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Compensation Orders (Child Sexual Abuse)
Tuesday 26 March 2019

(8 months, 3 weeks ago)


Commons Chamber
Andrew Griffiths Portrait Andrew Griffiths (Burton) (Con) - Parliament Live - Hansard
26 Mar 2019, 1:55 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Lord Chancellor to report on the use by courts of compensation orders for child sexual abuse offences; and for connected purposes.

People come to this House for many reasons—to deliver Brexit, to fight racism, to champion social justice, to reform Parliament—but I am sure that everyone in the House, from all parties, comes here to help the victims, the vulnerable, and those with the least voice, and there can be fewer in our society more in need of our help than the victims of crime, and in particular victims of child sexual abuse. In this place, we regularly discuss the abuse that has occurred in our country. It has occupied much of our time in the Chamber. We have discussed the horrendous abuse that took place in the 1970s and in the Catholic Church and the Church of England.

More recently, we have spent much time talking about the horrific and widespread abuse in towns up and down the country such as Rotherham and Bradford. The suffering of those children is indescribable and unimaginable, and it is only right that this place does all it can to reduce the possibility of such things happening again. Nobody can take away from those victims the pain that their abuse has caused, the trauma and the suffering that they have endured, not just as a child when the abuse happened but, all too often, in later life, when the trauma comes back and bubbles to the surface.

We all want to do our very best in this place for those survivors. As someone who was himself a victim of child sexual abuse, I know how difficult and traumatic it is to discuss such issues. I kept my secret hidden for some 40 years. I locked it away, chained it down and hoped it would never surface. I convinced myself that if I did not give it words, I could deny it a reality. That was my view. How wrong I was! Talking about what happened to me, and explaining it to other people, was the best thing I could have done. I hope that other people who see this debate or read my testimony will think about coming forward and speaking out about their abuse and the trauma they have suffered.

To talk about these things takes courage. If it took sitting in a psychiatric ward with a psychiatrist for me to be able to talk about my trauma, how much more difficult must it be for victims who find themselves in the courtroom—in that intimidating and forbidding place—who have to suffer cross-examination by a skilled and forensic barrister? All too often, they have to face the perpetrator—the person who caused them so much pain and anguish over their lifetime—across the courtroom. And yet they do it. They speak out. They find, from somewhere within, the courage to be able to do that. Surely we—Parliament, the judiciary and the police—should support them in any way we can if we are to stamp out the scourge of child abuse that we see all too often in our country.

The House has mandated support for those victims. One of the objectives of the Criminal Justice Act 1982 was to increase the use of criminal compensation orders to ensure that victims of crime were compensated by right, as a norm, without the need for expensive civil litigation and the prospect of having to retell and relive the story of their abuse in the courtroom. That was consolidated in the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000. The Sentencing Council itself says:

“the court must order compensation wherever possible and should not have regard to… other sources such as civil litigation or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme.”

So if everyone agrees that survivors should receive compensation as of right, and judges have the power to award that compensation straight away, at the time of sentencing, CCOs in child sexual abuse cases should be used regularly and to good effect. Surely that is a given, is it not? Sadly, the answer is a resounding “No”.

In 2017, the last year for which figures are available, there were some 6,861 convictions: 6,861 people were found guilty and sentenced for committing a child sexual abuse crime. Yet in how many of those 6,861 cases in which a CCO could have been used was one received? How many would the House suggest—50%, 25%, even 10%? The shocking reality is that just 26 people received compensation: just 0.4%. That is a criminal act. We should be ashamed that we are treating victims of child sexual abuse in that way. It is an outrage. We are letting down the survivors, and we must do something to change that.

The power is there. It lies in the hands of the judges, but they are simply choosing to ignore the use of CCOs. Despite all the guidance that the Ministry of Justice has issued and all the advice that has been given to the judiciary over many years, the courts are simply ignoring it, either by design or by accident, and compensation is not being given to the people who so justly deserve it. Moreover, although the police are supposed to be providing the CPS with information at an early stage so that judges can make the necessary decisions when sentencing, that information is simply not being collated. The crazy thing is that all too often the police do collate information for the courts, but when in this instance, when there seems to be an obvious opportunity to use CCOs for a good purpose, the information is not being gathered.

Evidence shows that victims are being let down through a general lack of awareness and a lack of purpose behind a fundamental statutory provision. How can it be that we are not using such a simple tool to help those victims? I am sorry to report to the Minister that the Ministry of Justice’s “Victims Strategy” document, although it is a great document—very worthy and very laudable—makes no reference to the use of CCOs.

My Bill asks the Government to report routinely to Parliament on the use of CCOs in child sexual abuse cases. Let me quote a well-known phrase that my dad used to use: “What gets measured gets done”. I firmly believe that such reporting, if adopted by the Government—in association with other simple and straightforward methods—will stimulate the judiciary to secure for the victims the compensation scheme that they deserve.

I thank all the Members who have supported the Bill so far, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Lewes (Maria Caulfield) and for Congleton (Fiona Bruce), the hon. Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Batley and Spen (Tracy Brabin), and my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Sarah Newton), all of whom have been hugely helpful, as has Alan Collins of Hugh James, the solicitors, whom I also thank. However, there must be more that we can do to help those victims. It is in the Minister’s hands. Victims of child sexual abuse deserve better, and we can deliver it. I ask the House please to accept the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Andrew Griffiths, Sarah Newton, Fiona Bruce, Sarah Champion, Tracy Brabin, John Mann, Dr Philippa Whitford, Antoinette Sandbach, Carolyn Harris and Jim Shannon present the Bill.

Andrew Griffiths accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 April and to be printed (Bill 366).

Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill (Changed to Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Bill) (Programme) (No. 2)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill (changed to the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) Bill) for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 14 November 2018 (Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill (Programme):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

(1) Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion two hours after their commencement at today’s sitting.

(2) The proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Lords Amendments Nos. 1, 2, 8 to 10, 18 to 20, 3 to 7 and 11 to 17.

Subsequent stages

(3) Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

(4) The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Paul Maynard.)

Question agreed to.