25 would guarantee that, when the draft of the new victims’ code is published, it is published in a range of languages in addition to English. We know that the current version is available in 15 other languages, but approximately 300 languages are spoken in the UK. I am not suggesting for a minute that we have translations permanently on the shelves in all these languages, but it would be sensible to have some built-in bespoke flexibility to determine at the time how many and which other languages would be helpful.
For example, we know that there are some rare languages for which there is not even a public service interpreting qualification, even though there is a demand for those languages in the public sector. The national register has strict protocols on the criteria for engaging interpreters in these circumstances. Demand may vary significantly from one area to another, so flexibility is essential, and my amendment would ensure that this is not overlooked.
Similarly, Amendment 33 would simply require criminal justice bodies providing services in any police area, when taking steps to promote awareness of the code, to include in their target groups those whose first language is not English. Until that becomes second nature, which evidence from the Bell Foundation and others shows us it is not, the obligation needs to be in the Bill.
The fourth and last of my amendments, Amendment 47, is to Clause 11(2)(b), which deals with the guidance on code awareness and the way in which information is collected. The subsection specifies that particular attention be paid to data relating to
“children or individuals who have protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act”.
My amendment would add to that list the words
“and people who have a first language other than English”.
This is because spoken language, or linguistic diversity, is not one of the protected characteristics under our equality legislation, and yet it is self-evident—again, from Bell Foundation research and much else—that inequalities, ranging from lack of information to a diminished quality of justice and human rights, may often still occur. Once again, unless proactively and explicitly required, we will not have data to tell us for whom, how often, in what form, in what circumstances and in what languages the services of interpreters and translators are needed, and therefore what provision—in human or budgetary resources—needs to be available.
I hope the Minister will see fit to encourage His Majesty’s Government to accept all four of my amendments, as I believe they will all improve the Bill and enable the Government better to achieve what they clearly wish to achieve for the benefit of victims—all victims. I beg to move.
Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, I apologise that I was not able to be present at Second Reading—the day job had to take precedence. I rise to endorse thoroughly what the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, said in her speech. I wish not to speak to each amendment but to add a bit of heft to what she said. I do not exactly declare this as an interest, but I was a professional linguist before I went into the Church, so language has been important to me right the way through.

We heard in the Minister’s response earlier that victims must get the information they need. They also must get it in a form they are able to read, or hear, and understand. In this country language is often misunderstood or not taken as seriously as it ought to be, or as one might find in some countries in continental Europe, for example, where you live on boundaries and have to operate in a number of languages. Because we are an island nation, this is something we do not necessarily experience.

Having trained as a translator and interpreter—these are very different skills and professions—I understand the problems of inaccuracy and of getting even nuance wrong. We are talking here about victims who are already seriously disadvantaged. That disadvantage, that damage, should not be exacerbated by running the risk of them simply not being able to be understood, or to understand what is being represented to them.

There is something here about professionalism. If noble Lords do not believe that this is important, I hope they watched the funeral of Nelson Mandela, where the deaf interpreter simply went awry—it looked like he was conducting an orchestra, but badly. He said afterwards that he was simply overawed by the experience, but many people doubted that he had the skill to do what he had been signed up and paid to do. It really matters. I found it very entertaining but not very edifying, so I emphasise the need for professionalism in this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, referred to Google Translate, which most linguists go to for a bit of a laugh and to see what it suggests. When I lecture in German at German universities, I often run my texts through it for the entertainment value, but it is rarely accurate. Now we have translation by AI systems—Google Translate is that, really—which can be entertaining too. They can be helpful if you need a bit of a boost, but you would not rely on them for something that was important for life and death.

That is why the national register is so important. My understanding is that this country has a shortage of not only linguists—I could say much more about that—but qualified linguists able to go on the register and do what we are asking them to do. That triggers a different question. We cannot just say that we do not have the qualified people and therefore must make do; we have a bigger challenge to emphasise the importance of language learning, which has many knock-on effects for how we understand people and culture. As I often repeat, the former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, when giving advice to younger Germans asking him about going into politics, wrote: “Don’t even consider it unless you have at least two foreign languages to a competent degree, because you can’t understand yourself and your own culture unless you look through the lens of another. For that you need language, because language goes deep”. Some things cannot be translated; you need a degree of expertise to deal with them.

There is a wider issue, but I will not bang that drum any further now. This is fundamentally a matter of justice. If victims are to be heard and to hear accurately, this ought to be in the Bill.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing forward this amendment. When I spoke at Second Reading, I did not realise that this dimension might arise—clearly it can, and it is important. I address the Committee as one of a small minority here who do not have English as their first language. In fact, I calculated over the Easter Recess that I speak in English less than 10% of the time. This Bill will impact not just England but Wales, where Welsh is an official language. I do not see much evidence in the Bill of any adjustment being made for that purpose.

Fundamentally, the Bill deals with victims. There are perhaps four groups of victims for whom the language dimension is critical. First, there are children; at home in Wales, a large number of children—certainly tens of thousands—have Welsh as their first language. They acquire English as a second language as they get older, but under pressure they will no doubt want to revert to their first language, which is the natural language in which they express themselves. Another group of great importance to me and a number of other noble Lords is disabled people. When put under stress, they need assistance. If there is additional stress from dealing in a language that is not their first, they will need assistance.

That is also true for elderly people. As people get older, they revert to their first language, particularly those who have had strokes. People from Wales have found themselves in residential homes in the south of England; the staff think they are speaking gibberish, but they are reverting to their first language. That group also needs to be brought in. Finally, there is the general group of people who are under stress, whatever their age or background, and need to be helped to express themselves in their first language. This is important in Wales. Reference was made a moment ago to the Children’s Commissioner. We have our own Children’s Commissioner for Wales and our own framework, but I am not sure that the Bill takes that on board. Clearly, provision needs to be made.

The day has now passed when an ad hoc translator would be whistled up for a court case from those who happened to be around—usually a minister or a teacher, who could roughly translate what was being said. I have mentioned before in this House how many people over the centuries—although not in this or the last—were hanged without understanding a word of what was going on in the court that declared them guilty.

That is an extreme situation, but victims under stress and pressure need the explanation and discussion in a language they understand. In Wales, there are minority, inward-moving communities with a whole host of other languages, as there are in large cities around England. Many of those communities have children who speak their own language and Welsh; they acquire English at a later stage.
I support these amendments—and I thank the noble Baroness for the work she has done on them—because of their importance in ensuring that justice is provided for the victims and those who are vulnerable. In the context of Wales, we need that dimension to be brought on board. I will be very interested to know, when the Minister winds up this short debate, what consultation there has been with people in Wales, and if there has not been any, what he proposes to do between now and Third Reading.
Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I support of all four of the amendments and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for a thorough explanation. We are talking about victims in the criminal justice system understanding their rights and entitlements in so many languages. We are talking about understanding the legality of words in the English language, and it is no wonder we find these barriers as we go through the system.

The first right under the victims’ code is:

“To be able to understand and to be understood”.

That seems fairly basic, but for many it is not their experience. I have met many victims of other nationalities who have said the same. I am grateful to the VAWG sector communication barriers working group for its guidance, and in particular to the late Ruth Bashall, who was the CEO of Stay Safe East and a tireless advocate for deaf and disabled survivors. They have consistently raised how disabled victims and other victims of crime—for example, those with English as a second language—are severely disadvantaged in accessing justice by the lack of accessible information, communication support and physical access to buildings or facilities. In this context, disabled victims and other victims have fewer rights than suspects, who have some basic rights under PACE—for example, the right to an interpreter.

Though some adjustments, such as the right to an intermediary, are contained in the victims’ code, they are rarely used. I am disappointed that, six years on from my report looking at the availability of intermediaries, A Voice for the Voiceless, I am still hearing that there are far too few intermediaries to meet the demand, and that this is causing significant delays, with the victim sometimes simply withdrawing.

I often hear that information provided to victims is inaccessible. Both my predecessor, Dame Vera Baird, and I have directly asked the criminal justice agencies to provide victim information in clear, accessible language, as well as in Easyread, BSL and other language versions. All too often, communication with victims is lacking, and there is still a great deal of work to be done by agencies to ensure that victims understand and are understood. It is vital that the criminal justice system is accessible to all victims of crime and that they receive the communication support they need. As a first step, the code itself must be accessible. Although, commendably, the Government took steps to make most recent iteration of the code easier to understand, as well as publishing Easyread, translated and children’s versions, it is still not accessible for a large number of victims. The Government must ensure that the code is accessible to all victims of crime.

I want to end on a personal story from a victim who was raped and trafficked from Albania. She was disabled. In Albania, if you are born disabled, your body parts are very valuable, so a baby tends to be hidden if he or she is disabled. She reported the rape when she was in this country and rehoused. She went to a police station. The police looked for an interpreter. They found one who had the same dialect but who was actually from the trafficking gang. She was mortified. She simply could not believe that she had gone to the police station and that that interpreter was taking over her complaint. She withdrew it.

It is not simply about producing someone who can speak a language; it is about understanding a dialect. We need professional people who can help victims through our criminal justice system.

Lord Hogan-Howe Portrait Lord Hogan-Howe (CB)
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My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, particularly on the collection of evidence in criminal cases. She is arguing for precision, accuracy and consistency. At the moment, the system suffers in respect of all those three criteria.

The establishing of truth relies on the establishing of accurate evidence. It usually looks for accuracy, precision and consistency, but if we have any doubt about interpretation of another language, all those three things suffer. There is a concern that where the standard of interpreters is not established to a high and consistent level, there is a risk that the obtaining of evidence is damaged. This matters particularly for the police in the initial obtaining of evidence—which is usually an oral account. Eventually, the oral accounts have to be reduced to writing and the written evidence then fed back to the witness or victim to establish whether it relates to what they have told the police officer. If there is a difference in how those are interpreted, the person may not have a proper, accurate account of how they described their experience.

A secondary issue is that if there is not a consistent standard, different interpreters may help the police and the victim during different parts of the process. They may help the victim with the initial account; then there may be a written statement. After an interview with the suspect, the evidence may be checked. It is important that the interpreter is the same person or, if not, that there is a common standard of interpretation. Otherwise, there is a risk that the truth is not established.

Precision matters in obtaining the victim’s or witness’s account. It also matters in interviews to establish the suspect’s account. It matters generally in evidence collection because the person who holds the evidence may not be the person who is going to give it. You need to establish whether the CCTV and all the other digital evidence that is available now is what you want, and to make sure that it is accurate.

Finally, precision matters for juries. They will not only want to hear what is said in court; they will want to compare it with the first account as well. If there is inconsistency, they will want to understand it. If we are not careful, they may judge the victim or the witnesses harshly. In turn, that may impact on the suspect. It is vital that consistency and precision are there. As the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, said, it matters also for the care of victims and witnesses. If we do not understand how people are living, the challenges they face and the nature of their lives, it is very hard to do what this Bill is trying to establish, which is consistency in care for victims in a way which supports them beyond the event and beyond any criminal prosecution.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, brought out well that this is not only about the interpretation of language—that is, what happened, who said what or who did what—it is also about the legal process. An interpreter may be well qualified to interpret language but may not always understand the legal process. Of course, the victim relies on them to understand both. They need good advice to understand how the process will affect them and its impact; for example, in a court case. The evidence may be challenged in a court case to establish its accuracy, but the victim may take this as an attack. In particular, somebody who has a second language may have an experience of another criminal justice system which may not be like ours. It may be more adversarial—sorry, it could not be any more adversarial than ours, could it? It may search for the truth in a different way. They certainly need to understand how our system works if they happen not to have experienced it before.

For all those reasons to do with evidence collection, precision and accuracy, I support the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins. She has been pushing this point for a while. It has not been established; it is time it should be, and this is a great opportunity to do it.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, I also support Amendment 18, which would require the code to provide for interpreting and translation services and, more importantly, for the standards to be expected of the professionals supplying those services.

Good and reliable interpreting and translation is an increasingly necessary part of the justice system in all areas. It is also an expensive part of the system, for which value for money should be important. Most interpreters are good and efficient, but others, regrettably, are less so. A long time ago when in practice, I recall a particularly impatient interpreter helping me and my client who pulled me aside and urged me to get my client to plead guilty, which I politely declined to do. That completely undermined the confidence that either of us could have in that particular interpreter.

At present, as I understand it, court interpreting services are obtained through agencies used by the Courts & Tribunals Service. If this amendment or something like it is enacted, I would assume that the same agencies would be used. In any event, I would hope that care is taken to stipulate, ensure and review the efficiency of the agencies used and the quality of the work they do.

Finally, I would also hope and expect that this amendment, if approved, would be understood to be wide enough to help those requiring sign language and lip-reading assistance. If not, will those requirements be expressly covered by the code?

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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My Lords, I also apologise for being unable to be present for Second Reading. I will speak very briefly in view of the comprehensive opening speech on this group of amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and the speeches from all other noble Lords. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for a sustained campaign on the need for professional interpreting and translation services. We have travelled this road before in other contexts, but I hope that the Government will pay the closest attention to her arguments and her justification for these amendments.

The first point is an obvious and a human one. Just as for witnesses, complainants and defendants in formal criminal justice proceedings, so for victims in understanding the code and in securing, receiving and understanding services, the experience of being a victim is extremely traumatic, emotional, often unique in the victims’ experience, and it is very difficult for the victim to comprehend what is happening to them—in short, it is difficult to understand in a human way. These problems are all the more acute for victims whose first language is not English.

However, the main point that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, made, and the point of these amendments and the conclusion, while in the context of that initial human point, is thoroughly supported by her arguments. Complete understanding of the language is vital. What is needed, therefore, is a service that as closely as possible diminishes and removes language barriers, so what is written and stated in English is understandable to the victim, and what is written and stated in the victim’s native language is understandable in English. That can be reliably achieved only if the translation is full, accurate and direct.

The stress the noble Baroness places on the distinction between “interpreting” and “interpretation” is of the greatest importance. It is crucial that, just as in courts, when evidence, submissions or judgments are delivered, in the context of victims’ needs the translator’s or interpreter’s view must not be interpolated between the service provider and the victim or between the code and the victim. Translation and interpretation should convey exactly and straightforwardly what is said or written to and by the victim.

There is a risk, which is well known in courts and other contexts, that when non-professional, unqualified or inexperienced translating or interpreting services are involved, the directness and accuracy are compromised, not just because mistakes of meaning may be made but because the translator’s or interpreter’s own ideas and understanding colour, embroider or develop the meaning of what is written or of what is being said. This process may, and often does, reflect the best of intentions on the part of the interpreter—the intentions of those who are genuinely trying to help.

We should not underestimate the temptation for people, including professional service providers, looking for understanding or expression in order to seek or accept help when that is well-meaning but unprofessional, and the risk that those good intentions may involve. That risk, whether well-intentioned, or, as in the example of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, of the interpreter in the police station who was effectively on the other side, always needs to be minimised, and these amendments offer a good chance of achieving that minimisation.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton Portrait Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB)
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My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendments, and I particularly emphasise the points we have heard about having people with expertise. The right reverend Prelate spoke very clearly about this.

This can also be very much affected by dialect-inflected accents which mean that it can be very hard for everyone, including members of the judiciary, to understand what is being said. I spoke before in your Lordships’ House about an occasion where I actually heard the word “car” misread as “cow”. Of course, you do not really want a collision with either, but the Highway Code can deal with only one of those two. In the interests of justice, clarity is important and interpreters must be well trained. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, mentioned Wales, where I spend a lot of time. Of course, there is a huge area here for confusion. We need people who are to a certain extent site-specific. For example, if you are in Newcastle or Liverpool, you may well—if you come from London and, like me, from the BBC—have trouble understanding exactly what is going on. But it is imperative in the name of justice that people are well-trained and can really do the job properly, so I strongly support my noble friend’s amendments and I very much look forward to what the Minister has to say about them.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Benjamin would have liked to speak from these Benches today, but, unfortunately, she cannot be here. She told me that, in signing all these amendments, she supports the attempt of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, to strengthen interpretation, in particular, but also access to services in other languages. Much has been said, and I will not repeat it, but we need to commend the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who has from every possible aspect in your Lordships’ House—whether in debates or on legislation—ensured that we think about the importance of other languages that are not our first or our own. One of the key things that has come through this short debate is that that relates to not just the traditional languages that we may have perceived through learning at school or going on holiday but the rights of people who are deaf to have BSL interpreters; to have easy-read or particular interpreter support for children or those with learning difficulties is equally vital.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds reminded us that this is all about fair access for victims, and he talked about “the culture”. I worked at Cambridge University for 20 years in various roles and on two or three occasions had to help foreign-language students when they had been victims of crime. They had good English, but they did not have confident English to deal with what had happened to them in the aftermath of an incident, let alone understand the culture of how our system works—whether it is the police or the criminal justice system. Having an interpreter to whom they can explain what has happened and in return to hear how the process will happen—importantly, that must neutral, as many noble Lords have mentioned—is vital.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, for raising the issue of vulnerable groups because that is important too. He might be amused to know that I am now the step-grandmother of a six year-old child for whom Welsh is very much her first language—I am trying to catch up. A child of that age just speaks the language as it comes and even in the family environment it can throw you when you do not understand. How much more important is that when you are navigating a system such as the criminal justice system?

My noble friend Lord Marks set out the important reasons for the criminal justice system that we professionalise language and interpretative services. We absolutely support that on these Benches and I hope the Minister will listen favourably to all the comments that have been made so far.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for this group of amendments, to which I have put my name. I echo the point that she has had a sustained campaign on this through a number of Bills and I very much hope that this group of amendments will reinforce her campaign, if I can put it like that, and the Minister will look at it favourably. She gave various examples of shortcomings in the court system where interpretations go wrong and I have had personal experience of every single one of the shortcomings that she highlighted. I suspect that anyone else who has worked in the courts, particularly in our metropolitan cities, will have experienced those shortcomings as well.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds spoke about his work as a linguist and I think I am right in saying that he is a Russian linguist—he is nodding his head a bit. It reminded me of when I understood the difference between interpretation and interpreting. That was when I was working in Ukraine and had a Russian interpreter interpreting for me. She was so fluent that she could talk simultaneously in whatever conversation was happening and, she told me, she also did her shopping list in her head at the same time. That is how fluent she was. There really are some remarkable people who do this work. The other thing I learned through various aspects of my life is that there are specialisms within interpreting and it is very important that you recognise the limits of the interpreters one is dealing with at any particular time.

This brings me on to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. She gave the example of an Albanian gang member who was involved in interpreting in a case of alleged rape. One thing I have become aware of in dealing with domestic abuse, particularly when it is minority groups with minority languages, is that you have to be very cautious about who the interpreter is. The information that comes through the interviews with the lawyers and the like can easily leak out into the wider community of that group and can undermine the woman in whatever legal remedy she is seeking. It is a point that I absolutely recognise.

The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, talked about the processes themselves and the noble Lord, Lord Meston, talked about value for money. He also spoke about sign language and lip-reading, both of which I have experienced in court. It is quite an exhaustive process and I understand that it is quite expensive when you have to have relays of sign language interpreters when one is dealing with particular cases. Nevertheless, there is a fundamental point underlined in this group of amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about access to justice and we need to make sure that the standards are as high as possibly can be obtained.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, said, “Don’t underestimate good intentions when interpreters are interpreting”. Many times, I have seen them try to help understanding by overexplaining things, which actually undermines one side or another of the case. I understand that this is a difficult, sensitive issue but I very much hope that, when he comes to reply, the Minister will give as much reassurance as he possibly can—both that standards are kept at the highest possible level and that all necessary procedures and protocols are properly reflected—so that the aspirations of the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, can be fully met.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, for raising this important topic. I join in the general commendation of the way in which she presented her amendments and the way in which noble Lords have subsequently supported them.

In relation to the remarks of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds, I will, if I may, trespass on your Lordships’ indulgence. Let me say that, having had to work for several years in an entirely foreign language and an entirely unfamiliar legal system, I am quite conscious of the difficulty that one has. There comes a point—in my experience, at least—when you get stuck between two stools and you cannot say anything in either language in trying to express yourself. So the subject matter of what we are discussing is well understood.

Perhaps we might start with the common ground. It goes without saying that interpreting—I emphasise that word—and translation services must be of the highest quality and clarity in the criminal justice system, as well as tailored to the victim’s needs. As far as the Ministry of Justice is concerned, interpreting and translation services are provided under contracts where the various standards and requirements are laid down. As I think the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, pointed out, those arrangements have been subject to ongoing and extensive review, which I hope will be completed shortly—at least not before long—to ensure that we have the highest quality. Obviously, the general objective is fairly self-evident: in the justice system, you must have a high standard of interpreting and translation. For the CPS, interpreters must be on the National Register of Public Service Interpreters. That is the first area of common ground.

The second area of common ground is that, for those whose first language is not English, the right to understand and be understood is enshrined in the code. It is right 1—the most important right of all—and is set out on page 15 of the present draft of the code, which says that

“providers must communicate in simple and accessible language and all translation or interpretation”—

I take the point that it says “interpretation” but probably should say “interpreting”—

“services must be offered free of charge to the victim”.

So this is recognised as a right. If it is not always achieved, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, feels, that is, in effect, why we are here. The whole structure of the Bill aims to remedy possible defects and create a system in which we can raise standards progressively and consistently across the country, commissioning bodies can learn from each other and we can improve the service available to victims, generally speaking; that is an operational issue rather than an issue of principle. No one is disputing the broad thrust of the comments that have been made.

Here, once again, we come to what is in some ways the philosophical issue behind everything that we have been discussing: to what extent should we introduce matters in the Bill and to what extent should we deal with the operational and detailed aspects in the code or in guidance? On that point, the common ground tends to be a little more limited, if I may say so.

Taking Amendment 18 first, it is in Clause 2, which is the keystone of the Bill. Clause 2(3) provides that victims must be provided with information to help them to understand the process. However, do we in the Bill, on the face of the principle, need to refer specifically to interpreting and translation services? The Government’s position at the moment is that the position of those who are not entirely comfortable with English as a first language is a matter that should be dealt with in the code and does not qualify for specific mention in those very generally expressed principles in the Bill.
As a corollary to that, whatever may be the defects in the interpreting services that are currently provided by the courts and the strength of those services, this Bill is not the right vehicle with which to regulate interpreting services or to root out bogus interpreters. That is for other measures in other contexts. So the Government’s view on Amendment 18 is that the victims there referred to are already covered by right 1 of the existing code. They are not persuaded that the arguments are strong enough to merit a specific amendment to Clause 2.
Amendment 25 would require any consultation on the code, under Clause 3, to be carried out in a range of languages. As the noble Baroness herself emphasised, the existing code is now published in 15 of the most used languages in this country. An impartial observer might say that it was quite a creditable achievement, frankly, to publish something like this in 15 languages. And that is apart from English and Welsh—of course it is published in Welsh and of course consultations are carried on in Welsh. Addressing the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, I say that, if there is any particularly Welsh aspect, of course it should be fully taken into account. I entirely accept that point.
However, translating a consultation into a range of languages is somewhat different from translating a code into a range of languages. Across government, consultations in one form or another happen daily and are invariably published in English and Welsh— and very often in British Sign Language as well. As a matter of principle, the Government do not consider that there is a case for publishing such consultations in languages other than our two working languages, English and Welsh—and nor do they consider that there sufficient grounds to make an exception in this particular Bill as far as the consultations are concerned.
Amendment 33 relates to the duties of criminal justice boards to raise awareness under Clause 6. Amendment 47 relates to guidance: the duty that applies to all victims, regardless of their language. That duty to raise awareness already applies, irrespective of what the first language of the victim is. How criminal justice bodies are to do that under Clause 6 will be subject to statutory guidance under Clause 11. It is certainly the Government’s expectation that such guidance will refer to the needs of non-English speakers. How can we raise awareness without addressing the situation of victims who do not speak English as their mother tongue?
In answer to the reassurances that have been sought about how that guidance is constructed and what its content is, I am very happy to consider, with quite an open mind, what should be in that guidance and how we should go about making sure that criminal justice bodies are fully apprised of the need to reach victims whose first language is not English; that is the Government’s position on this group of amendments.
Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendments in this group. I also thank the Minister for his reply. He drew a distinction between principles, which he said should be in the Bill, and operational guidance. I would argue that surely it must be a non-negotiable, bottom-line principle that interpreting and translation services should be provided by qualified trained professionals; that to me sounds like a principle. An example of an operational guideline would be specifying a level of diploma qualification for a particular category of case, situation or scenario. So I urge the Minister to be emboldened by the unanimous support around the Chamber for this set of amendments and to negotiate for a bit more room for manoeuvre, particularly on Amendment 18.

To answer his question about Amendment 25 and why we should have consultations in translation, the surveys conducted by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, showed that awareness of the code was very low. If we want to know what all victims, not just native English speakers, think about it, we need to consult properly, not partially.

I will beg leave to withdraw my amendment at this stage, but I fully expect to come back at a later stage to press further. I hope that, in the meantime, the Minister might agree to meet me again to see whether we can find any of that room for manoeuvre.

Amendment 18 withdrawn.
Amendment 19 not moved.
Amendment 20
Moved by
20: Clause 2, page 2, line 36, at end insert—
“(5A) Regulations under subsection (4) must make provision for a person to be able to obtain free of charge, on request, a transcript of a trial in which the person was involved as a victim.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to provide victims of crime with a right to free transcripts for the trial in which they were involved.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I have tabled Amendment 20 and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, for signing it. The background to this amendment is that victims and their family members often feel that they are bystanders in the justice process, unable to have their voices heard and sometimes actively dissuaded from having any involvement in proceedings. We believe that open justice means transparency for the public, but even more so for the victim, because they have arguably the most vested interest in seeing justice done.

My honourable friend Sarah Olney had an Adjournment Debate down the other end and correspondence with Ministers Edward Argar and Mike Freer on this issue. She tabled an amendment to this Bill when it was in the Commons; it was not selected for debate, but she continued to take the matter up and Ed Argar announced in the Commons a one-year pilot scheme to enable victims of rape and other serious sexual offences to request Crown Court sentencing remarks. But this is insufficient, and it is the reason we have retabled this amendment.

We have heard in some of the stories from victims that they are not just actively dissuaded from returning to court after they have given their evidence but that various people in the criminal justice system have told them that they should not return to court. The reason for that is they are told, whether by court officials, their own counsel or even the judge, that their presence in the court will affect the jury’s attitude towards them and, as a result, might mean that the jury would go against them—as if they wish to be voyeurs in the case in which they have been victimised.

Claire Waxman, a long-term victim of stalking, was told repeatedly not to attend her offender’s sentencing as it could make her look vindictive. Another victim said: “I was told I could not watch the court case after giving evidence, as I’d look like I wasn’t scared of the perpetrator and it could harm the jury’s decision”.

After inquiry, we have some data that shows there is a range from about £30 for a copy of a judgment to more than £300 for an original transcript of sentencing remarks. Where a victim requires a transcript of the entire court case, we have seen figures going from about £7,500 to £22,000. That is absolutely unacceptable.

Sarah Olney reported that in 2020 one of her constituents was raped and drugged by a former partner, who was sentenced to 18 years in spring 2022. Her psychiatrist advised her to apply to the court to obtain a copy of the trial transcript, to aid her recovery and understanding. Her application for a free transcript was denied by the court, and she was then quoted £7,500. That was unaffordable, as she has been unable to work following the attack because of PTSD. Unlike many other victims she attended the 10-day trial, but she said she could barely remember what was said due to emotional distress.

Judges need to ensure that the discrimination that is happening is cut out. The Bill cannot address that, but I would be really grateful if the Minister gave some thought as to how we can stop victims being victimised yet again in the middle of their own court process when their case is being debated. The current system of fees flies in the face of open justice, because a victim must pay for the details of their justice. Many will not want it, but some will. The psychiatrist of the lady I just referred to thought it was absolutely key for her to come to terms with what had happened to her, and indeed to her offender.

Technology has moved on, I suspect, since concern was first raised about this. One of the issues is how easy it is to get access to audio in Crown Courts. That would leave the victim, even if they could not get a written transcript, to be able to listen to a judgment, at the very least. We know that this is already available in coroners’ courts—and without charge. Why not in Crown Courts?

Above all, AI technology means that the old days of having to get a stenographer to listen to audio and spend many days typing it, perhaps getting some of it checked back to make sure that names and exact details are right, are long gone. Obviously a court would not want something that had not been checked to go out, but the really long part of it has been completely overtaken by events.

As Mike Freer MP said in the debate in the other place:

“The ability to access transcripts from court proceedings is an essential part of maintaining transparency and accountability within the system”.—[Official Report, Commons, 16/11/23; col. 848.]

From these Benches we really wish the pilot well, but the pilot itself is too narrow and does not cover the wider range of crimes that victims are covered by in Part 1 of the Bill. Secondly, the pilot has not even started and will run for at least a year. I hope that the Minister will consider expanding it a bit—at least for the pilot to cover other crimes, but also to ensure that it is not a wonderful pilot that will then sink into the long grass. I beg to move.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, in this amendment. I pay tribute to her and to Sarah Olney, who has been meticulous in her pursuit of clarity on this issue.

At a trial, the judge’s summing-up and sentencing remarks in particular are of obvious and great importance to victims. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, said in the debate on the previous group, for many victims the experience of being in court is highly stressful and often quite traumatic, and one would not exactly have total recall of what was going on. Indeed, I suspect that most of your Lordships would not have total recall of many of our proceedings here. The ability to read and review the summing up and sentencing and ensure that they are taken fully on board is surely a fundamental right.

Imagine the proceedings of Parliament without the record in Hansard. What is said in both Houses, particularly at the Dispatch Box, is often used to interpret the intent of particular elements of policy or legislation. What is said matters—and what is said by a judge in court is of equal importance, particularly to the victim, and particularly when it comes to parole hearings.
We are asking His Majesty’s Government to provide all Crown Court sentencing remarks to victims upon request, at no cost; for all Crown Court sentencing remarks in due course to be published as a matter of public record and interest, like Hansard; and, also in due course, for the transcripts or audio of hearings to be provided to victims upon request, again at no cost. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said, technology is advancing at such a pace that it is really not that difficult for simultaneous transcriptions to be made in real time.
This is not a new issue. In 2011 a fellow Cross-Bencher, the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, led a review into the needs of families bereaved by homicide. She pointed out the imbalance between the established rights of defendants and appellants to access transcripts and the great difficulties experienced by victims and their families. Recommendation 13 of the Lammy Review in 2017 came to a similar conclusion, and in 2022 the Commons Justice Committee’s report, Open Justice: Court Reporting in the Digital Age, made a similar recommendation.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, mentioned, the Minister in the Commons who has been dealing with this, Mike Freer, has inadvertently demonstrated the inadequacies of the current arrangements during his interactions with Sarah Olney, such as in his suggestion that victims should be allowed to listen to the audio of a trial or hearing but only while physically in the courthouse, being supervised by an employee of that court. That is wholly impractical, not least because some trials go on for several days or even weeks.
We would welcome a crystal clear statement from the Front Bench of the rights of victims currently to access transcripts, especially summing up and sentencing, such that all the authorities and bodies involved, reading what is said at the Dispatch Box, would understand exactly what the situation is. That is manifestly not so today. As a senior official in one of the commissioner’s offices wrote to me in an email yesterday, at the moment trying to get clarity on this issue is
“like nailing jelly to the ceiling”.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a total privilege as always to dip my first toe into your Lordships’ Committee on this very important Bill. It is a pleasure, not for the first time, to be in support—it is always very loud at that end of the Chamber; I am just saying —of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. I would say that they robbed my arguments, but they are their arguments and we share them.

I think the amendment is a no-brainer. It is not partisan and not controversial. In a previous era, the controversy would have been about cost. The argument against it in a previous era would have been, “Goodness me, we would need armies of people”, probably women, “sitting there, typing away with headphones on, to deliver these transcripts in real time”—but of course we are not in that place any more. Even in that previous era I might have argued, because I am who I am, that it was a price worth paying, but we are not in that place.

I also give respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, whose previous group I heard—she is not in her place at the moment—because in a way my argument and what we are discussing in this group is similar to what I just heard.

The cost implication is not such a problem now because of AI—there is wicked old AI but also positive AI, right? AI is already being used across public services, in the City and in financial services. I have some qualms about AI making decisions instead of humans that have a huge impact, but not when it is supporting transparency. This amendment is, in a way, about translation, just like the last group was. How can victims be part of this process if they do not have a record of what happened?

The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, made an analogy with Hansard, and it is quite a good one. Looking at friends around the House, I ask how many times, in honesty, when the adrenaline is going and the heart is pacing, have noble Lords left the Chamber to be glared at or congratulated by friends and colleagues, and remembered word-for-word what happened. And I am talking about noble Lords who have the privilege of being legislators and being in this place. This is the point the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, made so well. If that is a problem for us as human beings, imagine not being a noble Lord giving wisdom in your Lordships’ House, but instead a victim of crime with all the pressures we all know about. They go into the court and, in the current underfunded system, do not even know if they will bump into the defendant and the family members, or know what will be said about them or what their community think, et cetera. This applies as much to the previous group on language translation as it does to this important amendment on transcription.

How lucky are we, in this generation, with all the challenges we face, to have the technology that would now allow us to give a transcript to a victim of what happened? This is not a partisan amendment; this is not a difficult amendment. This is something that the Minister—who I know really cares, from a lifetime of public service to the rule of law—and his colleagues could deliver. I really believe that this is so deliverable. Therefore, I urge the Minister and his colleagues, hopefully with the benefit of AI so no one has to take everything down, really to think about this. It is an easy win for everyone. To have a record they could look at after the event with family, friends and lawyers could make such a difference to people who are scared, excluded, have adrenaline rushing and experience the fight or flight of being a victim—sometimes of minor crimes and sometimes very serious crimes. I look at my noble friend Lord Winston. I sometimes think we could do with this when we go into see an oncologist. In these difficult moments in life, if we could have this opportunity, with family, friends and advisers, to look at a record of what happened, it could really help people. As I say, it is not a partisan or ideological amendment, but such amazing 21st-century common sense. I support the noble Baroness.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I am listening to all of this. My brief, from my team, is to correspond with Ministers, but I will speak, I hope in a succinct way—because I do waffle at times and get so distracted because I am that passionate—and as eloquently as other speakers in the Chamber.

I have dealt with transcripts—I am showing my age here—since 1980. This is how I know we should not have to have this discussion. As a committal court assistant, I used to take evidence down and do these transcripts the old-fashioned way with headphones and typing. That got abolished because of cutbacks. I then became a legal PA where I did barristers’ briefs. Again, everything was all there for the client, the defendant and everyone else, indexed.

Then came Garry’s murder. I listened to everything at a 10-week court trial. I listened to my daughters giving evidence. They wanted to come back and sit in the court, but as a mum I advised them it was too brutal for them. I am very glad I did, because five QCs goaded by defenders is not something I want my children to see after seeing their dad kicked to death. So, I know that element of it. I did get a summary of the judge’s direction, but I do not remember that document to be perfectly honest because it is so traumatising. I found a lot more out from the media, believe it or not, because they could see the dock and they give out everything 24/7—even to this day, I check on things because my mind is a blur.

Parole hearings are where statements are made. People do not know what date the parole hearing will be, they are just asked to do it and it goes off—not into the iCloud, but into something they cannot control. In all of this, the defendants and the barristers for the offender have a copy. The offender has a right to see these copies. In parole hearings, the offender has a right to see what I say about the impact of the crime. Surely, we should be able not to pilot this scheme, but to have the decency to just give a copy. We can go to the Post Office and pay 15p for a photocopy of a document. We have a digital system now even for passport photographs; we can go in a photo booth and give a code number and it appears on GOV.UK. Surely, we can have a copy of the transcript—the direction, the sentencing, how it was all resolved—for whenever a victim decides to pick it up. It is at their discretion, but surely we should not be looking at the monetary value of their damage, of the direction of the sentence and the direction for the judge, because it is so important to victims.

I ask my noble and learned friend: could we have further discussions and make sure that every victim of crime, not just those of rape and sexual abuse, has the opportunity to have that document whether in their hand or digitally? For too long it has been the offender’s right to see everything and surely now, while we are discussing victims legislation, we could have that in this Bill, to say they have a right free of charge, and let them have that document for sound peace of mind.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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My Lords, what this debate has shown is the need for some clarity about what can and cannot properly be provided to the victim after criminal proceedings. While I understood and supported the provision of a transcript, the conventional view always was, at least until I heard the arguments today, that the provision of a transcript of the whole trial would be very expensive and probably, in many cases, unnecessary and of little benefit. However, if modern technology enables it to be done much less expensively, then so be it. Indeed, the transcript or a recording could and should be provided. Subject to that, clearly a free transcript of the sentencing remarks of the judge or bench, or a transcript of the summing up in cases in which there has been a contested trial and an acquittal, could be of considerable value in helping victims and their families understand what was decided and why.

In particular, the sentencing remarks may help victims and their families to understand what account was taken of the impact on the victim and the court’s assessment of harm. In some cases, a transcript could also be provided to those offering counselling, therapeutic services and treatment to victims, or otherwise offering them professional advice. However, I would like to hear what can now be usefully provided without enormous expense, in the light of modern technological advances.

I would offer one word of caution: there must be categories of case, such as those involving sexual offences, particularly against children, in which there should be clear restrictions on the copying and distribution of transcripts. There should be a binding requirement to keep transcripts and recordings secure and confidential to avoid their falling into the wrong hands, particularly of those who might seek some gratification from reading details of such offences.
Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, I too speak in favour of this amendment on court transcripts. I too pay tribute to Sarah Olney, the Victims’ Commissioner, brave survivors, and others who have been campaigning on this issue.

I once gave evidence, a long time ago. It was extremely difficult and a challenging experience. To be honest, I struggled afterwards to remember a single word that I had said. Courts are not normal places. The language, formality and methods of cross-examination are completely different from anything we experience in everyday life. Some might even argue that giving evidence in court is more intimidating than giving a speech in your Lordships’ House—except that when I speak here, unlike in court, every word is recorded and available online, free of charge.

In a court, you would naturally expect to be able to tell your story, to be listened to and then to be asked some questions. Instead, you are led towards blunt choices and decisive statements. You are often challenged on your credibility, truthfulness and ability to remember, let alone your morality and intimate details of your personal life. Doing this when you have been a victim of a violent or sexual crime must be horrific and re-traumatising. Often, victims are not present in court. They may be scared of facing attackers, wrongly advised or just unable to face it all again.

When the outcomes of legal proceedings are not what was wanted or expected, victims really want to know why. For justice to be done, it must be seen to be done. If there is no transcript, how do victims begin to comprehend what has happened in court, why it happened and how they might set about responding to the results? No money means no record: the victim is victimised again, this time by the justice system itself. The right of a victim to a transcript—a record of a legal case—seems like a fundamental part of our justice system. How did we get to a common place where the most basic of things is so inaccessible to and unattainable by so many people?

We live in a technological world. My laptop can easily be dictated to. AI tools, as other noble Lords have mentioned, are readily available. My phone can make an audio recording. Yet the evidence and testimony of victims, the evidence of their attackers and the summing-up of the judge are all unattainable. They are secret preserves of the legal system alone. What good does this do and how can it be? It cannot be beyond the wit of man and government to provide this information at either no cost or a reasonable cost.

No doubt there are practical problems that need addressing. I am certain that the Government have entered into some poor contracts for court transcripts. Technology has moved on, faster than expected, and now the exorbitant costs and contractual obligations perhaps leave the Government between a rock and a hard place. However, the idea that transcripts of legal cases are being charged at anywhere between £7,000 and £20,000 is just not acceptable. The Bill must set down a marker that the failure of this part of our legal system must end.

I acknowledge that the Government have argued that there are cost implications and have made some concessions. These are welcome, particularly the open justice consultation, and we recognise that a one-year pilot has been announced to enable victims of rape and other serious sexual offences to request Crown Court sentencing remarks, free of charge. This is welcome, but what happens after the pilot? Who assesses it and is there a commitment beyond that? It is too little and does not go far enough.

This service should be available to victims of all crimes, not just one group. We do not want to see a victims’ hierarchy established. As a minimum, all victims must have access to sentencing remarks. Ideally, full court transcripts should be made available when asked for. In the interim, the Government must do more to cover the excessive cost, especially for bereaved victims. I question whether the current contracts for transcript services provide anyone with any value for money. The Government should look to bring them to an end and, instead, work to find better and more cost-effective ways in which this can be done. I hope the Government are aware of the strength of feeling on all sides of the Committee on this issue and are of an open mind, willing to find better and faster solutions then they have up until now.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, it will be abundantly clear what our view is from these Benches, but I am speaking formally from them to support this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, referred to Sarah Olney as being meticulous—she always is.

The recent public discussion about dissatisfaction with sentences has made me think about this issue. Without wanting in any way to disparage, and I do not, the comments of relatives and the victims of crimes themselves who make public statements on the steps of the court, one wonders how much they have been able to take in. That is no criticism of them, but they are responding to a very emotional experience and will have been emotional while hearing, or possibly not very thoroughly hearing, what has been said. I had a very minor example of that experience myself last week. I went to a medical appointment and a friend came with me. When we discussed afterwards in the car what the consultant had said, our recollections were completely different.

I want to ask the Minister some questions about the pilot which has been announced. I wonder whether he can give some details. Is it in all courts for the category of crimes that has been announced? What monitoring will there be of how the pilot is going and how will it be evaluated? Like other speakers, though, I would like to go straight to a new procedure.

I am not sure whether the technology actually comes within the category of artificial intelligence; it may be a much earlier generation than that. There are other noble Lords in the Chamber who probably could have answered this question, had I thought to ask them before we started the debate, but are the judge’s remarks not normally written down before the judge makes them? That might differ among members of the judiciary —I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Meston.

Lord Meston Portrait Lord Meston (CB)
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Only sometimes.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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I suppose it is like our written notes: sometimes we have them, sometimes we do not and sometimes we do not follow them.

We have heard that Minister Freer is looking at how audio recordings can be used. I wonder whether there is any more news on this than has been in the semi-public domain so far. The suggestion of listening to a recording or reading a transcript while supervised reminds me of the arrangements made for a very few senior politicians to read the assessments of the Chilcot inquiry. To me, like to others, that is not a sensible arrangement.

In any event, as I understand it, in magistrates’ courts recordings are not made. For a victim to have to sit in court and listen it is very likely that she or he will be close to the family and friends of the defendant. As my noble friend Lady Brinton said, it is a matter of open justice. This debate confirms that the adversarial system treats the victim as little more than a witness.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions. I appreciate that this places the Minister in a somewhat interesting situation; yet again, he finds that the Committee is united on this issue, as I think we are.

As when I last spoke a few minutes ago, when I first read this amendment, I thought, “Oh, for goodness’ sake”. What is the problem with people having access to the transcripts of the case that affects them as victims? As this debate has proceeded, and I have learned more about the barriers and what happens to people—supervised listening and people discouraged from going into court to listen to proceedings—I feel even more that this is an important matter which would enormously strengthen our victims’ code and the way victims are treated.

Let us think about how every single word that is said in public in this place is available to watch, and re-watch if you really want to, and to read—the committee transcripts may take a little while to be published, but they are there—and how important that is for our proceedings and for us to be able to do our job so much better. It is not a difficult thing to do given technology today; it is not difficult for those things to happen in this place. Think how much more important that would be for somebody who was the victim of crime.

In many ways, access to information about the proceedings that affect them is symbolic of victims’ rights. I accept that child victims would need to be considered because, apart from anything else, we would not want a child to be able to be identified through transcripts of their proceedings, but it is not beyond our wit to sort that out. A pilot is good, but there is a matter of principle here that the Government will need to address.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, as my name has just been mentioned in this short debate, I will make a quick interjection and give the example of medical treatment of patients. It is extremely common to have a detailed conversation with a patient who has listened and apparently understood exactly what has been said, but then you find that they have understood nothing at all and are later really confused about their treatment.

Perhaps I may tell a very short story. I once had an extremely well-off woman who was totally infertile; she had no chance of a pregnancy. I spent an hour and a half talking to her explaining why this was the case and that there was no possibility of her being pregnant. However, 18 months later, she came into my clinic— she had flown in from another country—and said, “Dr Winston, I am pleased to tell you that, as you predicted, I am now pregnant”, and she was. I was a complete fool; I was wrong. It is really important to understand that, because this is a situation that happens quite often, and it is significant in terms of a court when you are very anxious.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, it is heartening to hear a story with a happy ending in one respect, as we are generally dealing with unhappy or less happy outcomes.

This Government are very much in favour of open justice as a general proposition, and we are in the middle of a consultation on it. This debate should—I will make sure that it happens—figure in the evidence presented to that consultation so that we can see where we go. Anecdotally and in terms of the shape of things to come, we are already live-streaming the proceedings of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal and the Competition Appeal Tribunal, which I used to have something to do with many years ago. Hopefully, in the years ahead, this problem will diminish if not be resolved through those kinds of technical developments. The twin obstacles are cost and the state of the technology.

It is true that this House, through the—in historical terms—quite expensive use of the Hansard reporters and the more recent introduction of our technology, is able to read and see what is happening. But we are one place. Every day in this country, hundreds of courts are in operation. To stream, record or make immediately available the proceedings of those courts is quite a challenge.

At the moment, a judge’s sentencing remarks are made freely available in cases of murder, manslaughter or causing death on the road. From this spring, as has been mentioned, we will run a further one-year trial of similar arrangements in cases of rape and serious sexual offences. That will, I hope, further inform which way we should go. I am not in a position to give further details on exactly how many courts will be covered by that pilot and on other matters raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. However, I will write to the Committee to fully inform it.

It is less well known, and I do not think it will be an answer to the problem, that a victim can go to a Crown Court building to listen to a tape of the proceedings if that can be suitably arranged. That right is not very well known. It may not be quite in the direction that the technology is going.

To come back to the present situation and our twin obstacles of cost and technology, some of the figures of cost have been mentioned; it is expensive to do it manually. As to the technology, we have made considerable advances in the use of technology during the pandemic. Most courts can operate remote hearings of one sort or another.

Although I hold no ministerial responsibility for criminal justice, in terms of my day job, I was somewhat surprised and worried by some of the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about witnesses being asked to leave the court and not to listen. I would have thought that in many court buildings these days there would be another room where the victim concerned could watch the proceedings on a screen, for example.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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Unfortunately, there are no rooms available to do that. I would love that—and I welcome my noble and learned friend the Minister’s warm tone in hoping that there were—but there are not. I went past two rooms in the murder trial that were video-link rooms. There are no rooms in our court buildings for families, witnesses or anyone else to watch privately and be taken care of. That is why it is so important that we try to assist them by giving them these scripts, so they can reflect on the proceedings whenever they want to.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD)
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That would be enormously helpful in many civil and family cases as well, and it simply is not available.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am very grateful for those interventions. I have personally seen this in operation in Manchester, but it may have been that the court had particular availability of rooms that is not generally the case.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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That is where Ministers are taken.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I recognise the nature of the problem.

The modern versions of AI, or whatever generation of technology we are talking about, have opened up recent possibilities for us. Of course, any Government have every incentive to reduce cost. Why should we spend money on transcription, if it can be done more effectively and cheaply? The view currently taken is that a 99.5% accuracy is required. When we last trialled this in 2022 that level was not achieved, so we have not further proceeded with that development at the moment —but it remains a distinct possibility.

There is a specific situation with the magistrates’ courts whereby we do not even have recordings, let alone transcription. But again, if those courts now have screens that can be adapted in some way, the further development of technology is going to be the answer to the problem. At the moment the Government, although very sympathetic to the point, do not feel that they are in a position to accept a statutory obligation to provide a victim with a free transcript of the trial. We are working through the development with regard to sentencing remarks.

Of course, I will keep this under review and discuss it further with my noble friend Lady Newlove and others. The noble Lord, Lord Meston, makes very sensible points about the nature of some of these transcripts. We are going to have to be very careful in some cases. That is a quite separate issue.

With regret, I do not feel that the Government can accept Amendment 20 in its present form, but I hope I have explained the direction of travel as far as the future is concerned.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, who talked about their personal experiences, which was extremely valuable. I will not rehearse what has been said and repeated by others. I think the Minister needs to understand that the opinion of those who have contributed is somewhat different; certainly, the issue is worth discussing. I hope he will be prepared to have a meeting with those of us who are here. For example, we have just had a debate about the importance of being able to find rooms, but many speakers said that it was still too early for a traumatised victim to be able to take in the proceedings.

To give noble Lords my own experience, when I went into the court to hear my stalker being sentence, I was not just near his family; I was next to him—that far away. The result was that I did not hear a word of the sentencing, so thank goodness journalists covered it. I missed the absolute key bit, because all I was thinking about was how close he was to me. Extra rooms would be enormously helpful, and I believe the court system needs to find a way to make sure juries understand that victims should not be penalised if they wish to listen. I do not have an answer to that but, if the Minister agrees to a meeting, perhaps we will have that as one of the topics for discussion.

My final brief point is that in your Lordships’ House we already use Zoom and Teams. I chair a disability committee for the Local Government Association— I am a vice-president of the LGA—and we have deaf and hard-of-hearing people in the group. I use close captioning for every single one of those meetings, and it can be saved. This is not a future technology; it is available. If the Government and the court system do not recognise where these are, we will lose the benefit of what is happening now by not harnessing the technology available to help victims who really need it. I hope the Minister will agree to a meeting.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, before my noble friend withdraws the amendment, as I suspect she is about to, I ask the Minister whether the Government could make some representations to the Sentencing Council, if that is the appropriate way to do it, after hearing what noble Lords have said about their experiences. This is a matter for sentences as well.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am very grateful to my noble friend, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall) (Lab)
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I am going to give the Minister an opportunity to respond, if he wishes.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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Thank you. The Sentencing Council point is an interesting one, which I will reflect on. As for the request from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of course I am prepared to have another meeting.

Amendment 20 withdrawn.
Amendment 21
Moved by
21: Clause 2, page 3, leave out lines 8 and 9 and insert—
“(8) The victims’ code must make different provision for children and vulnerable and intimidated victims, and may make other different provision including for—”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would ensure that the distinct needs and rights of children and vulnerable and intimated witnesses are reflected in the Victims’ Code.
Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, this is where I again declare my interest as a state secondary school teacher in east London. I will speak to Amendments 21, 34, 61, 118 and 119 in my name in this group. I thank the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for help with these amendments, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and my noble friend Lord Russell of Liverpool for adding their names to them.

At Second Reading, at the Cross-Bench meeting with the Minister and on the first day in Committee, the Minister stuck to his message that the Bill covers all victims, including children. I will try to continue to persuade him otherwise. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said on the first day, we should put children at the top of the hierarchy of victims. I slightly disagree with my noble friend Lord Russell, who said that there should not be a hierarchy of victims. There is a hierarchy of victims, and children should be at the top of it. I am also aware that everything needs to be accessible, accountable and affordable.

We cannot lump all victims together. As the Children’s Commissioner said last week, children do not disclose like adults. It is important that children are treated differently as victims, and that is reflected in the amendments we have proposed. This will bear fruit not only in getting justice and restorative justice but, even more importantly, in repairing the damage done to those young victims and allowing them to become healthy adults. Would it not be lovely if a government department were to make decisions that could save money for other departments in future, and maybe future Governments? Could that be the Minister’s lasting legacy? The amount of work that the Children’s Commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner, the children’s coalition and many other organisations are putting into this Bill, plus the number of noble Lords speaking to amendments, shows that we have a once-in-a-generation chance to put children first and really invest in our future.

Amendment 21 would make a different provision for children, ensuring that distinct needs and rights of children and vulnerable and intimidated victims were reflected in the victims’ code. They have different needs, and this needs to be reflected in the Bill to make it accessible.

Amendment 34 would insert “including children”. This is a vital amendment, which we talked about on the first day. It would mean that the victims’ code had to be promoted to children specifically, as well as to victims in general, as we need to make children aware—and they are not, at the moment—that if they are victims, they have rights. There should be a statutory obligation to advertise this in schools and possibly online—wherever—as a way of spreading this information so that it becomes widely understood. It would have little or no cost attached to it; it is affordable.

Amendment 61 is to ensure visible consistency within the police force areas—to, hopefully, drive up quality—but also brings the provisions into line with the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. This is not about adding children as victims but rather driving up the “quality and consistency” of reporting. Anything that drives up quality and consistency must be a good thing. This gives us accountability and transparency.
Amendments 118 and 119 deal with independent advocacy services for children and not just victims, as does Amendment 108 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and other noble Lords, and my Amendment 53 in a later group. We have talked already, in Committee and on the first day, about the “child house” model such as The Lighthouse in Camden, which we were lucky enough to visit last week. It is a multi-agency way of embedding child advocates in the system that gives us the perfect opportunity to put something in place that has a profound effect on child victims. Advocates can guide children through the justice system, reducing the trauma and aiding the healing process, which will save money across the board and have a demonstrable uptake in prosecutions. As we were told at The Lighthouse, children only tell their story once—so that needs to be in a space where they are supported and feel comfortable, but also where evidence can be gathered that could be used to obtain justice. Why would you not bring this in?
To give an example of why we need advocacy for child victims from the start, we had a recent case where, following a run of significant altercations with their mother, a child considered signing themselves into care, under the guidance of a social worker. While this was being considered, a further incident happened. The police were then involved and the child was removed from the home for their own safety. They would usually stay with a maternal uncle, but because the child was making allegations about the conduct of their mother, the uncle refused to house them. Three days after this incident, the child turned 18 and was therefore no longer eligible for care or input from children’s social services. Despite being a full-time pupil and having no means or experience in looking after themselves, they were effectively homeless and classed as an adult in the eyes of the supporting agencies. This was the day before the Christmas holidays, so no professional was going to see this person for two weeks or know if they were safe and had somewhere to live.
Young people are expected to be in education or training until they are, in most cases, past the age of 18, but the services around them have not shifted to recognise this. The school is then left with a young person to support, solely through the use of charities. With an advocate they would have someone to advise and help them—this is affordable if you consider the expense of the alternative.
The Government are still treating victims as a homogenous mass in the Bill as it stands. These amendments give more definition to allow children to be treated differently, to reflect their very different needs, to try to minimise trauma, to promote healing and to gain justice for them. It is sad that in government, any Government, there seems to be no appetite to spend money now to save money in the future. I am interested to hear the Minister’s response. With that, I beg to move.
Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I shall not detain the Committee. I have my name on several amendments, but they have one theme, which I spoke about last week. It is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, who is a schoolteacher and knows what he is talking about. I was a youth worker many years ago—that was my profession in my early adult years—so I was pleased to support several amendments and put my name to Amendments 44, 46, 55, 66, 68, 70, 71 and 73.

I will make one contribution, which I hope the Minister will take away and understand why children should be right on the face of the Bill. I remember last week when we discussed this, the Minister kindly turned around and said that he appreciated what we had all been saying and that maybe this is guidance and that we did not want to change the way the Bill looked. Well, we are adding one word: “children”. It means so much to the children’s organisations that are working daily.

Amendment 108 concerns a

“Duty to commission support for children and young people”.

This proposes the inclusion of a new clause after Clause 27, placing a duty on relevant local commissioning bodies to commission specialist support and advocacy services for children and young people who are victims of abuse and exploitation. It is imperative that we address the unique needs of this demographic, whose abuse has a devastating and long-lasting effect on them, on their families and on society more broadly. They cannot, and should not, be left unsupported, or be lost to the broader category of adult victims.

There is a scarcity of support and advocacy services available for child victims. A recent study by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse found that, across England and Wales, there are just 468 services providing support to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and their families, despite an estimated 500,000 children suffering some sort of abuse every year. There is a clear lack of support services available.

Advocacy services also play a vital role in supporting child victims, helping them to navigate the complex criminal justice and support service systems. Advocacy services include such roles as the child independent domestic violence advisers—the CHIDVAs. I will not repeat the others as your Lordships know them. However, they are few and far between. New freedom of information data from Barnardo’s has found that just 84 child independent domestic violence advisers, and 112 child independent sexual violence advisers were commissioned by police and crime commissioners this year. Its research found that a staggering, additional 1,900 CHIDVAs and almost 500 CHISVAs are needed to support the number of identified children who are victims of domestic and sexual abuse. I emphasise the word “identified”—there are many, I am sure, whom we do not know.

What is available to support children is just a drop in the ocean. Yet we know that these services can have a huge benefit to children and society more broadly. This can include reducing the impact of harm and other future risks, including going missing from home, alcohol and drug abuse, accommodation and housing needs, and interaction with the criminal justice system in the future. As was said just now, a little investment now will save a lot in the future. The Government’s own costings found that the cost of contact child sexual abuse is at least £10.1 billion annually—which, I believe, is a conservative estimate. Investment in support and advocacy services for child victims will reduce these costs in the long term. Barnardo’s and Pro Bono Economics evidence found that for every £1 invested in specific support services for child sexual exploitation, it can save the taxpayer up to £12.

In essence, Amendment 108 is about putting the duty on commissioners to protect and support children who are victims of crime by making funding specific, and directing it toward children’s needs to create a system where no child is left without the necessary support, regardless of their circumstances.

Amendment 109 proposes a duty on the Victims’ Commissioner and Secretary of State to conduct a review and issue a national statement on the current state of support for children who are victims of crime. This review is critical in assessing the adequacy of existing provision, identifying unmet needs, and evaluating the current investment in these services, to ensure transparency for the provision of these services.

The review will cover the current volume of provision and unmet need and the level of investment in these services. This information will then be made public through a report, to be published and laid before Parliament within three months of the Bill becoming an Act. The purpose of this amendment is to foster transparency and accountability in the support provided to child victims. By clearly outlining what is already being provided—where the gaps exist and how much funding is allocated—we can ensure that our efforts are targeted and effective. These two amendments seek to fortify our commitment to the protection and support of children who have suffered at the hands of crime.

If I may, I will repeat the testimony of a very brave young woman called Poppy Eyre—I am honoured that she is sitting in the Chamber—who has made it clear to me and to other noble Lords why these amendments and the others that I have signed are crucial additions to the Bill. Before I continue, I should preface that some may find what I am about to share distressing—and I apologise to Poppy that I probably will not do it justice.

Poppy grew up in the countryside with her siblings and parents: an idyllic setting surrounded by nature and space. Yet, at the far too young age of four, she was molested by her grandfather. While most four year-olds were focused on playing, Poppy was preparing for the end of a CBeebies episode, followed by humiliation and sexual abuse by her grandfather in her own home. Yet how could Poppy truly know or voice that what was happening to her was wrong? She would never question her grandfather, whom she trusted and loved. She assumed it was normal. Yet the shame and negativity that manifested as a result of her abuse led Poppy to develop thoughts of guilt and hatred that led to physical illness and anxiety.

At the age of 11, Poppy found the courage to tell her mother after another sleepless night of physical and emotional anxiety. I want to quote Poppy directly on what opening up about her experience did for her:

“Admitting what had happened was the best thing I think I could have ever done for myself. It’s a funny word admit … it indicates fault, but that was my mindset at the time. For the first time in my life I didn’t feel responsible. This moment in my story is very unusual. The fact I was believed is something that many don’t experience”.

Over time, Poppy was able to gain some understanding of the enormity of what had happened to her and, along with her mother, she decided it was time to go to the police. Only at this point did Poppy begin to understand that she was the victim and survivor of a crime, that that crime was sexual abuse and that her grandfather was the perpetrator. She wanted to seek justice.

Seven years ago, Poppy found herself at the intersection of vulnerability and strength, navigating a court process that, surprisingly, restored her faith in the system. When she approached the police, they embraced her case with gravity and compassion, providing crucial support during the investigation. Poppy was connected with specialist counselling services that became a lifeline in one of the darkest periods of her life. Her healing journey underscored the potential of the justice system to offer assurance and validation. In the courtroom, justice was not merely a word but a tangible reality. Poppy’s age was considered and she was treated with respect and understanding. The system functioned as it should and Poppy received the justice she deserved.

Yet, unfortunately, Poppy’s journey is not representative of all survivors. Too many brave individuals who have come forward with their stories have been denied justice, their pain compounded by a system that failed them. There are far too many heartbreaking stories of those who were just not believed or supported and were denied the closure they deserved. The justice system possesses the power to heal, but it also has the potential to inflict further harm. There is a collective responsibility to acknowledge its flaws and work together to address them. No survivor should be left feeling abandoned or disbelieved. They must have access to support and advocacy services. It is our collective duty to ensure that the justice and support Poppy experienced become the norm, not the exception.

These amendments are one step towards ensuring that all survivors of these crimes are supported like Poppy was. We cannot waste the opportunity of this Victims and Prisoners Bill and let the thought remain that support and advocacy services for child victims are just an optional extra. They are a life-saving necessity and must be available for all child victims.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group on child victims. I thank my noble friend Lord Polak for speaking about Poppy’s story. She is in the Chamber—a very gracious young woman who articulated her story very well. As a mother, when I watched my children have to give evidence, covered in blood, on the actions against their father—my sisters were told to turn in a corner when they were trying to ID on a VIPER parade—I called them “my heroines”. And Poppy is a heroine. As a mum, I felt that evening for her mum because, believe you me, as mothers we want to wrap you in cotton wool to protect you from pain. It was very emotional to listen to, and I send my huge respects to her mum as well.

This Bill needs to take into account the needs of all victims, but especially children. Children need to be recognised in this Bill. They are victims in their own right. As I said, my three daughters witnessed every kick and punch to their father, having to pull his tongue out because he was choking on his blood and say goodbye while he was in a coma. They live with that on a daily basis. They were not treated as children—they were told to act properly, because they were children.

Children who have been victims of crime, especially sexual abuse and exploitation, are among the most vulnerable in our society. This type of abuse can devastate the lives of children, impacting on their mental health, relationships and education. We in this Chamber have a responsibility to make sure that this Bill recognises and provides for them. The needs of children are not the same as those of adults, so they require specific provision that is designed for them, not against them. The victims’ code should consider children’s specific needs. They should be able to access registered intermediaries who can help them give their best evidence and, when they are interviewed, it should be done by people with specialist training in interviewing children.

When I was last in this role, I undertook a report on registered intermediaries. One of its findings was that the police and the CPS had a lack of awareness of the existence of registered intermediaries and how they worked. That was in 2018 and it is still the case now. This Bill gives us an ideal opportunity to make sure that these code rights are secured for our children. They are our future and we must care for them. That is the key here.

Children must have a needs assessment that takes into account their individual requirements, and we must have properly funded victims’ services, such as the “child house” model. This offers children who have experienced sexual abuse a child-focused, targeted response that can support children and their families as they recover from their ordeal—although, to be honest, they never recover; they survive. Currently, there is only one “child house” in the UK, which is the Lighthouse, in London, and, as a northerner, it really gets me to say that.

Children face a postcode lottery when it comes to support services. An FoI request by Barnardo’s to PCCs found that, of all the local authorities that responded, 68% had not in the last 12 months commissioned any support services for child victims of sexual exploitation. That is why I support these amendments, both as the Victims’ Commissioner and as legislator in this House—but, more importantly, as a mother of three daughters who, to this day, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because they felt they were not listened to but were told what to do. As a mother, I could not give them a hug because I might persuade them to give other evidence.

This amendment is so important for children and the victims of crime. We need to make sure the Bill provides specialist support services designed for children—in fact, designed for children, by children, because they will know their individual needs and vulnerabilities. We have a duty to help them cope and recover from such horrific and traumatic experiences.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly and cover all the amendments, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I put on the record that I am a governor of Coram, the oldest children’s charity in the United Kingdom, and I am a trustee of the Foundling Museum.

Like other noble Lords, I have had the privilege of listening to some of the child survivors of child abuse. It is difficult for them to speak of their experiences; it is also extraordinarily difficult to listen to them—it really is. I pay tribute to Poppy, who described the trauma she went through in the most brilliant, clear way, without undue emotion or embellishment, and it was far more powerful than anything I—or, I suspect, any of us—will say this evening. It is an honour to try to speak on their behalf, although I fear we are poor substitutes for the way in which they are able to describe what they went through.

What they are asking for is very simple. It is one word: recognition—that is, recognition of the fact that they are not adults. The vast majority of victims whom we are going to talk about during the course of the Bill, including, of course, the part about prisoners, are adults. However, a very significant proportion of victims are not adults, and children have very specific needs and are particularly vulnerable and open to manipulation. They can often have great difficulty in understanding what is going on around them and discerning what is right and what is wrong, depending on who is telling them what. To help them navigate their way through some of the situations which adults—usually—have landed them in, requires particularly sensitive, careful and deeply knowledgeable treatment. At the moment, the reality is that it is a postcode lottery for children.

My colleague on the Cross Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, is well known for his theory about some of the difficulties we appear to have got ourselves into in this country. We still seem to subscribe to what might be called the “good chaps” code of government: assuming that, if you tell people what it is they should do, that is what they will do. If one has a law, a code or guidance, the assumption is that people will read the guidance and then follow and adhere to it in a consistent manner. However, the evidence we have is overwhelming. When it comes to the treatment of children, there is a total and utter lack of consistency. There are statistics to back this up, and financial statistics which explain the cost of it. It is unacceptable that large parts of the country are effectively a desert when it comes to helping children who might get into the same sort of ghastly situation that Poppy was in.

As a Cross-Bencher I am not going make a political point, but, if I was a member of His Majesty’s Government, after being in office since 2010 and looking at the state of the way in which children are treated as victims at the moment, it is not a record I would feel proud to defend. It would be nice, for a change, to hear people say, “We have tried various things and spent money on them, but it is not all working and we acknowledge that. We have learned from it and we are doing something about it”. But to try and continue with the “good chaps” version of government—in which you tell people what they should be doing and they do it—is just fantasy. We need to wake up to that and do something about it, for all the poor children who deserve much better.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, I will speak on Amendments 108 and 109, in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, who would have made a contribution. She comments that child abuse and exploitation can happen to any child, in any family, in any location, and, as she would always say, “Childhood lasts a lifetime”. Child abuse and exploitation can have a detrimental impact on children that stays with them for the rest of their lives, harming their mental health, their development and sense of trust. Right at this moment, there is a child experiencing this type of trauma. Of course, it also has a devastating impact on their family and friends, and society as whole. As a country, we still do not provide or fund anywhere near enough for specialist support services to stand up for children’s rights and those who have experienced devastating trauma and abuse. It is shameful that, as a nation, children are left with the horror of abuse, and suffer in silence without any statutory right to support.

Support services are vital for child victims. They give children a space to work through their trauma and begin to recover, offering mental health and counselling services, and advocacy services which help children and their families to navigate the complexity of statutory agencies and the criminal justice system. Child-centred services, such as the Lighthouse, which was described earlier, can also reduce the impact of harm and other risks later in life, including going missing from home, alcohol and drug misuse, homelessness and interaction with the criminal justice system.

In one study, more than eight in 10 male prisoners said they had experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, which includes physical and sexual abuse, and domestic abuse. Yet local services, mostly run by the voluntary and community sectors, are chronically underfunded and undervalued. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sex Abuse, which is hosted by Barnardo’s, has recently published a comprehensive study of the current landscape. I will not go into the detail because the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has already covered the results. But just as much as Barnardo’s and the other children’s charities feel that they have a moral duty to support vulnerable children and young people, we cannot continue to see these vital support services as just a charitable add-on that is nice to have. These are life-saving services for a lot of children who have experienced abuse and exploitation. We must ensure that enough are available to support the number of children who, every year, face abuse and exploitation.

From these Benches, we support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, which would place a duty on the relevant authorities to commission sufficient child-specific support services for child victims of abuse and exploitation.

My own Amendment 100A in this group follows on from the very thorough report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, which gave the Government 20 recommendations, of which the first is a statutory duty of mandatory reporting, by which those in certain employment, whether paid or voluntary, and regulated professions should report allegations of child sex abuse to relevant authorities. The Government have yet to respond on these recommendations. I hope that will change soon.

This Bill is not the right place for an amendment on mandatory reporting. The amendment would provide children and young people with the status of a victim if a person in a regulated profession had a suspicion that they were a victim of child sex abuse. As we have heard from most speakers on this group of amendments, children and adults react differently to trauma. Children need specialist help right from the start. Giving them that recognition as a victim is vital.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the discussion on this group has been remarkable. I agree with everything that all noble Lords have said. Indeed, I went to many of the same meetings about which other noble Lords have spoken so eloquently.

One of the particularly powerful parts of Poppy’s speech was when she said that the criminal justice system did not work too badly in her case. We heard of other examples where things had gone wrong and where systems could be improved, but her testimony— if that is the right word—was all the more powerful because the system actually worked for her.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, is a governor of Coram. In my work as a family magistrate, I have given many lectures at Coram over the years. I recognise the central point he was making about the postcode lottery of provision for children in different circumstances.
I was trying to think of something additional that I could contribute to this debate because it has been so powerful. I was reflecting on my experience as a youth magistrate. The title of this group, if you like, is “child victims”. We have been talking about child sexual victims, but as a youth magistrate I have twice had child defendants who could not come to court because they had been murdered. They were young men who had been involved in a gang-based lifestyle, often including drugs or knife crime, and they were murdered before they could get to court. The spectrum of victims is wider.
The Minister has sat here and heard these moving speeches. I notice that the Government have tabled Amendment 74, which we will come to in due course. In a sense, it should really have been in this group; I do not know why it has been put where it is. The Government’s new amendment would replace the existing Clause 15 with a new clause that would require the Secretary of State to issue guidance about victim support roles and the various support roles for children. In a sense, this is the Minister’s defence to all the points that have been made in the debate on this group.
The point I was going to make was made by the noble Lord, Lord Polak, in speaking to Amendment 108. It reinforced the point I made at Second Reading. Rather than just having a rather sterile debate about whether everything in the victims’ code should be statutory or non-statutory, perhaps we should look at the particular elements of the code that would benefit from having a statutory basis because they have particular knock-on effects. The noble Lord, Lord Polak, was talking about commissioning victims’ services. I am advised that there is evidence that, if they were on a statutory basis like domestic abuse-type requirements, the funders would give more money to those sorts of services than when they are non-statutory. That is one important example. It is more productive, particularly in Committee, to look at the detail of the proposals, rather than having this rather sterile debate about everything or nothing being on a statutory basis.
It has been a privilege to speak briefly in this debate. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all speakers in this debate. Like others, I particularly salute Poppy and her story. The whole purpose and point of the Bill is that the system should function as it apparently did in Poppy’s case; I am glad that it did. We should bring everything up to that level. It is part of levelling up. The Government have brought forward quite an extensive framework in which the improvement in the rights of victims, victims’ awareness, accessibility of services and the duties of police and crime commissioners and local agencies are being given a tremendous shove. I think that was the phrase I used at Second Reading. I respectfully do not accept the description by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, that this is “good chaps” stuff. This is serious stuff to deal with a serious problem.

I support the last comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that it is a bit sterile to argue whether this word or that word should or should not be in the Bill—whether it should be “must” or “should”—and get all legalistic about it. We should really be discussing the practicalities, the costs and how we do it. That is more about what we do with the code itself than about having a sterile debate on the statutory framework. Those who are pursuing the interests of victims should not, I respectfully suggest, get hung up on exactly what the statute is saying; they should be thinking about what we should do in practical terms. From the government side, I rather welcome that general suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. Let us get down in the weeds on some of this.

On the general question of the treatment of children in the Bill, I draw your Lordships’ attention to the fact that children are already quite extensively referenced in the statutory framework. Clause 11 is about:

“Guidance on code awareness and reviewing compliance”.

Clause 11(2)(b) says that the guidance may include provision about

“the way in which information is collected (and in particular, how information in relation to children or individuals who have protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 is collected)”.

Clause 13 is about the crucial stages of needs assessment and the collaboration of the relevant authorities. Clause 13(4) says:

“When making an assessment under subsection (3), the relevant authorities must have regard to the particular needs of victims who are children or have protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act”.

Lastly, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has just pointed out, a similar phrase appears in Amendment 74 —the proposed new Clause 15. The same phrase is in the existing clause as well. Talking about guidance about specified victim support roles, proposed new Clause 15(5) says:

“Guidance under this section must (where relevant) make provision in relation to victims who are children or have protected characteristics within the meaning of the Equality Act”.

We already have a statutory framework for getting to where I think all your Lordships would want to be.

What, then, is the next stage? In the Government’s view, it is to make sure that we have it right in the code. The code already deals with children on page 7 and provides that they and other victims who have protected characteristics have enhanced rights, so that you have the right to receive information earlier, or better information, in various ways, and those enhanced rights are there in the code.

What the code does not do at the moment is to distinguish clearly between children and other vulnerable or intimidated persons or those who have protected characteristics under the Equality Act. Therefore, the Government are very open to considering how we develop a section in the code that deals specifically with children, and we are working with that aim, with the Children’s Commissioner, to deliver on that commitment to address children’s needs in the code. We started with a round table activity last week, attended by academics, criminal justice bodies and other important stakeholders, including the domestic abuse commissioner. We have to meld the respective roles of the Children’s Commissioner and the domestic abuse commissioner, who I think jointly wrote an article in the national press not very long ago saying that we must do better—indeed, perhaps arguably, we should.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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This is absolutely no criticism of the Minister himself. The Government have often tended to focus on domestic abuse, but child victims are not always victims through domestic abuse. Can the Minister reassure the House that while it is important that the domestic abuse commissioner is involved, the focus will remain on the experience of the child victim, wherever it has happened?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am extremely grateful for that important intervention. As a number of noble Lords pointed out, although from various quarters adults can—sometimes quite vociferously—speak for themselves, children cannot, on the whole. They are the silent ones. We have heroines such as Poppy but on the whole, we are dealing with a cohort that does not have the ability to raise its own profile, for that fairly obvious reason. I am grateful indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for making that point. For myself—I cannot commit the Government—I would say that we need available a part of the code or something that is particularly child friendly, so that at least some children can themselves consult it and understand their rights. So the Government’s door is not at all closed on this point. If I may say so again— I am conscious that sometimes I sound a bit like a broken record—can we please work on the practicalities of the code and on bringing everybody up to the same sort of level, rather than getting hung up on rather dry legal points?

I think I have covered in general terms the spirit, drift and direction of the amendments. I have to make one point on Amendment 100A which it does not at all please me to have to make. The difficulty with that amendment, as the Government see it, is that it relates to cases of suspected abuse. We have in the Bill a definition that turns on the existence of criminal conduct, and if there is criminal conduct, there is a victim. The Government at the moment are reluctant to extend that to suspected criminal conduct. That is a difficulty.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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But that is not quite right, though, is it? I do not believe that the definition of a victim in the Bill requires there to have been even a charge of criminal conduct, let alone a conviction, so I do not quite understand the reasoning that says we are concerned about suspected criminal conduct.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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Any suspected child sexual abuse would be a crime, as covered under Schedule 1. In that context sexual abuse is covered, particularly that of minors.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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We may slightly be dancing angels on a pin. It may well be that if a regulated professional says to an authority, “I suspect there is criminal conduct”, there is enough there to say that there actually is criminal conduct to enable—

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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For clarity, it is important, given that I intervened on the Minister before, to refer the Committee to Clause 1, “Meaning of ‘victim’”, and to subsection (5) in particular, which says that

“It is immaterial … that … no person has reported the offence”

or that

“no person has been charged with or convicted of the offence”.

Therefore, if no person has even reported the offence but a victim is still a victim, I believe—with huge respect to the Minister—that victims of suspected crime are included in the definition of “victim” that is the foundation of His Majesty’s Government’s Bill.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I am not sure that we are really in disagreement on this. As I think I pointed out several times on the last occasion, criminal conduct does not depend on whether something has been reported; I had a discussion with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, about that before. We are discussing what level of evidence there has to be before somebody has to say that there is criminal conduct. Somebody has to judge whether there is criminal conduct if the thing has not been reported to the police, prosecuted or charged. It may well be that, in the circumstances the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, refers to, the fact of that kind of reference may be enough to establish criminal conduct. However, if it turns out that the suspicion is wrong, there has not been criminal conduct. That is the only point I am making: it is either covered already, or it should not be extended to the situation being envisaged. I do not think I have made myself very clear, but I was struggling to do so.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. As the debate we have just had demonstrates, the problem is that we need more clarity. If it is covered in the Bill—we are not convinced that it is, which is why we tabled the amendment—for children it needs to be made clear in the Bill, because of IICSA’s first recommendation about mandatory reporting, which we hope will come in due course. I understand that the Government have not made a decision on that, but at least it would nod to that recommendation, saying, “If somebody in a regulated profession believes that a child is a victim, and has a suspicion or belief that they have been the victim of CSA, then they are a victim”. It would be clear, and I am not sure that it is clear in Clause 1(5).

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I need to think about this point. The amendment came in a little later than some of the other amendments, so I will take it under advisement. I see the point that is being made.

Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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That, in my short experience of this House, was the most extraordinarily powerful debate and I thank everybody who took part in it. I was honoured—and I genuinely mean honoured—to hear Poppy speak recently, and anybody who was in that room will carry it with them for the rest of their lives.

I thank the Minister for his advice, and a lot of other people. There have been some extraordinary experiences. The experiences of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, have been extraordinary. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, talked about the murders of the people in the court cases. I will go away with the good chaps theory of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, as an example. What I am taking away from this, because I am an optimist, is that the Government’s door is not at all closed. The advice is that we look at the code. There are mentions of children in the Bill, but not many. We will look at the code, but thankfully the Government’s door is not closed, and I beg to withdraw my Amendment 21.

Amendment 21 withdrawn.
Amendment 22 not moved.
Amendment 23
Moved by
23: Leave out Clause 2 and insert the following new Clause—
“The victims’ code(1) Schedule (The victims’ code) to this Act contains the code of practice as to the services to be provided to victims by persons having functions relating to—(a) victims, or(b) any aspect of the criminal justice system.(2) In this Part, the “victims’ code” means the code of practice in Schedule (The victims’ code) as from time to time amended by way of subsection (4) below.(3) The victims’ code shall make provision for services which reflect the principles that victims—(a) must be provided with information to help them understand the criminal justice process;(b) must be able to access services which support them (including, where appropriate, specialist services);(c) must have the opportunity to make their views heard in the criminal justice process;(d) must be able to challenge decisions which have a direct impact on them.(4) The Secretary of State may amend the victims’ code by way of regulations made by statutory instrument.(5) A statutory instrument containing regulations under this section may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.(6) But the Secretary of State may make regulations under subsection (4) only if satisfied that such amendment would not result in a significant—(a) reduction in the quality or extent of the services provided in accordance with the victims’ code, or(b) restriction in the description of persons to whom services are provided in accordance with the victims’ code.(7) The victims’ code may restrict or vary the application of its provisions to— (a) victims of specified descriptions (including those who are victims by virtue of specific conduct or conduct constituting specified offences);(b) specified persons who have functions of the kind mentioned in subsection (1).(8) The victims’ code may include provision requiring or permitting the services which are to be provided to a victim to be provided to one or more other persons—(a) instead of the victim (for example, where the victim has died), or(b) as well as the victim.(9) The victims’ code may make different provision for different purposes including different provision for—(a) victims of different descriptions;(b) persons who have different functions of a kind mentioned in subsection (1);(c) different areas.(10) The victims’ code may not require anything to be done by a person acting in—(a) a judicial capacity, or on the instructions of or on behalf of such a person; (b) the discharge of a prosecution function, if that function involves the exercise of a discretion.(11) In this section, “specified” means specified in the victims’ code.”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment places the victims’ code on a firmer statutory footing as a Schedule to the Bill, amendable by regulations subject to the affirmative procedure. Another amendment will follow to add the Schedule referred to in this clause.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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It is an interesting time for me to be beginning this group. I do not know whether the usual channels have had the opportunity to consider timing.

House resumed.
Sitting suspended.