Baroness Mallalieu debates involving the Ministry of Justice during the 2019 Parliament

Fri 22nd Oct 2021
Assisted Dying Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Mon 8th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab)
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My Lords, I strongly support this Bill. On 18 July 2014, we debated a similar Bill in this House, introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. I have been haunted ever since by part of a speech by the late Lord Judd, who read out a letter which had been sent to him:

“My uncle, a foreman toolmaker and a strapping six-footer who played football for the works team, developed cancer of the spine. He screamed until all his strength was gone, then he whimpered like a puppy. Twenty-four hours before he died his wife implored their GP to stop his pain. The GP replied: ‘I dare not give him any more morphine. It would kill him’. Twenty-four hours later the cancer had killed him”.—[Official Report, 18/7/14; col. 884.]


Intolerable and inexcusable suffering have continued ever since, because Parliament has so far failed to grasp this nettle. If the figures on the number of people affected given in the report from the Office of Health Economics are right, something like 6,000 people die unsatisfactorily or having had inadequate pain relief every year in the United Kingdom. By my calculation, that means that some 36,000 people have suffered since we failed to pass a Bill of this nature around six years ago.

To those who oppose the Bill for fear that the vulnerable, disabled, elderly or infirm will feel under pressure, either internal or external, to take this step, I say that the fears they express are precisely those which two separate doctors and experienced High Court judges will have in mind when examining each case individually. However strong your personal view, whether based on religious belief, personal experience or strong convictions about the sanctity of human life, is it right for you as an individual to insist that your view prevails when it will prolong intolerable suffering for someone else who happens to hold a different view?

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has done this House and the country a great service by introducing this Bill, but it should not be a Private Member’s Bill. It should be a free-vote issue debated in Government time and I hope that on all sides of this House and in the other place pressure will be brought to bear to see that this happens.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
This is not a recent problem, but it is getting worse for a whole series of reasons. If the Government argue that this is not the Bill, I do not think that is valid: it is the Bill that can address it, at least for the victims of domestic abuse. I think that the Government are bound to let us know when and how they intend to bring in the registration of psychotherapy for the protection of clients and patients, and vulnerable therapists, who themselves are working outside the health service and do not have the protection that they need in these difficult times. I look forward to what the Minister has to say, and I hope that he will be able to go further than Governments have gone in 50 years of failure to follow up on the report that they themselves commissioned in 1971.
Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, the arguments about the Bill being suitable for this measure that have been advanced again today by the noble Lords, Lord Marks and Lord Alderdice, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, were powerfully deployed in Committee. They cut no ice with the Minister, and I have seen nothing to indicate since then that there is likely to be any change of heart. This will mean that this is yet another missed opportunity to deal with a very real problem.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, accepted that there is a need to find a remedy for this damaging and often criminal preying on the vulnerable who seek help for mental distress from unregulated and often totally unqualified self-styled talking therapists. There is ample evidence of the harm that has been caused: the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has just given us some. Victims have been alienated from their families, and, as I remember from my years in practice at the criminal Bar, on occasion this led to criminal trials based on what later appeared to be false memories implanted by self-styled talking therapists.

However, I believe that there has been a degree of progress since Committee, and I was very grateful to be included in the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, arranged with the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, the Minister and others; I thank the Minister for that. It became clear from that meeting that there are at least two ways in which a solution could be achieved if this Bill is not allowed to be the vehicle to deal with this.

Apparently, under the Health Act, regular reviews take place to decide whether specific occupations should require compulsory registration. This means that a successful applicant must meet proper standards and checks, and faces sanctions if the rules are broken. The change from voluntary to compulsory registration can be made by regulation, so no primary legislation is required.

The bogus practitioners of talking therapies, at whom this amendment is directed, currently do not have to register; as a start, they should be required to do so. These people use a variety of names for what they do and might well try to change their descriptions to avoid mandatory registration of a particular category. However, a generic name can surely be found and such a relatively minor difficulty overcome. After all, they are all talking therapists.

It became clear from our meeting that members of the public but also, surprisingly, some of those who direct them to these services, such as GPs, need to be better informed of the importance of using only registered practitioners. The public surely deserve to be better protected and compulsory registration would help to do just that. However, more is required, too: having to register might make it difficult for those who do not meet the required standards, but not impossible for the unscrupulous to continue to operate. There are criminal elements to the way in which some of these so-called therapists operate, which this amendment addresses. They will still need to be addressed in addition to compulsory registration. If that cannot be done in the Bill, as the Government contended in Committee—I still hope that they will change their mind—it can and should be met by a provision, possibly in a forthcoming health Bill or, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, in other legislation to be brought forward as soon as possible.

These are not isolated cases. When the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, raised this matter in the House last year, she received an astonishingly large response from victims and their families. This type of abuse, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, just said, has gone on unchecked for many years. It continues to sever children from their families, causes mental harm and misery to victims and their relations, and in some cases leads to serious false allegations being made. All sides agree that a remedy is needed yet every time an attempt is made to find one, successive Ministers have said, “Not this Bill—not my department, guv”.

Two common defects in our present system of government are stopping abuses being prevented in future. The first, I fear, is a culture of siloed departments: “We can’t deal with this or that because it’s someone else’s brief, someone else’s department”. Too often, there is a reluctance or failure to collaborate across departments to pass on and follow-up a problem which arises, or there is a change of Minister so that the problem falls—as this one has done over and over again down the years—into a black hole of inaction between them. It was therefore encouraging that the noble Baroness, Lady Finn, also attended the meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. The second is the shortage—not an absence but certainly a shortage—of Ministers who, when those in their department say “We can’t do it” say to them: “This is a real problem. I want to find a solution. Please go away and come back with a way in which we can do it.”

The Minister was very helpful in our meeting, which enabled us to focus on the direction of some possible solutions. What we now need from him, if he cannot change his mind about the admissibility of the amendment in this legislation, is a commitment that the issue will at least receive urgent attention across departments and, after so long be treated as a priority. In this of all weeks, it is worth perhaps saying that people in mental turmoil who need help will, we hope, go searching for it. Failure to guide them to genuine help from properly registered practitioners is allowing some to fall into unscrupulous and dangerous hands. I do hope that the Minister will give us the assurance we need tonight.

Lord Fairfax of Cameron Portrait Lord Fairfax of Cameron (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I too speak this evening in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Marks. I apologise that I was unable to speak in Committee but I have read that debate, including the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Marks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Jolly, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I agree with all that they said.

I developed an interest in this subject because I personally knew two families where young adult, female family members were, might I say, captured by what the noble Lord, Lord Marks, has called a charlatan counsellor—with prolonged, distressing and tragic consequences for the families and individuals in question. But as he and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, have reminded us this evening, this issue is much more widespread: so much so that, as the House has heard, France, Belgium and Luxembourg have legislated against this behaviour.

At this late hour, I do not propose to repeat the arguments compellingly put both this evening and in Committee in favour of similar legislation being enacted here. My understanding is that the Government, as they have said before, may be sympathetic in general but, as several speakers this evening have intimated, too often one gets the timeworn mantra from the Government that this is not the right time and not the right Bill. I remember this particularly being said several years ago in relation to the Leveson Section 40 point.

My question to the Minister this evening is the same as that put by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and other noble Lords. If that is the Government’s position, when will be the right time to legislate against these reprehensible practices by charlatan counsellors who cause so much distress to so many families? In closing, I respectfully suggest that, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, government inaction on this issue has already dragged on unacceptably long.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 3 months ago)

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Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, during the Committee discussions last week, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, commented on how helpful the debate on presumed parental consent was, and I agree. I felt that I was back on “Moral Maze”; I was moving around the issue and considering it from all sides. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made concrete for us that day, lots of issues thrown up by this proposed legislation are complex and nuanced moral dilemmas. It shows what a difficult task we have here in applying public law in what is usually the terrain of private and intimate relationships.

In some ways, though, that discussion on presumed parental consent focused our minds on the domestic core at the heart of this legislation. My concern is that this amendment shifts our focus away from that domestic core—although the previous noble Baroness tried to suggest that we should now broaden our understanding of “domestic”. It shifts our focus, broadens it too widely and potentially dilutes it. Do not get me wrong; when, at the end of the last Committee day, the noble Lord, Lords Marks of Henley-on-Thames, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, spoke passionately and movingly—and we have heard similar testimony since—on the devastating impact of those reaping the bitter winds of recovered memory syndrome, which has been a dogma, sadly, I was cheering them on. I have been following the bitter memory wars since the 1990s, and consequences such as the satanic ritual abuse panics and various other panics. When that was a fashionable theory among trauma therapists, sections of social work professionals and some feminist academics, I argued against it. Now that form of therapy has largely been discredited by modern memory science, and is widely ridiculed, as it has been in this discussion, as pseudoscientific quackery.

I share noble Lords’ frustrations that the practice continues unlicensed and unregulated. I have no doubt that unethically encouraging vulnerable people to interpret their present woes through the prism of abuse, and then unethically planting false memories, is coercive. But my worry is that this amendment stretches the definition of coercive control, in the context of domestic abuse, too far. There is a danger, to quote a noble Baroness from an earlier Committee day, that this legislation will be seen as a Christmas tree on which everyone can hang a different preoccupation or grievance. That makes the definition so elastic that it can be a catch-all, and unintentionally relativises our gaze from the specific and discrete brutality of domestic abuse. I am already worried that this Bill has defined abuse far too promiscuously, and that it might well backfire and not help those it is intended to.

It is not just our focus—our gaze as legislators—that it will shift. How will it affect the police and criminal justice system if we label too many incidents as domestic abuse? Part of the popular frustration with the status quo is that serious incidents, threats or credible risks are not taken seriously, sometimes with tragic consequences. People go to the police and they are sent away. Surely what we do not want is for the authorities and the police to be swamped with endless numbers of complainants citing this Bill and a loose basis of the definition of coercive control, starting to make complaints.

I am all for dealing with, and exposing, the charlatans who call themselves counsellors, who play on the therapeutic culture and wo are only too willing to use the issue of abuse to push their own agendas with the consequence of destroying families. Let them be dealt with. I hope the Minister will look at how to deal with psychotherapists exploiting those who turn to them for help, but this is not the legislation to pursue that. So I will not be supporting the amendment, even though I cheer on those who wish to expose the charlatans.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, on Wednesday, both the noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, put the detailed legal arguments for this amendment, and I have added my name to it as well. I shall not try to repeat what they said, but instead will say something that has, perhaps, been said by all bar the last speaker in this debate, which is that I strongly support this amendment.

As a nation we have been very slow to recognise the way in which the human mind can be coerced and controlled by unscrupulous people without the use of violence. I am not sure that until “The Archers” featured Rob Titchener in its storyline about marital coercive control, and gripped the nation with it, many of us would have been able to describe or recognise it on our own doorsteps. We have been even slower as a nation to recognise and enact legislation to protect those who are its victims in another category, namely those whose vulnerability, whether it is emotional or psychological, renders them a target for the bogus counsellors, the amateur psychotherapists and the self-styled life coaches, usually bent on profit, who may appear to be well intentioned but still often inflict real harm and damage on their so-called patients and their families.

This is not a new phenomenon. Unhappy people often search for explanations and cures, and the unscrupulous offer false promises of help and future happiness. They frequently obtain substantial amounts of money from them and very often, using transference, seek to replace contact with parents and families, sometimes by implanting false memories, which in turn often sever domestic relationships for life. As a pupil barrister in 1970s, I remember cases involving the Scientologists. I know the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, remembers cases involving the Moonies. Domestic alienation was a common feature then, 50 years ago, as it is today with some of the quasi-healers operating in this country right now with impunity.

I personally am aware of one family whose adult daughter fell into the hands of just such people in London. They were paid substantial sums of money by her. Their methods involved repeated “counselling” sessions lasting six or seven hours at a stretch during which, exhausted, she was persuaded to sever all contact with her parents and her family. It took some years for them even to find her, and eventually get her back. She was one of the lucky ones. These people are untrained, unqualified, unregulated and damaging to the vulnerable on whom they prey. Yet our present law currently provides no adequate protection from their activities.

Our understanding and recognition of mental illness is, thankfully, advancing rapidly today. Yet we are only beginning to understand more about how the power of words, whether they are spoken directly or via the internet, can convince an otherwise intelligent adult to become a jihadi or embrace a coronavirus conspiracy theory and, in so doing, often damage and even destroy their closest domestic relationships. On this form of abuse, we have looked the other way for far too long. We have given protection, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, to other vulnerable categories by law—whether they are children, the mentally ill or the elderly—and it is now surely time to add those who are at the mercy of these bogus healers.

The Government argument is often, “Yes, but it’s not right in this Bill”—but I do not see a better Bill on the horizon to deal with this particular lacuna in the law. I totally understand that members of a Bill team that has produced an excellent Bill, as this team has, will always be reluctant to look at a new amendment that may, they fear, perhaps alter the architecture of the Bill on which they have worked so painstakingly. However, I do not see any other way, in the near future, of tackling something that I believe has not only been overlooked for far too long but I suspect is likely to grow, particularly in these times when so many young people are searching for an explanation of why their lives have changed so drastically from their expectations.

I hope that the Minister will agree to take this amendment away, have a look at it with his Bill team and, hopefully, come back with a solution. If he did so, I believe that he would have support across the whole House.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB) [V]
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My Lords, this important amendment seeks to include controlling and coercive behaviour by a psychotherapist or counsellor in the Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Marks, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, clearly laid out the reality of very unscrupulous practices. When working as they should, psychotherapists are generally trained to work over a long period of time with more complicated mental health issues, whereas counsellors are generally trained to work in the shorter term with life issues such as bereavement and relationships—although in practice there is huge overlap.

A problem arises for the person whose world is in tatters, who feels at sea and is desperate for some help. How do they have any idea whether the person they have been referred to or had suggested to them to see is a charismatic charlatan or an excellent counsellor who will help them to restabilise their life? In this process, they are even more vulnerable than prior to the consultation—a vulnerability that is exploited by the unscrupulous and by sects, as we have heard. They go to speak to a stranger, often paying for the privilege, and as they tell their story, they reveal their vulnerabilities and are often retraumatised by remembering the abuse as they relate events. This is psychological intimacy, and the person is certainly profoundly psychologically connected to their victim.

As we have heard, only the titles “clinical psychologist” and “counselling psychologist” are professionally restricted and must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. By contrast, the terms “therapist”, “psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected; courses in these subjects are unregulated and vary very widely, which leaves unregistered and poorly trained people wide open to engaging in controlling and coercive behaviours.

Reputable employers providing counselling services, such as Women’s Aid, will expect an employee to have undertaken professional training. Often membership of a relevant professional body, such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy or the National Counselling Society, is required to ensure continuing professional development and ongoing supervision to enhance practice. All these bodies stipulate certain standards and ethical codes.

Proposed new subsections (1) and (2) set out what constitutes an offence and emphasise that controlling and coercive behaviour can be both physical and psychological. However, given the lack of regulation, I wonder whether this important amendment sets too high a bar, even for registered and well-trained professionals.

Proposed new subsection (4) raises a concern for me, but I am sure that it can be sorted out. It states that it is a defence to show that, when engaging in the behaviour in question, the psychotherapist or counsellor was acting in the person’s best interests. Here I declare my interest as chair of the National Mental Capacity Forum. As your Lordships know only too well, the term “best interests” is laid out in the Mental Capacity Act.

If a person has capacity to consent freely to whatever is proposed, there seems no rationale to make a best interests decision for them, and no form of controlling or coercive behaviour would be in their best interests. The person must have had the capacity to be able to consent to the counselling session. If the person lacks capacity to consent to a particular decision at a particular time, that decision should be deferred until they regain capacity for that decision. If restrictions of any sort have to be put in place in a person’s best interests because they cannot consent to the proposal, a formal best interests decision-making process, as laid out in statute, must be undertaken. A deprivation of liberty safeguard procedure or safeguarding may be required. I am worried that this defence, as written in the amendment, actually lessens the safeguards of a vulnerable person. I am sure that that is not what it aims to do.

Serious Criminal Cases Backlog

Baroness Mallalieu Excerpts
Tuesday 26th January 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, when looking at the criminal justice system, I agree that it is mistake just to think about courts, sentencing and prisons. One has to look at it in a broader and wider context. To that extent, the points that the right reverend Prelate makes are well made.

Baroness Mallalieu Portrait Baroness Mallalieu (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, there is clearly no quick fix for a backlog of this magnitude, but will the Government consider extending to other witnesses the existing provisions under Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act? These currently enable vulnerable witnesses to record their evidence and be cross-examined away from the courtroom at an early stage before trial. That recording can be replayed later at trial, with the result that evidence is not forgotten and footfall at court is usually reduced when the case finally gets to trial.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. This Government have taken a number of steps to ensure that vulnerable witnesses can give evidence in that way. Indeed, noble Lords will be aware of provisions that build on that in the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is going through Parliament at the moment. To take that point further would, I think, require more careful consideration, but I would be very happy to discuss that with the noble Baroness in due course.