9 Lord Harries of Pentregarth debates involving the Ministry of Justice

Wed 31st Jan 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1
Wed 24th Jan 2024
Victims and Prisoners Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage & Committee stage: Minutes of Proceedings
Mon 18th Dec 2023
Fri 22nd Oct 2021
Assisted Dying Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading
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
Wed 3rd Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
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 Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register, particularly as CEO of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, which operates a national helpline. I will speak to Amendment 13 in my name; I also support the other amendments in this group, which I will address at the end.

The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that all victims have an equal right to have the police or CPS decision reviewed when suspects are not charged. Not all victims will exercise this right, but it must be available to all victims if their voices are truly to be heard in the criminal justice system. At present, some victims do not have the same right to review a decision. For example, when there is one suspect and they are not charged, there is a right to review the decision. When there are multiple suspects and none of them is charged, there is a right to review the decision. However, if there is more than one suspect and some of them are not charged while others are, the victim cannot ask for a review into why the other suspects were not charged. This creates a hierarchy of victims.

I will explain how I stumbled on this gap in the law. The Muslim Women’s Network helpline supported a south Asian Muslim teenager who had been groomed and sexually exploited. She was raped by a gang of men. With the support of the helpline and her family, she reported the crime to the police, which was very difficult for her as she came from a south Asian background. The culture of shame and honour could have been a huge barrier to reporting, but she did it. The police then arrested several men, but ended up charging only one of the suspects. This was a huge shock to the victim, her family and the helpline. She then decided to try to get the decision reviewed but was told that she could not, for the reasons I have stated. She lost trust and confidence in the process, which led to her eventually dropping the case against the one perpetrator, so she got no justice at all.

I do not believe that this is an isolated case. We already know that rape convictions are extremely low, even in simpler cases where there is just one suspect, so one can imagine the conviction rates in more complex cases where there are multiple perpetrators. It is very plausible that this current loophole is contributing to victims dropping cases. Although I am using rape cases as an example to highlight the gap for reviewing decisions, this can also apply to many other scenarios in which more than one perpetrator is involved in the crime, such as anti-social behaviour.

I thank the Minister for listening to my concerns. We have exchanged letters and he has committed to explore this issue further with the CPS and the police. However, I believe they will continue to follow the current legislation, which has been adopted from the EU. Unless this is changed, it is in their interests to continue with the status quo rather than to follow non-binding policies.

Bringing multiple perpetrators requires more work because there needs to be more evidence gathering. It can be easier for the police and the CPS to say, “Well, we are only charging one person and not the others”, knowing that the victim cannot appeal this decision. That will mean less work for the police.

Police forces have already been heavily criticised for the way that they treat and investigate sex abuse crimes. The loophole therefore works in favour of the police and against the victim. One explanation that has been provided for not reviewing decisions is that if some suspects are not charged, and this is then reviewed, it could delay prosecution, which, in turn, can result in witnesses and victims withdrawing from the case. However, this theory has not and cannot be tested, because victims cannot review the decisions. In fact, this very mechanism has resulted in the withdrawal of cases, such as the case study that I provided today.

Earlier, on the first group of amendments, the Minister talked about thresholds being crossed and victims having a right to certain processes. This speaks to one of the As, of accountability. Therefore, how will the victim know? That is why the victim’s right to review exists. Some victims have had their decision reviewed, the decision has then been overturned and suspects have been charged, which means perhaps that the police have not charged suspects despite thresholds being crossed.

I understand that the Minister is exploring other potential routes outside the Bill; for example, challenging decisions by going through some kind of complaints process where a senior manager can review cases, thereby allowing reviews in certain exceptional circumstances. While I appreciate that the Minister is actively considering other options, I believe that this measure would not work for the following reasons. It would be a subjective process which would vary widely across the regions. It would add another separate process and yet another barrier for the victims. The message then being sent to the victims would be, “Well, the decision would only be reviewed in exceptional circumstances, so don’t bother”. Also, we would then have to have a definition of what we mean by “exceptional circumstances”. Alternatively, we could just simplify the process with this amendment, so that all victims followed the same process. I therefore urge the Minister to reconsider his options.

I end by stating my support for the other amendments in this group. I support them because from my experience of operating a national helpline I have found that victims need more support—to be referred and signposted to specialist services that meet their needs and to restorative justice services. There is also a particular information gap when it comes to minority-ethnic victims, because service users have informed the Muslim Women’s Network helpline—when they have eventually found us—that they were not informed about the service. They were not informed or made aware of the victims’ code, nor of the restorative justice service.

I therefore look forward to the comments and response from the Minister. I beg to move.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 14. This amendment would ensure that all victims knew of and had access to restorative justice services. I am glad that it has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who unfortunately has a long-standing speaking engagement this evening and sends his apologies, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I also add my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, whose effect is the same as mine, to ensure that restorative justice services are clearly in the Bill.

I will not repeat what I said at Second Reading in favour of restorative justice; instead, I will make two very brief points. First, research has shown that restorative justice is effective. It has been a benefit in two ways: one is the impact it has on the offender, reducing the likelihood that they will reoffend; the other is the impact on the victim. For example, restorative justice has been shown to bring satisfaction to victims in reducing stress and trauma. Interestingly, victims found that apologies were more important than restoration.

RJ has proven effectiveness; however, awareness of it and its availability are not as they should be. Research commissioned by the APPG on Restorative Justice showed that there is a postcode lottery and a number of factors resulting in RJ not being taken up in the way that it might be. For that reason, there needs to be a statutory duty on authorities in the criminal justice system to ensure that it is available for those who wish to make use of it.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, more than 30 years ago, when I was Bishop of Oxford, I was very much heartened by the initiative of the Thames Valley Police force in pioneering restorative justice. Restorative justice enables victim and offender to be brought together, either directly or indirectly, through the mediation of a third party. Since then, it has become an established part of the criminal justice system as a whole. However, much more use could be made of it. I believe that this Bill provides an opportunity to enable it to be more widely taken up. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, pointed out, it does not yet appear in the Bill and, although it is part of the criminal justice system, references to it are often rather tentative and half-hearted.

This Bill is primarily about victims. It should be stressed that the prime concern of restorative justice is with the victim and what might be helpful to them. Hopefully, it also has a significant impact on the offender but, first and foremost, it is the victim whom restorative justice has in mind.

When restorative justice was first introduced, questions were properly asked about its effectiveness. Since then, a fair amount of research has been undertaken to find out. In 2022, the College of Policing published an evidence review on JR. It concluded that restorative justice can be used at all stages of the criminal justice process and that it has been shown to be effective in both reducing reoffending and enhancing victims’ satisfaction with the criminal justice system.

The review quoted the Campbell systematic review of RJ interventions, which showed that

“post-traumatic stress symptoms in victims were reduced, compared to those victims whose cases were only dealt with in court”.

It showed that

“apologies were more important to victims than material restoration … repeat offending was generally reduced in seriousness and frequency … costs from the criminal justice system are reduced through diversion and reduced reoffending”,

and that

“lower recidivism rates were found compared to imprisonment alone, for both youth and adult offenders”.

In addition to this:

“Twelve randomised trials of mainly police-led face-to-face RJ conferencing … found that RJ benefits most victims in terms of a reduction of stress, and benefits most offenders in terms of a reduction in recidivism over the following two years. This research programme found that RJ appears to be more effective for violent crime compared with property crimes—and perhaps for more serious than less serious crime generally—and for high-frequency offenders compared with offenders with medium rates of offending”.


So restorative justice is effective for both victims and offenders, but is it as accessible and available as it ought to be? In its inquiry into access to restorative justice in 2021-22, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Restorative Justice found that, all too often, inadequate funding for commissioned restorative justice services has led to a postcode lottery for those wishing to participate in restorative justice. Furthermore, disparities in the type of offence considered appropriate for restorative justice presented further barriers to equal access.

The inquiry repeatedly heard that access is also hindered by gatekeepers, where professionals, such as probation staff, victims’ services, police and prison officers made a decision on behalf of either the victim or offender about the suitability of restorative justice. The evidence presented to the inquiry suggested that these decisions are often made by individuals who do not really have the skills, experience and knowledge of restorative justice to make an informed decision about its suitability.

I pay tribute to the APPG on restorative justice, which has commissioned work in this area and, in particular, to its chair, Elliot Colburn, the Member in the other place for Carshalton and Wallington. The APPG argues, as do others involved, that more use could be made of RJ than is presently the case and that a suitable amendment to this Bill would encourage this. I agree, and I hope that, perhaps in co-operation with other noble Lords, we can present an amendment along the lines of the one presented in the other place and which the Government might, in the end, come to support.

What matters is that restorative justice is available and known to be available right across the criminal justice system. I believe that this Bill offers us an opportunity to ensure that this is much more seriously and realistically the case than it is now.

Prisons: Death Statistics

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Wednesday 30th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

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Asked by
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the statistics in the report by the Ministry of Justice Safety in Custody Statistics, England and Wales: Deaths in Prison Custody to December 2021, Assaults and Self-harm to September 2021, published on 27 January; and in particular the finding that the number of self-inflicted deaths in prison custody had increased by 28 per cent in the 12 months ending December 2021.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, every death in custody is a tragedy. Although in 2021 there were more self-inflicted deaths than in 2020, the number was the same as in 2019. The number of self-inflicted deaths in 2020, used in this Question as a benchmark, was in fact the lowest since 2012. However, each death is one too many. We continue to do everything we can to ensure and improve the safety of those in our care.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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I thank the Minister for his Answer. As he says, every suicide is an occasion of great sadness. That there were 86 in prison—an increase of 28% on the previous year—is seriously worrying. Does he agree that the figures reveal something interesting and important? All 86 were males, nearly all were white and they were predominantly in the age groups 21 to 25 and 30 to 39. So many of these deaths occurred in the first 30 days in prison—15 in the first week. The rate was particularly high among prisoners on remand. In the light of these figures, what precautions will Her Majesty’s Government take to address people who fall into this profile, because it seems clear that a particular group of people is at risk?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I accept there are particular risks with people on remand, and with those who have just come into or been recalled to custody. We do focus on those particular groups. However, I point out that, although they were all men, as the noble and right reverend Lord said, that is because there were no self-inflicted deaths of women in custody that year. Historically, we have had female deaths in custody, so the figures also show an improvement because of the work we have been doing in the female estate.

Assisted Dying Bill [HL]

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
2nd reading
Friday 22nd October 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, if I were in a wilderness with a friend dying in extreme agony, days away from any help, with absolutely no medical resource, and he begged me to shoot him, it would surely be right to accede to his request. What that example highlights, however, is that we are not dealing here with an extreme case in an isolated situation; we are talking about a change in the law. The fundamental issue at heart is what the effect will be—particularly over many generations—of changing the law. I ask noble Lords to reflect on what the long-term effect would be.

Fundamental to our society now is respect for the individual worth and dignity of every human individual, which, of course, we in this House all share; there is no question about that. However, let us look ahead to 2025, when there will be 1 million people suffering from dementia, and to 2050, when 2 million people will be suffering from dementia, and a much lower birth rate will mean fewer people to support them financially or look after them. What kinds of questions will be in people’s minds then? Surely, the question will arise: “Should I perhaps ask to go now rather than continue to be a burden on society?”

This is not scaremongering; there is a certain logic to it. If you ask yourself which of the two evils is worse, to suffer from a debilitating illness or to lose mental capacity and the capacity to reason, many of us would say that the second is worse. That logic has been applied in Canada. The noble Baroness, whose passion and whose drawing up of this Bill I much respect, has asked us not to think about Canada, but we have to do so, because that is the way the world is going. In Canada in 2021, for example, as the noble Baroness mentioned, a waiver of final consent permits people to make a written arrangement with a physician or nurse for assisted dying at a future time should they lose their decision-making capacity; that is, if they have dementia.

It is exactly the same in Holland, while in Belgium it goes much further and anybody with a of cluster of ailments—what they call polypathology—can actually ask for assisted dying. Fatigue has been added to the list and, if you are young and claim extreme deep depression, again, you can ask. This is not scaremongering; it is the way a lot of people are beginning to think. The question is whether we really want to go down that route. At the moment, we have a bulwark in place, and I think that that bulwark should stay; I do not want us to go down that road.

Non-fatal Strangulation and Suffocation

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Thursday 8th July 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am confident that my officials will be aware of that programme, but I personally am not. Could my noble friend write to me—or I will write to her—so that we can exchange information about that? It sounds like a very useful programme and I would be very happy to learn more about it.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is to be warmly congratulated on her successful campaign to include non-fatal strangulation in the Act. Does the Minister agree that, for it to be effective, we must have the kind of information that the noble Baroness has asked for—both the number of cases and their relationship to sexual violence more widely? I understand that it is not possible to have that information available now, but will he perhaps commit to reporting to Parliament within a year, when the Act has been in operation for a year, in response to her question about those figures?

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, we have to be a bit careful here. There will be a new offence of non-fatal strangulation, but non-fatal strangulation can also be an element in many other offences such as grievous bodily harm with intent. It can form part of a course of action that amounts to the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour. It can form part of just drunken thuggery outside a pub or a night club. We therefore have to be very careful. We collect statistics on offences; we do not really collect statistics on behaviour, and that lies at the heart of a number of the answers that I have given today.

Criminal Justice Review: Response to Rape

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Wednesday 26th May 2021

(3 years ago)

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, it is not correct that the review was delayed solely because of the judicial review of the CPS policy. The noble Lord will be aware that the court concluded that there had not been a policy change, although, frankly, I accept that that does not mean that there were no important issues for the CPS to address. The delay was also in part because we wanted more engagement with victims’ groups. We are delighted that Emily Hunt has joined us; she can give us, and has given us, invaluable insight from her position as a victim.

As far as the culture is concerned, the noble Lord is absolutely right. This is a cross-governmental issue. It is fair to say that, in schools and colleges, there is now more understanding of what consent means and, if I can put it this way, of what consent does not mean. If I may be personal for a moment, frankly, I see that in the education my own children get at their schools. They get an education that I do not think people in this House would have got when they were at school.

On legal proceedings, the noble Lord is absolutely right. There are careful rules now over when a claimant’s sexual history is relevant to the case. Often, it is not. We have put in place a number of changes to ensure that complainants are better looked after by the courts system. For example, Section 28 is currently being rolled out. It will enable vulnerable victims and witnesses who are subject to intimidation to give evidence and be cross-examined online and on-screen in advance of the trial.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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Everyone is agreed that the present system is failing badly, with only 1.6% of rape allegations leading to a charge and so many victims left traumatised by the process. The Minister called this “regrettable”. To a lay person in this sphere, to put it bluntly, it comes across as quite appalling.

I want to press the Minister, if I may, on the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, which I am afraid he did not answer. Does he agree that, if we are serious about the recommendations when they are published, the Government will need from the outset to do what the Welsh Government have done: put forward a number of progress indicators, with a report published each year? If it is anything like the Northern Ireland report, there could be hundreds of recommendations in a wide range of spheres, and it would be so easy for them simply to drop through the sand unless there is a proper system of prioritisation and annual reports to Parliament on the progress on their implementation.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I will not quibble over the adjectives we use. The present position is entirely unsatisfactory. We need dramatic improvement, and it is my hope and that of the whole Government—particularly my honourable friend Mr Malthouse—that we will see that improvement.

On the specific point about data, we recognise the need for all partners across the criminal justice system to be held accountable for their part in improving outcomes for victims of rape and sexual violence, as well as for delivering on the action plan in the review. We will look for ways to address this. As Mr Malthouse said in terms in the other place yesterday,

“transparency is one of the key themes that we have been looking at … There will be an announcement, when the plan comes”,—[Official Report, Commons, 25/5/21; col. 267.]

as to how we will approach and publish the reporting of data.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 8th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I strongly support Amendment 149, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for the reasons that she has set out so cogently.

Everyone, including the Government, recognises that post-separation economic abuse exists and is serious. Its full seriousness has been well documented by Surviving Economic Abuse, to whose work I also pay warm tribute. Along with others, I drew attention to this evidence at Second Reading, and it has been very ably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister.

It can be summarised very briefly in two points. First, 95% of abused women experience economic abuse, as a result of which 60% of abused women are left in debt. Secondly, one in four abused women continues to experience economic abuse even after they have left their abuser. Economic abuse does not require physical proximity: it continues and/or escalates after a couple separates. It can also begin after the separation, when an abuser’s opportunity to continue other forms of controlling and coercive behaviour has been removed and when the only way left is through access to their former partner’s resources.

Vivid examples of the ways in which economic abuse can continue, escalate or even begin, as a form of coercive control, have been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and there is no need to repeat them. In short, as one abused woman put it:

“He can’t physically get me, he can’t emotionally hurt me, and yet still, economically he can cripple me.”


However, despite this overwhelming evidence, the Government have, up to now, resisted having post-separation economic abuse in the Bill, on the grounds that such abuse can be captured by a harassment or stalking order—and this is indeed theoretically possible.

However, if you told someone you happened to meet in the street that this was what was being proposed by the Government, they would find it very strange indeed. Stalking brings to mind something quite different from economic abuse. As SEA has rightly put it:

“Clear labelling is the primary function of the criminal law—clarity is essential in order for the criminal law to fulfil its preventative function.”


If people are asked to abide by the law, they need to be clear what it says. As the person in the street would say, words should mean what they say. As such, it is quite clear that, from the point of view of clarity for public order and the public good, we need to include this in the Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, mentioned, it is entirely possible that judicial resistance to convicting a defendant of stalking under the Protection from Harassment Act where there is evidence of economic abuse but not of stalking would mean that it simply would not go through. Quite simply, we should call things by their proper name. I very much hope that the Government continue to reflect on this issue and that they will see that it makes total sense to include this amendment in the Bill, where it properly belongs.

Domestic Abuse Bill

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Committee stage & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 3rd February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

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Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, the Committee has heard some extremely powerful and focused speeches this evening. I add my voice to those commending the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the signatories of these amendments, and give my support to Amendment 137. Given what the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, has just said, I hope that the online harms Bill will deal with social media outlets that perpetrate the kind of messages that he enunciated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and all those who have spoken, have done so with clarity and unusual brevity for the hybrid House; I will try to emulate that. I have two things to say. First, women police officers who have spoken to me are crying out for this focused and clear piece of legislation, as enunciated in Amendment 137. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London said, they do not want a tick-box approach. They want to change the relevant form—124D—to be able to obtain the Crown Prosecution Service’s direction to take those who are perpetrating this crime through to a successful criminal prosecution. As has been said so often this evening, this is clearly about domestic abuse.

Secondly, why should this Bill be the vehicle to take this forward? There are two reasons. One is that it is self-evident from everything that has been said, the briefings that have been received and offline discussions, that everyone accepts that this legislation is needed and is needed now. There is no reason whatever to delay until another criminal justice or sentencing Bill which may take its turn after a forthcoming Queen’s Speech, somewhere down the line, where this amendment would have to be moved all over again. We would have to go through all the same campaigning, representations and speeches to gain something that the Government themselves have thankfully conceded is a necessary improvement to the law.

I have one plea for the Minister. He has taken to this House like a duck to water, but there is one lesson that those of us who have been around in politics know all too well: you do not ask your own colleagues in another House to vote down something that they know is eminently sensible and required, in some vain hope that they will forgive you for not having done it as quickly and effectively as possible because someone in the legislative committee of government—it changes its name from time to time—has decided that they do not want to have any further substantive amendments to the Bill. We all know that this would be arrant nonsense: the Minister knows it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who has been extremely helpful on this, knows it. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, in his erudite speech, indicated that even the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has changed his mind since Second Reading. I am glad if he has, because I was going to refer him to the excellent Second Reading speech by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, about his experiences in 1975.

All of us can coalesce and praise the Government and applaud the campaigners, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for what is tonight a unified approach to dealing with a horrendous crime, which has led to so many deaths and can be stopped from doing so in the future by a single agreement by government Ministers.

Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I speak briefly in support of Amendments 137 and 138, especially Amendment 137. It has been introduced extremely powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I do not think that any of us would be here at this stage of the evening, late in the Bill, if we were not absolutely convinced of the importance of a stand-alone offence of non-fatal strangulation, and of course the Government also recognise this.

Perhaps we could pause briefly to pay tribute to, first, those victims of domestic violence—particularly those affected by non-fatal strangulation—and their bravery in coming forward, to the campaigning groups that have been willing to take up the issue on their behalf, and to the parliamentarians, both in the other House and in this place, who have been willing to respond to it. In a dark time, it is good to celebrate the fact that something is working in our democracy in this kind of way.

The key issue this evening for the Government to face is not whether there should be such a stand-alone offence—I think everyone is convinced of that now—but whether or not it should be in this Bill. It seems to me that the Minister has to face two real questions put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and also very powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and others. First, if 80% of non-fatal strangulations take place in the context of domestic violence, is there any reason at all why it should not be in this Bill? That is where it belongs. Secondly, as was said by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, and many others as well, the police are crying out for something clear and associated with this Bill, because it will both raise awareness of this terrible form of cruelty and ensure that there is appropriate training in order to help the police to recognise it.

I very much hope that, when the Minister comes to respond, he will be able to look at these two issues in particular and agree that there is a proper place for this in the Bill.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove—and other noble Lords, but particularly she—on her determination and her excellent speech in explaining the horrific nature of this crime and its repercussions. Like many noble Lords, I was delighted to receive a letter from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, regarding the Government’s willingness to introduce a new offence of non-fatal strangulation on to the statute book as soon as possible, albeit not within this Bill.

I had thought that the Minister would be at the Dispatch Box this evening, so I am going to put a number of questions to the noble Lord, which I hope he will do his best to answer, although of course he cannot stand in the Minister’s shoes. Can he tell us what the Minister meant by

“a commitment to consider a new offence of non-fatal strangulation”?

Are the Government going to introduce one or are they not? Something a little bit definite would be very much appreciated. Could the noble Lord elaborate on what she meant by making the offence “proportionate”? She spoke of ensuring that more convictions can be achieved, but can he please give any indication of what this might look like?