All 10 Baroness Bertin contributions to the Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21

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Tue 5th Jan 2021
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 25th Jan 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords & Committee stage
Wed 27th Jan 2021
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Mon 1st Feb 2021
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Wed 3rd Feb 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 4th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 8th Feb 2021
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Committee stage:Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 5th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 10th Feb 2021
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Mon 8th Mar 2021
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Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Mon 15th Mar 2021

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Tuesday 5th January 2021

(3 years, 6 months ago)

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Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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I once asked an experienced police officer with over 20 years of service on the front line: if he could eradicate one crime, what would it be? Without hesitation he replied “Domestic abuse”.

We have seen a shocking increase in abuse during this pandemic. It is worth repeating in this House what the Prime Minister said yesterday: if you are fleeing abuse, these restrictions do not apply to you. The only small silver lining in all this has been an increased empathy to those trapped in abusive relationships. Making effective laws is essential, but without sustained public awareness, meaningful change will take a lot longer.

It was an honour to sit on the joint scrutiny committee for this Bill. The evidence we heard will stay with me, especially when it came to a brave group of schoolchildren we spoke to in a closed session. For those children and thousands like them there is a particularly big responsibility on us in this House to get the Bill right.

The Government deserve credit for their constructive approach and commitment to this issue, and there is so much to support in this legislation. But to make it truly landmark we must still make further changes.

With the right intentions, as we have heard in prior speeches, the Government have introduced a statutory duty for local authorities to provide accommodation-based services, which I welcome. The reality, however, is that so many victims never step foot in a refuge and want to remain at home, relying on essential community-based services to recover. It is not difficult to see that over time, cash-strapped local authorities may be tempted to fulfil only their legal obligations, thus allowing other vital services to suffer. This must not be allowed to happen, and community services must be protected in the Bill in a deliverable and realistic way.

Ideally, the duty needs to be broadened to recognise that “solving” domestic abuse is about not just rehousing someone, but stopping the perpetrator continuing their abuse, and giving a full range of support to anyone affected by them. I would also like the Government to commit to a sustainable perpetrator strategy. Our approach must be about not only quality responses after abuse, but preventing it in the first place. Until we do, the cycle of abuse will go on and on.

Another area where change is needed is coercive control which, as it stands in the Serious Crime Act, does not extend to post separation. It is nonsensical to have two different definitions of domestic abuse in two different parts of the law, one that applies to ex-partners and one that does not. Coercive control does not stop when you split up; indeed, it tends to intensify, especially if there are complicated financial arrangements to sort, as well as the immense challenges around access to children. We must use the Bill to amend the Serious Crime Act to correct this oversight.

Finally, I support the call of my noble friend Lady Newlove for non-fatal strangulation to be made a stand-alone offence. Being grabbed by your neck, not knowing whether you will live or die, is a terrible thing to endure. Thousands of people in abusive relationships regularly experience this trauma; it is a real theme of abusive relationships. Non-fatal strangulation is far more serious than common assault and is a genuine red flag to murder. It should never be trivialised or ignored. New Zealand has already introduced it as a stand-alone offence, which is beginning to make a difference in levels of charging and understanding among police, the wider justice system and medical teams. We should not miss this opportunity to follow suit.

Legislation cannot change things overnight, but it can fire the starting gun on a wholesale change of culture and attitude. Let us hope this Bill does exactly that.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 25th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Finally, I would like to hear from the Minister why Amendment 14 is already covered by Clause 2. I cannot see how it is and it appears that the circumstances, and the examples given by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, make it a crucial point to be added to the Bill in due course.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, it is never easy to make a truly original point at the end of such a full and interesting debate as the one on this group, so I will keep my remarks as brief as possible. In general, we have to be careful about diluting the definition of domestic abuse. We could be in danger of expanding it to the point where it begins to lose impact, duplicates laws already in place or worse still, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said, stores up significant legal problems for the future.

However, to argue against myself briefly, there is significant merit in considering Amendments 7, 11 and 12. Some of the most shocking and disturbing evidence heard by the joint scrutiny committee was from Ruth Bashall, the CEO of Stay Safe East. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, read out a quote from her, so I will not repeat it, but it was compelling and moving evidence. As a result, after much discussion and consideration, the committee recommended that the Bill should recognise that the abuse of disabled people by their carers often mirrors that seen in other relationships covered by the Bill. We concluded that abuse by any carer towards this particularly vulnerable group should be included in the statutory definition. We also recommended that the Government review the “personally connected” clause, with the intention of amending it to include a clause that covers all disabled people and their carers, paid or unpaid, in recognition of the fact that this type of abuse occurs in a domestic situation. I stand by this recommendation.

Worldwide systematic reviews have highlighted the greater risk of violence generally for disabled people, showing that they are substantially more likely to experience threats of violence, physical abuse and sexual assault. The noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, made an excellent and strong speech on this. Most people outside this House would be shocked to hear about the levels of abuse that disabled people have to put up with. SafeLives also produced a report showing that disabled people are far more likely—twice as likely, I think—than able-bodied women in particular to experience physical, sexual, emotional and financial abuse.

The other point that the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, made excellently is that the route out is so much harder and less clear. Domestic abuse suffered by disabled victims often goes unreported and unnoticed, and leaves these hidden victims without the support they need. We often have a chicken-and-egg situation, because the data and research on this group are limited, making it far more difficult to justify and advocate for the commissioning of services that respond to their specific needs.

The voice of people with disabilities is not heard often enough or loudly enough. I therefore hope that the Government will give due consideration to these amendments, which could have a significant impact on their ability to escape from what can so often be a prison in their own homes.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I think the general test for this group of amendments is whether the perpetrator of abuse has some power or hold over the victim and, through abuse, makes the victim feel unsafe in their own home. In that regard, the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Wilcox of Newport, both made the important point about the close connection there often is between a disabled person and their carers, raising similar risks to other vulnerable people in intimate relationships.

I will take these amendments in order. If the victim is 16 or over and subject to abuse by their guardian—someone who has power over them—it seems only right that guardians are included in the definition of “personally connected”, as Amendment 6 suggests.

Similarly, a carer for a disabled person—someone who, to a greater or lesser extent, the disabled person relies on—should also be included, particularly if the care is provided in the victim’s home. Amendment 7 is perhaps too wide, albeit that the intention is to provide a safeguard for disabled people, in that someone who provides care to an able-bodied person would be included in this amendment as currently drafted. The more narrowly drawn Amendment 11 appears more precise.

Amendment 12, to which we have our Amendment 13, is arguably unintentionally too narrow in applying only to cases where the care is provided to enable independent living, rather than, as our amendment suggests, where the care is provided to enable someone to live in their own home, whether independently or not. I accept what my noble friend Lady Hamwee said: this may not necessarily widen the definition but simply clarify what independent living means.

I understand that those involved in coercing someone into a forced marriage may not be parents or other family members. They may be the family of the other party to the marriage, for example, but parents and other family members involved in such practices, as indicated in the Member’s explanatory statement, are already included in the definition of “personally connected”, as they are relatives. The behaviour would also be covered by the definition of “abusive” under Clause 1(3)(c), “controlling or coercive behaviour”, although I accept what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, says: it could also be physical abuse. I wonder whether the Minister agrees.

Amendment 9 seeks to include victims of the offence under Section 1 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015. I understand that such a person would also be a victim of domestic abuse, but I wonder whether they would need the protection of both this Bill and the Modern Slavery Act, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, alluded to.

Amendment 10 reinforces what I have previously said about someone who, as a result of abuse, does not feel safe in their own home. This might easily include someone who is part of the same household as the victim but not covered by any of the other definitions of “personally connected”, such as the victim’s sister’s live-in boyfriend. The sister and the boyfriend may be in an intimate relationship, but the victim is not otherwise “personally connected” to the boyfriend.

Amendment 14 concerns the separate issue of children as victims of domestic abuse who are traumatised as a result of seeing the effect on the victim and are related to the victim or the perpetrator. The example given is where a mother has several transitory relationships with men, who may live with her or visit her but are not otherwise connected with her children.

It is conceivable that such children might be traumatised by the actions of the perpetrator, rather than by experiencing the effects of abuse on the mother, making the amendment necessary. Bullying behaviour by the transitory lover could have a lasting and detrimental impact on the child, even if the mother’s reaction to it does not have any impact. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 27th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

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Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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This suite of amendments is designed to extend the list of public authorities that have a duty to co-operate with the commissioner to bodies that may well be able to give additional and, arguably, deeper insight into the victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse: the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the Prison Service and National Probation Service and their ombudsman, and the Chief Coroner. These bodies all throw a light on how and why things go wrong.

Amendment 54 would enable the commissioner to get information on any reviews and investigations regarding deaths where domestic abuse had been a factor. Those public authorities must notify the commissioner and the Home Office within 28 days of the outcome of the investigations. The commissioner can advise on good policy and practice only when she has all the information —all the reports, reviews, findings and investigations at her disposal—to be able to piece together what has gone wrong, why it went wrong and how it can be put right.

Proposed new subsection (5) would give additional powers to the Secretary of State. The amendment also gives the Secretary of State the power to add or remove additional public authorities as he or she sees fit, but only authorities added under this clause, not under Clause 15(3), which we discussed under Amendment 51. Furthermore, in Amendment 189, all amendments subsequently covered by the amended Clause 15 could not be removed without the affirmative procedure. In summary, the Secretary of State could add and take away public bodies that they themselves had added but not the ones prescribed in the Bill. They could also issue guidance for circumstances where domestic abuse had been shown to be a contributing factor, which of course that public authority would have to have regard to.

We could have a productive working relationship here, where the commissioner makes recommendations and the Secretary of State, if they chose, makes the guidance. This guidance could be changed by the Secretary of State from time to time, but not without consulting the commissioner.

Lastly, Amendment 189 would ensure that any public authority included in the amended—I hope—Clause 15 could not be removed without an affirmative resolution, at the behest not of the Secretary of State but of Parliament. I beg to move.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, on her speech. She set out the case for the amendments very eloquently. I will speak to Amendments 51 and 54 to which my name is attached. If the horror of losing someone you love is not bad enough, many families, in particular in cases of domestic abuse homicide and suicide, have to put up with the reality that their loved ones may have been saved had earlier interventions been made. This is why I am supporting the amendments put forward by the designate domestic abuse commissioner to establish an oversight mechanism on investigations into domestic abuse related homicides and suicides. She is someone who knows what needs to be done and we should support her with what seem like reasonable and sensible asks.

The number of women being killed by men has not budged at all over the past decade. Clearly, much more work has to be done to identify the changes needed to prevent future deaths. I believe that Amendments 51 and 54 in particular would be an important step on that journey. An oversight mechanism is absolutely critical. There is a great deal of learning coming from domestic homicide reviews, which were introduced in 2011, and from bereaved families’ selfless contributions, but the lack of oversight and of publication of findings at a national level means that this learning is often being lost or limited to local areas. DHRs, for instance, can be desperately hard to find, buried on community safety partnership websites, which means that wider learning can become next to impossible.

It is also too often the case that recommendations are not implemented effectively or are implemented in the short term, but actions drift over time. A clear oversight and accountability mechanism, led by the commissioner working with the Home Office, would help to drive effective implementation and share lessons nationally in the long term as well as the short term. As a police officer put it to me this week, one recommendation that is good for one force will probably be good for forces all over the country. The same mistakes will be happening again and again, and that simply cannot carry on when we have a death toll as high as we do.

Beyond domestic homicide reviews, there is a range of other investigations into the circumstances surrounding an individual’s death which contain recommendations relating to the response of public authorities, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, set out. There is currently, however, no systematic way of identifying these investigations for the purpose of ensuring that recommendations are followed up and that key themes across investigations are examined and acted on in order to prevent future deaths. I believe that Amendments 51 and 54 would help address this.

I will finish by talking briefly about suicide. Mental health has been talked about in previous groupings, and I thought my noble friend the Minister gave some very thorough and thoughtful answers. Sadly, not enough data and shared learning are being collected on suicides as a result of domestic abuse. The correlation is undoubtedly high, but we really do not have a clear picture of the true scale of the problem. One report published by the University of Bristol suggested that nearly 200 victims a year went on to kill themselves on the same day they visited A&E with a domestic abuse related injury. If these figures are accurate, the scale of missed interventions is simply unacceptable. Amendments 51 and 54 would surely complement the endeavour to join up multi-agency thinking and accountability, especially regarding health care providers who we know have such a big role to play. I therefore urge noble Lords to back these amendments.

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I am speaking in support of Amendment 51, which would extend the list of public authorities that have a duty to co-operate with the domestic abuse commissioner, to include the Independent Office for Police Conduct, Her Majesty’s Prison Service, the National Probation Service, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, and the Chief Coroner. I am speaking also in support of Amendment 54, which would place a new duty on public authorities to carry out reviews and investigations into deaths where domestic abuse has been identified as a contributory factor, to notify the Secretary of State for the Home Office and the office of the domestic abuse commissioner on completion, and to provide them with a copy of their findings.

Thus, the domestic abuse commissioner is proposing to establish an oversight mechanism on investigations into domestic abuse related homicides and suicides. They are intended to ensure that a more systematic collection of investigations into suicides and homicides, in which domestic abuse is identified as a contributory factor, is made together with a robust accountability framework. This is to ensure that individual recommendations are acted upon, and that key themes across investigations are identified, to help target key policy changes needed to prevent future deaths.

The pandemic has created so many problems for our society, notwithstanding the area of domestic abuse. A number of domestic abuse charities and campaigners have reported a surge in calls to helplines and online services since the lockdown conditions were imposed. It is a sobering insight into the levels of abuse that people live with all the time. Coronavirus may exacerbate triggers, and lockdown may restrict access to support or escape. It may even curtail the measures some people take to keep their own violence under control.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 1st February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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We heard the Minister say at Second Reading that we should await the expiration of the current community-based support landscape and that, following that, the Government would work with the commissioner to understand the needs and come back with options. However, we have heard tonight and on a number of occasions that the commissioner has said that the Government do not need to await the outcome of this exercise, because there is already strong evidence on the projected demand and actual provision. Will the Minister agree to amend the Bill to embrace community services? If she is not willing to do so, can she say how community services are to be protected?
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it may be late in the evening but the passion and energy in the speeches we have heard have not dipped at all. I will speak in support of Amendment 176 and join others in sending a very strong message to the Government that decoupling accommodation-based services and community-based services by law could have a severely detrimental effect on the very people this Bill is trying to help and serve to undermine the spirit of this legislation. Others have made such eloquent speeches; I do not want to repeat them given the time of evening, but I support them wholeheartedly.

Introducing a statutory duty on local authorities to provide refuge services is welcome, much needed and based on the right intentions, but refuge is essential for only a small number of domestic abuse victims; far more deserve to stay in their home, as we have heard. Instead, we should remove the perpetrator who has caused the harm. Expecting adult and child victims to leave their possessions, friends, community and family to move to a hidden house with other traumatised victims cannot be the extent of our ambition in this era.

To reiterate a point that many have made in this debate and others, long-term, strategic funding must be put in place for these services. The surge we have seen in this pandemic has placed huge financial pressure on many of these organisations; we must be realistic about that. It is for this reason that many of us this evening, as well as the designate domestic abuse commissioner, are asking for reasonable measures to be put in the Bill to ensure that local authorities take steps to guarantee sufficient provision of specialist domestic abuse support services, not just in refuges but in the community.

Other noble Lords and I have had long and detailed conversations with my noble friend the Minister. I am genuinely grateful for her time and commitment. There is no sense of “the computer says no” or having a tin ear; I know she is listening and cares deeply about this issue.

I know this issue is not straightforward. If it were, the Minister would have fixed it. I back this amendment but a compromise could be made by extending the remit of local partnership boards so they could assess the need for community-based services. This remit could also be extended to reporting back to government on multi-agency working at a local level to help provide greater oversight in ensuring that local partners comply with the statutory guidance accompanying the Bill.

The very essence of this Government’s approach to domestic abuse serves to underline how much value they place on services in the community that seek to prevent and stop the cycle of abuse. The Home Secretary herself spoke about changing the narrative from “Why doesn’t she leave?” to “Why doesn’t he stop?” Community-based services are the answer to this and, if anything, they should be elevated and not downgraded. Therefore, I urge the Government to think again.

Baroness Benjamin Portrait Baroness Benjamin (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 176 and 177 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, to give my support. I declare an interest as a vice-president of the children’s charity Barnardo’s. Barnardo’s and many other charities supporting child and adult victims of domestic abuse support the changes proposed in these amendments.

Following the debate in the other place, the Government rightly amended the Bill so that it recognises that children are victims of domestic abuse and not just witnesses or bystanders. Like many others, I am grateful to see this, as it shows common sense and joined-up policy. I congratulate the Government because the impact of domestic abuse on children must not be underestimated. It is the most common reason for children to be referred to local authority children’s services and it often creates trauma—and childhood lasts a lifetime. However, we know that, with the right support, children can recover from experiences of domestic abuse and can break the cycle and go on to live positive adult lives.

The danger with the Bill as drafted is that it offers this support only to some children, notably those who are in refuges or other safe accommodation. It does not secure support for the majority of victims, including children, who remain in the family home or elsewhere in the community. This can have some very damaging consequences, so we need joined-up thinking here too.

In the current financial situation, where funds are extremely tight and will remain so for some time, resources will inevitably go to services underpinned by a statutory duty. Under the Bill as drafted, the available resources would be concentrated in refuges and safe accommodation; very little would be left for the majority of victims in the community and those who continue to live at home. This could send out the message that in order to access support, you have to flee your home along with your children. This is surely not the message we want to send to victims.

There is a further question of how domestic abuse affects different communities. Evidence from Safelives suggests that victims from black, Asian and other minority communities typically suffer domestic abuse for almost twice as long before getting help, compared with those who identify as white. Disabled victims are often less able to leave their homes, so the impact is especially significant for them too. We also know that in some communities, there is a stigma attached to leaving your home and that services are not always culturally sensitive to this or able to engage effectively with those who need support.

The other problem here is one of missed opportunity. Victims, including children, will not reach the point of support until they are beyond crisis point, which is what often happens at the moment. This means that we miss the chance to support them early, to help families stay together and live in their homes safely, and to prevent the need for costly services.

We need to remember that time is much slower for children. Every day, every week that goes by in a dangerous home without support is eating away at their childhood, causing stress, anxiety and mental problems, and the longer they suffer trauma, the longer it will take to recover. Barnardo’s knows this. This has been the harsh reality for many families during the current lockdown. For all these reasons, it is vital that we use this once-in-a-generation Bill to secure support for all victims, adults, and children especially, from all backgrounds, wherever they live. This is why I support these amendments. They will help to make sure that support is available in the community, where it is desperately needed. I have much respect for the Minister and I hope that she and the Government will show compassion, consideration and empathy in the Bill for these vulnerable, forgotten victims who suffer domestic abuse while living in their own homes or in community-based services.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-V Fifth marshalled list for Committee - (3 Feb 2021)
Moved by
131: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Confidentiality of refuge addresses
(1) In family proceedings, where a person (“P”) is—(a) witness or party to the proceedings; and(b) has been subject to domestic abuse as defined under section 1 of this Act; and(c) is residing at a refuge;the provisions in this section apply.(2) The court must not share the residential address of the refuge with any individual or third party.(3) A court order must not be served on P at the residential address of the refuge.(4) A court order may be served on P at the refuge’s office address or by an alternative method or at an alternative place, in accordance with Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010.(5) The residential address of the refuge must be redacted from any court documentation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would prevent the residential address of a refuge being shared as part of court proceedings.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 131 in my name, to which the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, has added his name, I will leave the other amendments in this grouping in the capable hands of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Helic. However, I support them.

Amendment 131 seeks to provide a legal safety net for the secrecy of refuge addresses. The refuge model is predicated on the secrecy and protection of safe addresses. The responsibility for protecting these addresses falls not only on staff but on each and every resident at a refuge. Licences are assigned upon entry, with the penalty that a resident must leave if they reveal the address to anybody. Despite these safeguards, refuges can find themselves the subject of orders from the family court—particularly location orders from fathers trying to locate mothers and children. Refuge providers are forced to disclose their addresses to facilitate the service of court orders on mothers. Although some protections are in place, it is clear that there are some loopholes.

I do not want to overstate how often this happens but it is certainly true that, in nearly all such cases, information is kept confidential. However, last year, I was made aware of two cases where this information was released by the court, with concerning and dangerous consequences. In one case, the police visited the refuge and searched the mother’s belongings for passports, which did not exist, on the basis of false information from her abusive partner. This visit was deeply distressing for an already traumatised mother and child, as it was for other residents of the refuge who felt that their safety had been entirely jeopardised. In the second case, the father used the information to locate and stalk his victim and, ultimately, abduct his child and take them abroad. Having worked on the introduction of stalking protection orders, I am aware how prevalent stalking is in domestic abuse cases and how quickly it can escalate once the victim flees.

The principle behind my amendment is a very simple one: that court orders should never be served at the refuge itself and that the refuge address should remain confidential. It provides that the orders be served

“at the refuge’s office address or by an alternative method or at an alternative place, in accordance with Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010.”

As such, the amendment would not make a significant change to the existing protections. It would simply strengthen and clarify the cases in which they should be used. When similar issues were raised in Committee in the other place, the Minister stated that the Family Procedure Rules already provide for alternate routes to service and that, in domestic abuse cases, the information would be kept confidential by the court, meaning that the measures in this amendment were already provided for.

The other issue raised by Ministers was around the urgency of cases where a child’s safety is at risk. There was some concern that an alternative route to service, such as using the office address of a refuge, would present a delay in proceedings and could have the unintended consequence of endangering the child. I respectfully disagree and contend that the current situation, where refuges are pressured into revealing their most fiercely guarded information, causes more delay. In the two cases that I have outlined, the refuge provider was resistant to revealing the address and took additional time to seek legal advice and to consider all the options, including genuinely considering not complying with a court order, which in no way is to be encouraged.

By formalising the refuge office address as the alternative route to service, providers will understand that they have a duty to locate the mother as soon as possible and will not be faced with a serious conflict in doing so. Unfortunately, the cases that I have outlined demonstrate that the existing safeguards are not adequate. We cannot say with confidence that refuge addresses will always be appropriately protected. I believe that the practice on the ground is not consistent with what is intended by the Family Procedure Rules, which therefore require strengthening and updating.

In addition, alleged perpetrators do not state in their application that domestic abuse is involved in their case and, as such, the court may not always have the full picture of each case. It may not be able to assess the risk of sharing the refuge address and may not be aware that that information should absolutely not be shared—unusual though that may be. In some cases, the courts do not know about the victim’s allegations until after the order has been served and the damage has been done. The existing provisions for the confidentiality of addresses in domestic abuse cases can therefore be easily circumvented.

This is a probing amendment that seeks to understand the Government’s response to these occasional but none the less unacceptable lapses in confidentiality. I beg to move.

Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab) (V)
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My Lords, the case for the protection of a refuge address has been made eloquently by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. Refuges are places of safety and the sharing of a refuge address is a clear risk to both the survivors of abuse and the staff operating the service. It simply should not happen.

Amendment 132, in the name of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, deals with the issue of the sharing of information, or indeed the lack of it that currently occurs. We recognise that the drafting may not be perfect, but the aim of the amendment is to put a duty on courts of all jurisdictions to share information where the same victim or complainant of abuse is involved in multiple proceedings in which the other party is or is linked to the perpetrator of the abuse.

The impact of silo working and the lack of information sharing between agencies and the different parts of the justice system were highlighted in the Ministry of Justice harm review as a significant barrier to the effective tackling of abuse. In particular, the review raised the fact that different approaches and a lack of information sharing could lead different courts to reach conflicting and contradictory decisions, including, for example, risk assessments and indicators recognised in the criminal courts not being similarly recognised and responded to in the family court. This issue is often raised and perhaps we all tend to nod our heads, yet we have seen little improvement. I look forward to hearing from the Minister what the Government are doing or intend to do to prevent silo working and to improve the sharing of necessary and relevant information in these cases.

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I apologise to the Committee for the length of my reply but that has been the case for two reasons. First, the amendments each raise important and sometimes quite complex issues. Secondly, it was right and proper to acknowledge the important speeches and contributions made on each of the disparate points. I hope, therefore, that I have been able to reassure my noble friend Lady Bertin and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the Government take seriously the issues that they have raised and that they will be reassured by my somewhat lengthy explanation and the actions we are taking to address these issues. With that, I invite my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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It is a huge honour to try and sum up such a rich and important debate. I made many notes, a lot of which I cannot read, so I will try to keep my remarks very brief. I thank noble Lords for their contributions and I have learnt a huge amount. I put it on record that the Government have made significant and worthwhile changes to the family court system. They have listened to the experts and been constructive in this area.

Perhaps I may respond briefly on the amendment—the only one in my name in this group. I thank my noble friend the Minister for his thorough response. He is kind, even when he disagrees with you, and I am grateful for small mercies. I noted that his position has not moved a great deal since Committee in the other place. That is a shame and I respectfully and robustly refute the charge that the amendment could somehow endanger children; I do not accept that. Wanting to keep refuge addresses completely confidential does quite the opposite. When the matter was raised by my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham the other week in another debate, my noble friend Lady Williams expressed serious concern that not keeping refuge addresses confidential could ever happen, and I believe that the MoJ has now reached out to the refuges in question, which I welcome. I therefore thank the Minister for reiterating the point that the Government are working closely with the judiciary to explore how existing procedures and guidance could be strengthened to ensure that those residing in refuges are protected.

I thought the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Helic, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and many others did an excellent job at explaining the remaining amendments in this group. On Amendment 132, I am genuinely shocked that there is no duty on courts to share information, so you can have a victim of domestic abuse in several processes—family courts, civil courts, criminal courts—yet there is no sharing of the information. Surely the judge needs a full understanding to assess the risk. I am not a lawyer, and I know that the law is a complicated creature, but it seems to defy basic good sense. The Minister said that the Government are going to try and change things to make the criminal and family courts run in parallel, which I welcome. This is a little awkward, because I want to do justice to other noble Lords but I do not know what they think of the response from the Minister. But I thank him for the positive remarks on Amendment 132. This sounds like a step in the right direction; improving the use of barring orders certainly does.

I think we can all agree that Amendment 133 is a key amendment and hugely important. It is a great shame that the Minister is not persuaded by primary legislation. I find myself in the unusual position of disagreeing with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on this. I have enjoyed all her contributions and I think she is so knowledgeable, but I say on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, that she wants to pursue this in later stages of the Bill.

On Amendment 134, it sounds like family courts are behind the curve on trauma, and we need to do a great deal more to understand the implications.

The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, set out a powerful case for Amendment 135. Feeling totally overwhelmed and alone are such common emotions for victims and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, and many noble Lords echoed, we must not disempower people.

There are more conversations to be had, if I am honest. But, as I said, mine was a probing amendment, and I withdraw it.

Amendment 131 withdrawn.
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The amendment that my co-sponsors and I are calling for will ensure that non-fatal strangulation can be charged as an indictable offence and not merely as a misdemeanour or summary offence. This will reflect the dangerousness of the perpetrator and the severe, traumatic injury non-fatal strangulation causes; it is something our peers across the world are already doing. Modernising our response to domestic violence is needed and one can imagine how much more it is needed in light of the stresses that the Covid-19 pandemic has induced. This is an opportunity to introduce an offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation in the UK so that others do not suffer unnecessarily. I am particularly pleased to hear the constructive comments from Ministers and note that the Government have a commitment to looking at this issue. I wholeheartedly support this amendment, which will confront this heinous crime.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I give my strong support to Amendment 137. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for her determination and commitment on this issue and thank the Centre for Women’s Justice for all its work. I thank the Government for listening. It is right that non-fatal strangulation, for all the reasons that we have just heard, will be a new stand-alone offence. It is very encouraging that we are discussing this issue with a shared understanding. However, I hope the Government will listen again and agree that the Domestic Abuse Bill is the natural home for this amendment. The Bill has finally reached the stage where we can look forward to Royal Assent in the not too distant future. Let us take the opportunity and place this offence on the statute book now.

Having the offence in this Bill sends a powerful message that this kind of offending is concentrated in domestic abuse cases above all others. A rural police force in England selected 30 cases of strangulation at random from within its data. It found that all were cases of domestic abuse. That is not to say that there are not other situations where this form of violence is used—primarily against women and we do not forget them either—but the majority are domestic abuse cases, where strangulation is part of a wider campaign of terror and control that victims and survivors endure day after day.

It is important for our criminal justice agencies to understand this offence in its proper context as a well-established aspect of domestic abuse. This will help them recognise it and take a robust approach. It will aid increased training and better investigation techniques. We have heard that about 20,000 women suffer from this form of abuse. It is frightening, traumatic and deeply harmful. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was right to set out exactly what it means. It was not easy to listen to but we need to understand it.

As a society, we have been blind to this crime for far too long. We are now finally shining a light on it and need to protect those women as soon as we can. I lost my own cousin to fatal strangulation and I know that a greater understanding of non-fatal strangulation will save lives. We must not delay this.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames Portrait Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I join everyone who has spoken in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for bringing forward this amendment, for the tireless way in which she has campaigned for it and for her powerful opening of this debate. I also want to record how grateful I and other noble Lords are for the careful and sympathetic way in which the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, have listened to the arguments and responded to this amendment since Second Reading.

I believe there is a clear consensus that the absence of a distinct offence of non-fatal strangulation is a serious defect in our criminal law, which allows many cases of appalling attacks to be treated with far too little seriousness—undercharged and insufficiently punished. We have long had an offence outlawed by Section 21 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 of attempting to choke, suffocate or strangle in order to commit an indictable offence. However, not only is that Act now seriously in need of replacement, but that offence does not answer the need because it criminalises strangulation only with an intent to commit an indictable offence, so leaving untouched the violent strangulation with which this amendment is generally concerned. As I said at Second Reading, this horrible form of violence is appallingly common and devastating in its physical and psychological effects. Yet because the injuries are difficult to prove, prosecutions, where they happen, are often for common assault, or ABH at most, demonstrably understating the severity the violence involved. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and all other noble Lords who have contributed of the appalling statistics and the overwhelming evidence that demonstrate how serious this form of domestic abuse is, how often it stems from or leads on to further violence, and how a history of strangulation is a tragic, but regular, predictor of later homicide.

I shall say a little about the legal aspects of the amendment and its drafting. In particular, I shall address the points raised at Second Reading by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, who unfortunately cannot speak today but invites me to mention his continued strong support for the amendment and his gratitude to the Government for their commitment to taking the best possible technical advice to ensure its effectiveness.

The first point raised by the noble Lord was whether we ought to have a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation at all or whether a generic offence not confined to strangulation or suffocation would do as well. For the reasons so ably set out so far in this debate, strangulation and suffocation raise a particular issue because the violence involved is extreme and the consequences in terms of abuse and terror for the victims so serious, yet often there are very limited physical injuries to support a prosecution as a result. The New Zealand Law Commission, in its 2016 report Strangulation: The Case for a New Offence, accepted the case for a specific offence and recommended this approach. I understand that the former criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, Professor David Ormerod, who generally favours generic offences rather than specific ones and so recommended in his 2015 on the reform of the 1861 Act, nevertheless sees a strong case for a new specific offence of non-fatal strangulation. I agree. As to the actual acts constituting strangulation or suffocation, the amendment closely follows the New Zealand legislation, the Family Violence (Amendments) Act 2018, which implemented the Law Commission’s recommendation, and there are no reports of any significant difficulties with the definition of which acts are required.

I turn to whether a new offence should be limited to the context of domestic abuse. Indeed, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, explained, we are considering two versions of this amendment, one limited to domestic abuse and one general. My firm view is that the new offence should be generally applicable, as in Amendment 137, even though the evidence outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, establishes firmly that this is generally an offence involving domestic violence. However, I fully agree with the noble Baroness that the new offence of non-fatal strangulation should not be confined to the domestic context, particularly not as limited by the constraints of the definitions in the Bill, under which a similar intentional act which did not meet the definition of domestic abuse would be left to the inadequacies of the pre-existing law.

I turn next to the difficult question of intent. The amendment as drafted now provides that A commits the offence if he “intentionally strangles or suffocates” B. In my opinion, the use of the word “intentionally” is correct and appropriate. It makes it a requirement that the prosecution demonstrate that the act of strangulation or suffocation—that is, blocking the victim’s nose, mouth or both, or applying pressure to the victim’s throat, neck, chest or more than one of these—is intentional. It does not require that the offender be shown to have a further intent of causing any particular type of harm to the victim. The necessary intention is what lawyers call a “basic intent”, rather than a “specific intent”. In my view, that is right because it is difficult to see an offender doing any of these acts without either intending to cause injury or being completely reckless about whether such injury is caused. It should not be a necessary element of the offence that the exact state of mind should have to be proved, and this follows the New Zealand Law Commission’s report.

However, when the New Zealand Parliament implemented that recommendation in that report, the word “intentionally” was supplemented by the words “or recklessly”. In my view, the addition of possible recklessness to the basic intent adds nothing, because it is hard to see the acts involved in strangulation or suffocation being unintentional. I suggest sticking to the word “intentionally” as included in the amendment.

The question also arises whether consent should be a defence against the new offence. In my view, it should not, and the removal by Clause 65 of the defence of consent to the infliction of serious harm for the purpose of sexual gratification points the way. I can see no merit in permitting a defence of consent, which would doubtless lead to frequent court disputes when the defence case would involve an assertion that the victim consented to her own strangulation. I cannot believe that that would be right.

On the last question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, the sentences proposed lie somewhere in the middle of the range applicable to similar offences around the world. They seem to me to fit in with our general sentencing guidelines. Setting maximum sentences is always an art and not a science. The sentences proposed are, of course, maximum terms of imprisonment, and actual sentences in practice always vary with the facts. However, this amendment seems to me to have the tariff about right.

Finally, our Law Commission and Professor Ormerod, with his wide experience in the field, have both been consulted as to the formulation of a new offence, and will continue to be so. Professor Ormerod has expressed his willingness to assist the Government and the House with further consideration of the details of a new offence before Report stage. I express the hope that the Government and we will take advantage of that generous offer.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice

Domestic Abuse Bill

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

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (8 Feb 2021)
Moved by
142: Schedule 2, page 64, line 37, leave out paragraph (b)
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee that undertook pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft domestic abuse Bill, I know that the extraterritorial jurisdiction provisions of the Bill are intended to fulfil the UK’s obligations under Article 44 of the Istanbul convention. I welcome the fact that these provisions will bring the UK closer to ratifying a convention that we signed in 2012 and which will protect women and girls from violence and abuse.

My amendments concern a very specific issue—marital rape—where I believe the Bill as presently drafted may leave a potential loophole. I recognise that the drafting of the amendments may itself be imperfect, and my noble friend the Minister will no doubt speak to that, but I would like to explore whether the Bill could be strengthened so that people from this country cannot exploit laxer laws elsewhere.

In this country, the common-law presumption of a marital exemption from the offence of rape was overturned by your Lordships’ House in the case of R v R in 1991. Some countries similarly do not have any exemption for marital rape, and in others marital rape is explicitly criminalised, but there is a small minority of countries in which marital rape is not illegal. As drafted, the Bill appears to require that a prosecution for rape and other sexual offences committed against adult victims outside the UK may be brought in the UK only when the offending behaviour is also an offence in the country where it happens, but that requirement could prevent us prosecuting someone for marital rape committed outside the UK, if such behaviour is not included in or is exempt from the equivalent offence in the other jurisdiction.

This may be a small gap. I certainly hope that there would not be many, if any, cases of marital rape perpetrated by a UK person in a country that does not consider such behaviour to be a crime, but I believe that, if there is potential for this to occur, we should act to prevent it. I beg to move.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, Section 72 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes it an offence, in England and Wales, for a UK national or resident to commit sexual offences against children outside the UK, in an effort to clamp down on so-called sex tourism. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to this Bill makes it an offence, in England and Wales, for a UK national or resident to commit sexual offences, under Sections 1 to 4 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, against people aged 18 or over at the time of the offence, extending extraterritoriality to serious sexual offences against adults as well as children.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has explained, the idea is to ensure that the Government comply with the Istanbul convention but, as she pointed out, for somebody to commit an offence, it has to be an offence not only in this country but in the country where the offence took place; in some of those countries, marital rape may not be criminalised. Therefore, I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has identified a potential loophole. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in response.

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Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kennedy and Lord Paddick, for their very thoughtful remarks, and for their support on this amendment. It is a very small gap, but I think it worth plugging none the less. I thank the Minister for his thorough and illuminating remarks, from which I learned quite a bit. I am pleased that they were very warm words as well, and I thank him for his consideration of this amendment. I look forward to further conversations and some progress, I hope. It has been a refreshingly short debate, and I will keep it so. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 142 withdrawn.
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Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, for so clearly and comprehensively introducing her amendment. Amendment 149 would insert a new clause that seeks to extend the protection from any coercive and controlling behaviour that occurs post-separation. The noble Baroness concentrated on economic abuse, but that is not the only form of ongoing abuse.

I was in a relationship that became increasingly abusive over a period of five years. The first time I noticed something was happening was when a friend, a former partner, sent me a birthday card. When I explained who it was from, my then partner tore it up and threw it in the bin. His controlling and coercive behaviour continued and got worse, and he eventually resorted to physical violence. When we split up, he threatened to kill me and threatened to write to my employer to try to destroy my career. I continued to live in fear of what he might do until, 18 months after we had split up, he colluded with a Sunday tabloid newspaper to expose intimate details of our private life, including making public my HIV status, as well as making false allegations that the newspaper eventually admitted were libellous. Fighting the issue in the courts would have resulted in me losing everything if I had lost that case. His actions did not amount to harassment or stalking.

Coercive and controlling behaviour can continue long after separation, with victims of domestic abuse continuing to live in fear of what the perpetrator might do next, and the law needs to reflect this. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 applies only if the perpetrator and victim are in an intimate relationship or if they live together. This amendment would ensure that it would apply to all those who are “personally connected” as defined by Clause 2 of this Bill, whether they live together or not. As such, it would also include the circumstances that Amendment 157 seeks to cover, where a relative is exerting controlling or coercive behaviour, whether or not they live together.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, explained, his amendment is specifically aimed at protecting older and disabled family members. I strongly support Amendment 149 and welcome the focus which Amendment 157 brings to the abuse of older and disabled family members.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in this important debate; he speaks movingly and powerfully on this issue. I support Amendment 157, for which the noble Lord, Lord Hunt set out the argument very well, but I will speak primarily in support of Amendment 149, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have also put my name. I also wish to thank her for all of her work in this area, and for eloquently speaking to this amendment, setting out in forensic detail why it is needed.

David Challen, son of Sally Challen, wrote movingly today in the Times. He said that leaving an abuser can be the most defining moment of a victim’s life. The fear of what will happen when they separate from their abuser is often overcome by an instinct of survival and the hope that they will be protected. However, as the law stands on coercive and controlling behaviour, victims who leave are not protected.

It is obvious that coercive control does not end when a relationship does and that very often the exact opposite happens, and the abuse escalates. As many noble Lords have said, this is particularly true of economic abuse, which does not require physical proximity to perpetrate, but can have a crippling effect on victims as their abuser seeks to make their life as hard and as financially unstable as possible. We also need to remember how often children are caught up in the continuation of this kind of abuse, with child maintenance very often being turned off and on like a tap. It is therefore absolutely right that the definition of domestic abuse in this Bill will include economic abuse and also recognises that the abuse can continue when the couple split up. We now need to take this opportunity, as others have said, to amend the Serious Crime Act 2015 to bring coercive control in line with the far better drafting of this Bill.

Not accounting for post-separation abuse is a serious shortcoming of the offence. Given that separation, as we have heard from other noble Lords, is a time at which women are at heightened risk of homicide, this shortcoming is dangerous, too. The Government made the point that existing legislation on stalking and harassment already addresses post-separation abuse. Like others, I absolutely do not accept that. These crimes are not the same and to suggest otherwise shows a lack of understanding about all these offences. I also do not believe that the Government’s outstanding report on controlling and coercive behaviour should stand in the way of this vital opportunity before us.

If the law on coercive control stays as it is, what kind of signal do we send to victims? It is this: “Stay put and we can charge him, but if you leave, we can’t touch him.” This makes no sense at all and must change. Failing to recognise that these abusive behaviours can occur post separation creates a dangerous gap in our understanding of this crime and would leave too many victims without the proper justice they deserve.

Baroness Greengross Portrait Baroness Greengross (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I support this group of amendments and specifically wish to speak to Amendment 157, to which I have added my name. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 covers coercive or controlling behaviours by family members who live with their victims; this amendment would ensure that this is broadened to include those family members who reside at a different address.

As I outlined at Second Reading, many older people suffer from domestic abuse, which all too often goes unreported. Until very recently, the ONS did not collect data for those aged 75 and over in the national crime survey. Since the Covid-19 pandemic, the ONS has stopped asking questions around sensitive topics including domestic abuse and sexual assault, so it will not be until sometime after the pandemic that the ONS will start publishing data on the abuse of older people.

From the information we do have, however, we know that the abuse of older people is often committed by family members and victims can be reluctant to report this. In cases where parents are abused by their children, they often feel that the abuse reflects on them as parents—and indeed it might. The Metropolitan Police and other UK police forces have said that this is a significant factor in the underreporting of abuse against older people.

The organisation Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I originally set up with the help of the Department of Health and of which I am a patron, has a helpline to support older people who are victims of abuse. The most frequent perpetrators recorded by the helpline are sons and daughters, making up 30% of all calls in 2019 and 38% of calls in the first six months of the pandemic, from March to September 2020.

Abuse against older people, like abuse against people of any age, takes many forms, as we know. Hourglass reports that, in 2019, 40% of calls to its abuse helpline involved financial abuse. Very often, this form of abuse is carried out by family members who do not reside at the same address as the victim.

One way this financial abuse occurs is through the use of technology and the digital exclusion of older people. In June 2020, the International Longevity Centre UK, of which I am chief executive, published a paper entitled Straddling the Divide, which highlighted the issues that many older people face with digital exclusion during the Covid-19 pandemic. The report found that, in the UK,

“around 11.9 million people lack the digital skills they need for everyday life.”

It also found that

“only 47% of adults aged 75 years and over recently used the internet.”

At a time when older people have been told to stay home and shield, many have not been able to go to the bank as they have in the past. More than ever before, many now rely on others to manage their finances online. Very often, this is done by a close family member and sadly, as we know, this can lead to financial abuse.

Such abuse is often coupled with controlling and coercive behaviours by the perpetrator where other forms of abuse, such as physical or psychological abuse, are not used. It is crucial that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviours by family members includes those not residing with the victim, as this would strengthen the law in protecting against the abuse of older people—which, I hope all noble Lords agree, is a serious and often urgent issue that must be resolved as a matter of urgency.

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Lord Bishop of London Portrait The Lord Bishop of London [V]
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My Lords, I add my voice to this amendment simply because it should go without saying that some things need to be penned into law for there to be consistent access to justice. Amendment 161 has been tabled because it prevents GPs charging survivors of domestic abuse for letters which confirm injuries they have suffered—evidence which survivors need for their legal aid applications. The case for this amendment has been extremely well made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bull. I agree with the statements they have made, so there is no need to add much to what has been said.

There should be no gatekeepers when we consider the path to justice, not least from those who are on the path to help facilitate it. As we have heard, the British Medical Association has recommended that patients should not be charged for medical evidence when seeking it for legal aid. I too stand by this, by virtue of calling for this amendment to be included in this Bill.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I support Amendment 161 and thank the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for tabling it and for being so tenacious. It is an honour to speak after the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. We cannot on the one hand spend years putting together a great Bill like this that says to victims, “We hear you; we are there for you; we want to help you escape”, and on the other hand stand by and allow those same victims to be potentially charged £150—an extortionate amount for many people—for proof of that abuse.

Domestic abuse does not discriminate. You can be a victim of abuse whether you are rich or poor. Unfortunately, while this fee remains, it does and will discriminate against poorer victims. Many of them will go without legal representation, many will return to an abuser and many will be seriously injured or worse as a result of being unable to access the legal remedies that are supposed to keep them safe. I know that the Department of Health has a fair amount on its plate right now, but it should endorse this small change to the Bill. It could have an immeasurable impact on people’s lives when they are at their most vulnerable.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, for raising this matter—I am tempted to say “again”, but of course I should really say “again and again”. The list of engagements which he set out was impressive, and I fear I may not be able to provide satisfaction to the noble Lord where so many of my illustrious forebears have already failed. If I can put it this way: what he has said this evening has only increased my resolve to try to sort out this issue, not only because it is plainly an important matter to be addressed, as so many have said, but because it means that I will escape the horrid fate of being added to the noble Lord’s list.

The Government, as will be clear from what has been said by my forebears and what I have just said, wholeheartedly agree that vulnerable patients should not be charged by doctors for evidence to support them in accessing legal aid. That being the case, we are sympathetic to the spirit of this amendment. The issue requires further consideration ahead of Report for the reasons I will briefly set out. While I cannot commend this amendment to the Committee today, I will be looking at it in detail between now and Report. I should also take the opportunity to point out a couple of technical issues with the amendment, which I hope will also be helpful.

I am pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, was able to meet with the Minister for Prevention, Public Health and Primary Care and representatives from the British Medical Association ahead of today’s debate to discuss the issue. I think it fair to say that everyone who attended this meeting was seized fully both of the issue and of its importance. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, said, we do not want to do anything to prevent or discourage victims of domestic abuse coming forward, and that includes questions of cost. That said, it is fair to say that there was some anecdotal evidence at the meeting which pointed to this perhaps being a diminishing problem, particularly since, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London reminded us, the BMA issued advice to its members last year that they should not charge for this service, advice which they recently reinforced.

Following that meeting, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, graciously undertook to provide what evidence he had of this being a continuing issue so that we could consider the matter further. We look forward to receiving that evidence and continuing our discussions. However, as matters stand this evening, we remain to be persuaded that this issue needs to be resolved through primary legislation.

The position is that GPs can provide services in addition to NHS contracted services. They are classified as private services, for which they have the discretion to charge the patient. Letters of evidence to access legal aid is one such private service. It is therefore up to an individual GP practice to decide whether a charge should be levied and, if so, what it should be. However, as I indicated, as part of the 2020-21 contract agreement, the BMA recommended to all GPs that a charge should not be levied for letters of this kind. That is a welcome recognition by the BMA that, as was said, vulnerable patients with limited means should not be expected to pay for such letters. We recognise and commend the vast majority of GPs who are following that guidance, but it is a non-binding recommendation. As the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, mentioned, we are informed of anecdotal examples where patients can be charged up to as much as £150 for that evidence.

As I said, I should make a couple of observations about the drafting of the amendment, although I recognise that these can be readily addressed in a further iteration of it. First, as currently drafted, the amendment refers to

“providing a letter … for the purposes of regulation 33(2)(h) of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations.”

That regulation was amended by later civil legal aid procedure regulations in 2017, so there is now no such regulation as presently referred to in the amendment. That is something that could be addressed in further drafting, and I respectfully suggest that it is.

Secondly, the amendment relies on the definition of a “general medical services contract” in Section 84 of the National Health Service Act 2006, which applies to England only. I assume that that is the case because, as the noble Lord is aware, the health service is a devolved matter in Wales and therefore this issue is a matter for the Welsh Government. I thought that it was worth making that point clear as well.

I return to the main point, on which, if I may respectfully say so, we have heard a number of very cogent speeches. I have not yet mentioned the contribution of my noble friend Lady Bertin, which was equally forceful. The Government remain committed to exploring options around this issue with the medical profession to ensure that vulnerable patients are not charged, and I would welcome the noble Lord’s continued help in this regard. In particular, once he has been able to provide what evidence he has of GPs continuing to charge victims of domestic abuse for these letters, we will be happy to have further meetings with him ahead of Report.

I hope that in the meantime he will feel able to withdraw his amendment, but he can rest assured that I have it ringing in my ears that I will face a similar amendment on Report if we cannot satisfactorily resolve the matter before that stage. I commit to working with him and to doing all I can to reach that satisfactory conclusion.

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Lord Alderdice Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Alderdice) (LD)
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The noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Jones, have withdrawn, so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, absolutely it is late in the day, and so many other noble Lords have made brilliant speeches to which I cannot add a great deal. I wholeheartedly support Amendment 162 and thank my noble friend Lady Morgan for setting out the case so well.

We have heard a lot about why we are waiting for the Law Commission. I do not think that we should wait, because threats to share intimate images make up such a small part of this review. Amendment 162 is a simple, narrow yet powerful amendment to extend an existing offence. I ask the Minister how many more victims will live without the legal protection they need while we wait years for the law to change—a change that we can make right now in this Bill. I hope that the Government consider and take on board this amendment.

Baroness Primarolo Portrait Baroness Primarolo (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak only briefly on Amendment 162. I too thank those organisations that have provided a briefing for this debate, particularly Refuge, which has been excellent throughout. Like other noble Lords, I commend its report, The Naked Threat.

At the beginning of the debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, eloquently outlined why we need to act now. It is impossible to imagine the horror that someone might feel when their phone pings with a message from their ex-partner with photos attached, perhaps ones that they did not even know had been taken, and a threatening message saying, “How bad would it be if these were sent to your work colleagues?” By threatening to share the photographs, your ex-partner is escalating a campaign of intimidation and coercive control to make you do what they want. You can try to deal with it, but he is going to continue with those threats. He had been volatile and controlling, which is why you left him, and now he is trying to get you to go back to him or he wants to prove that he can still control you.

Over time, those threats become darker and more unsettling. You become anxious, you feel unsafe, you are not sure whether he is coming to your home or your work, following you or contacting your friends. He is now frightening you and threatening your physical well-being. Finally, you go to the police, but they decline to help on the basis that he has not done anything wrong and has not committed an offence, so there is nothing they can do. You feel deeply depressed, isolated and fearful. You stay away from friends and virtually go into hiding, not knowing where to turn for help.

As noble Lords have said, young women are disproportionately affected by these threats. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, has compellingly set out the statistics. This issue is only going to grow, so any form of protection now needs to be brought in rapidly. The data is clear and illustrates why it is vital that an amendment is made to this Bill. No doubt, as other noble Lords have said, the Minister will cite the Law Commission review. However, as we know, those reviews can take years to come to a conclusion, as well as the Government deciding which recommendations they will accept. The Government then need to find parliamentary time. In replying to the debate, the Minister really does have to answer the question put by other noble Lords: if we are to wait for the outcome of the review and the Government’s decision on which recommendations they will apply, how long will that take? How long are the Government asking the survivors of this abuse to wait?

The Law Commission review covers a vast area of policy. Amendment 162 is not about pre-empting the full review. The changes it would make are small, straightforward amendments to an existing law that would not have a broader impact on the legal landscape. There really is nothing to stop the Government making this small change now, given that we have appropriate legislation before us.

This debate has clearly demonstrated that the threat to share intimate images is widespread. It is linked to domestic abuse and is having a devastating impact on the survivors of abuse. It is an issue that is going to increase and will continue to put power in the hands of the perpetrator, leaving survivors traumatised and isolated, perhaps forced to change their lives and move away from their homes, simply because the Government refuse to make this small change to the law. I hope that, in replying to the debate, the Minister will explain clearly, if the Government are unable to accept the amendment, how they propose to protect the survivors of this abuse.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Domestic Abuse Bill

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Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Domestic Abuse Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 124-VI(Rev) Revised sixth marshalled list for Committee - (8 Feb 2021)
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 164 on behalf of my noble friend Lady Royall, I will also speak to my Amendment 177B. My noble friend is extremely sorry that she is not able to speak today due to a long-standing and immovable commitment. My remarks very much reflect her views and passion to see strong action in relation to serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. I am grateful also to the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Brinton, for putting their names to the amendment.

This amendment follows many years of advocacy, during which my noble friend Lady Royall has sought to reflect the views of families of victims and many organisations, including John and Penny Clough; Paladin; Aurora New Dawn; Women’s Aid; the Hampton Trust; the Alice Ruggles Trust; the Centre for Women’s Justice; the London Assembly and the Mayor of London; the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs; the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC; Napo; magistrates; police officers; countless survivors, including Zoe Dronfield, Georgia Hooper, Rachel Williams, Charlotte Kneer and Celia Peachey; and the 217,000 people who have signed the petition in support of the need for action.

My noble friend’s amendment seeks to ensure a co-ordinated, consistent and mandatory approach throughout the country to the flagging and targeting of perpetrators, without which, more women and children will be terrorised, and some will die. It would place a statutory obligation on police, prison and probation officers to identify, assess and manage serial and serious domestic abuse perpetrators and stalkers. This would change the culture and ensure that questions are asked of the perpetrator and not the victim. It would ensure a multiagency problem-solving approach by the statutory agencies charged with a responsibility for public protection.

So far, the Government have resisted this in the belief that current arrangements are adequate. They are not. There are pockets of good practice, but it is not national and there is no co-ordinated approach led by statutory agencies. There is no legal framework or national process in England and Wales by which serial perpetrators are routinely identified, monitored and managed. These serial perpetrators and stalkers are simply not visible or held to account, even though past behaviour is the best predictor of future behaviour. We know that they are transient: they seek to control the most vulnerable women and children, and if that includes moving across borders to meet their needs, they often will do so. They travel and start new relationships, but the history is not recorded, so vital information does not travel with them. We have to change this by ensuring that there is a legislative duty to proactively identify, assess and manage these men using MAPPA-plus, an enhanced version of MAPPA, to include domestic abuse specialist services, honour-based abuse services and stalking services that understand coercive control and stalking, and ensure that the intelligence is collected and put into the national system, ViSOR.

The enhanced system would of course require multiagency training, complemented by clear guidance ahead of implementation. Without MAPPA-plus, Clare’s law will never work effectively, because there is no duty on the police to add any information or intelligence about a perpetrator’s previous offending to a local or national system. If information is put on a local system, it lacks the detail required. The burden is placed on the victim, and too often the perpetrator’s narrative is believed rather than the victim’s.

When my noble friend Lady Royall met the Minister, she was asked for evidence of such a system, and she forwarded a report by Laura Richards, a global expert and founder of Paladin. Her report focused on 28 men who had murdered 31 women and eight children, and who had significantly harmed more women and children. There will undoubtedly be more. In addition, there are family members who are terrorised and threatened by serial abusers, and the impact on others when a loved one is killed. The report makes for distressing reading. It is utterly compelling in its conclusion that there have been too many reviews and that the time for action is now.

I will cite just two cases in the report. The first is that of Alfie Gildea:

“Four-month-old Alfie Gildea was killed by violent Sam Gildea, who had been previously convicted of manslaughter by violent shaking. This is how he killed Alfie.”


His mother, Caitlin McMichael, learned about Sam Gildea’s history after Alfie had been murdered. Why was she not told before about his previous conviction?

“This is the police force that failed Clare Wood, and the reason Clare’s Law came in because of their failures. Greater Manchester Police knew that he was a serial perpetrator and they did not act. Why not?”


Last November, the coroner, Alison Mutch, said that Gildea was a

“serious and serial domestic abuse perpetrator”

who was well known to Greater Manchester Police. They failed to recognise coercive control. Why was his case not heard at MAPPA, when his history of violence was known to Greater Manchester Police?

I now come to the case of two unnamed women, in 2020:

“Stephen Williams was sentenced to two years in prison on May 29 2020, for a horrific campaign of mental and physical abuse on his 18 year old girlfriend. She is 10 years younger than him. He held a knife to her throat, punched in the face, poured corrosive cleaner over her head and threatened to kill her. He coercively controlled her and made her give up her job as a hairdresser & her family and friends … made her travel with him in his HGV lorry cab to make sure she didn’t talk to anyone … punched her in the face, bit the back of her neck and said he would ‘break every bone in her body.’ He pulled her finger back causing ligament damage and fractured her rib. Her sister called the police and she was taken to hospital.”


Williams was arrested and pleaded guilty to controlling and coercive behaviour, assault by beating, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, causing an unauthorised transmission from prison, and witness intimidation.

“A former partner gave evidence at court about his abuse. Williams pressured her to retract her statement and threatened her by saying ‘I will get out of her one day and you will regret it.’ The judge described him as a controlling and manipulative bully and said ‘I have come to the view that you pose a significant risk of harm to your female partners.’ Williams was sentenced to just two years in prison and made the subject of a restraining order, forbidding him to see or contact his ex-partner for two years.”


Upon his release, Williams will not be identified as a serial perpetrator and a risk to other women. Under the new system, he would be categorised as category 4, included on ViSOR and managed via MAPPA. Other relevant services would be involved as well. An order could be placed on him regarding whether he moves, starts a new relationship or changes his name, as well as attendance at an accredited perpetrator programme. But we do not have that at the moment, and

“under current guidance and practice it is unlikely that he will meet the MAPPA criteria.”

I have mentioned two cases. In her contribution the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, will bring another disturbing example to the House’s attention.

My noble friend Lady Royall is arguing that, under MAPPA-plus, a new category four,

“serial and serious harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators”,

should be included. Positive obligations would be placed on a perpetrator, including attending a treatment programme. They would have to notify the police if they changed their name, moved, went abroad or started a new relationship. These are critical components of the strategic plans in Amendment 167, which I also support, and my own Amendment 177B. The difference between these two amendments is the time given to the Government to come forward with a strategy. In fairness, my noble friend Lady Royall thinks that my two-year period is far too generous and that we need much quicker action. Time is of the essence. We know that at least two women a week are murdered by ex-partners, many of whom are serial offenders. This has increased to five a week during the pandemic. It is self-evident that a cohesive strategy is needed as soon as possible.

At Second Reading the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, spoke of investing more than £7 million in direct perpetrator-focused interventions through police and crime commissioners to prevent abuse. She also promised that the forthcoming domestic abuse strategy would include specific work to tackle perpetrators and prevent offending. This is welcome but not sufficient.

It is significant that, last year, 80 signatories, including charities such as Women’s Aid, Respect and Action for Children, as well as academics and individuals, called on the Government to invest in a perpetrator strategy. They called for public voluntary services to be empowered to hold perpetrators to account; best-practice perpetrator interventions to be available across England and Wales; a national quality assurance system and a sustainable, predictable source of funding; and for national and local leaders to spearhead the perpetrator strategy. Nicole Jacobs, the designate domestic abuse commissioner, supports these measures. She said

“I support the call on Government to publish a Strategy on Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse. Current prevention work is patchy and too often perpetrators go unchallenged and are not offered opportunities to change their abusive behaviour.”


I urge the Minister to accept the principles contained in Amendments 167 and 177B but, even more importantly, to accept my noble friend Lady Royall’s amendment and introduce MAPPA-plus without further delay. I beg to move.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, before I speak to the amendment in my name, as we enter the final day of Committee I want to thank everyone who has been involved in this marathon. By tabling more than 200 amendments, we have created a vast amount of work for the clerks, the Bill team and the Whips’ Office. I acknowledge their professionalism, time and effort. I also recognise and pay tribute to the different organisations and individuals who have worked so hard to brief us while also dealing with a huge surge in work because of the pandemic. In particular, I thank Drive and Veronica Oakeshott.

I thank all noble Lords who have put their names to Amendment 167, giving it cross-party support. It is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. As he set out, this amendment would require the Government to provide a comprehensive perpetrator strategy for domestic abuse within one year of the Act being passed. I will not speak specifically to the other amendments in this group, but I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for her tireless work against the insidious crime of stalking. I support the sentiment behind her amendment.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the very inspirational speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I am in awe of her championing of these matters.

As a professional social worker for some years—although I am long in the tooth now—I cannot imagine dealing with child protection of any nature without having the confidence of knowing that I am well trained. I therefore welcome Amendment 15, and will also make some comments about Amendment 44. I am deeply indebted to my noble friend Lady Armstrong for her thoughtful contributions from Second Reading onward. Having heard the profoundly persuasive and detailed arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and the noble Lord, Lord Marks, I speak in support of mandatory judicial training. I believe it to be essential to treat survivors’ experience with the required level of due care.

My noble friend Lady Armstrong highlighted the impact of a well-trained workforce, including police and children’s services, as well as the potential positive effect of well-trained jobcentre managers. We cannot hope to change societal attitudes to poor institutional practices unless government is committed to adequately funding and mandating training at all levels of service, including the highest level in the judiciary. If the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, moves her amendment I will definitely support her.

The amendment also asks that front-line public service staff are properly trained and competent and fully equipped to ensure that thorough assessments can be made of survivors’ needs. Although it is correct that individual public services may be best placed to understand the most effective ways to develop training for their staff, as is argued by the Government, it cannot be overstated that our public institutions may not be the first port of call for help for many women of minority heritage. Therefore, specialist organisations would also require support and training to effectively realise those ambitions. I was so moved by the way that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, argued on behalf of the needs of diverse communities that I need not say another word.

Does the Minister agree that we also need to influence our educational curriculum and provide age-appropriate information? We already do this with regard to sexual orientation and Prevent et cetera; we make sure that our children have information on a whole range of issues. Unless and until we take the matter of violence in the home seriously—violence experienced by parents, relatives or whoever—and we give some details of acknowledgement and equip children, they may not know where to go when they witness this.

I do not have the statistics to hand but is the Minister aware of the evidence which indicates that significant numbers of teenage children, as young as 11, 12 and 13, are accepting violence as a norm within their relationships? This is as well as the tragedy of sexual exploitation and abuse of children which continues to grow exponentially and has overwhelmed the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and other leading children’s organisations.

Training resulting in greater awareness may not be the panacea for stopping violence and preventing the murder of women and children in the immediate future, but combined with the force of law and a well-trained front-line workforce, including the judiciary, the financial support and measures proposed in the Bill will certainly go a long way to build in additional safeguards and improve the chances of survivors to survive violence and abuse.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 44. I thank my noble friend Lady Helic and Claire Waxman, the Victims’ Commissioner for London, and her team for bringing the issue of training to the forefront of this legislation. The evidence provided by my noble friend Lady Helic and others was harrowing, but hearing it is essential. As they said, too often it seems that our family courts are not the tools of justice they ought to be; instead, they can be used to continue that abuse.

Too often we fail to equip judges and magistrates with the knowledge they need to spot and prevent this reality. In doing so, we are denying many victims justice. We in this House can legislate all we like but if those on the front line are not adequately trained, as we have heard, it risks remaining just words, and, as my noble friend Lady Newlove said, not worth the paper they are written on. I believe we can and must do better than this. We should strive to ensure that our courts are at the cutting edge, and not repeatedly behind the curve.

The Bill introduces a number of excellent progressive measures that have the potential to help the family courts to deliver justice safely. They include recognising post-separation abuse and extending the grounds on which barring orders can be used. For those the Government certainly deserve credit, but the success of such measures and the guarantee that they will be translated into better practice on the ground hinges on this training amendment.

The amendment renders the need for training into clear language, creating an imperative to act. We need accountability and oversight in this area, as many others have said. If the Government resist putting the amendment into the Bill—and I do not really understand why they should—then at least we need to get to a place where the judiciary are being open and transparent about the level and quantity of training that they are receiving. Who is giving the training? Is it quality assured and rigorous enough? These are questions that need to be properly addressed.

We have heard a lot in previous debates about the need for data collection. In many areas across business and public life, it is transparency and good reporting that often create best practice, and it does not seem unreasonable for the public but also for the Government to be privy to such data. That would drive change from the bottom up.

We also need to be sure that training reflects the new provisions in the Bill immediately rather than them filtering into the system over a period of months or, worse still, years. Of course it cannot simply be a tick-box exercise that does not drill into the complexity of the reality on the ground with some of these cases. Post-separation coercive control, for example, is a multifaceted and insidious crime committed by devious and practised individuals. They need to meet their match in the courtroom, from magistrates upwards.

As my noble friend Lady Helic has rightly said, this is not an attack on the wisdom of our lawgivers. It is the opposite: providing them with training would deepen that wisdom and arm them with the means to deal with these complex cases. Doing so would give victims faith and confidence in our justice system and let them know that our courts were with them, not against them. It would also send a strong message to perpetrators that the courts were tools of justice, not another weapon to use against their victim.

I know that my noble friend the Minister is sensitive to these issues, and I am sure her answer will reflect that. As I have said before, I do not understand the resistance to putting this into the Bill, but I will listen carefully to her response. I hope she will come forward with some answers that move towards real progress and an understanding of what needs to be done.

Baroness Crawley Portrait Baroness Crawley (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I will be brief. It is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, on the important Amendment 44. I wish to speak in particular to Amendment 15 in this group, which would transform and regularise the very disparate current systems by which front-line staff of public authorities inquire into domestic violence and take action.

Since Committee, when we last debated this amendment, my noble friend Lady Armstrong has removed the statutory duty wording in order to see this important provision in the Bill. She and I have also had a helpful meeting with the Minister, whom we thank for her time. The new amendment makes clear that there should still be a transparency mechanism to hold public services to account. It is important to note that the domestic abuse commissioner remains supportive of this new adapted amendment and that, as my noble friends Lady Armstrong and Lord Hunt have said, adequate resources are needed to monitor and annually report on statistics on training in such inquiries.

In Committee, the Minister said she did not want sensitive and complex conversations turned into some sort of tick-box exercise. That is understandable, but our response is that the amendment would actually give public services and staff the space and independence to use their professional judgment as long as the context was transparent for monitoring purposes.

In her letter to my noble friend Lady Armstrong following our meeting, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, makes the helpful observation that relevant public authorities, as listed in Clause 15, are subject to the duty to co-operate with the commissioner, and that this would include the provision of statistics and other information specified in subsection (1) of the new clause, as my noble friend said. She also makes it clear that it is open to the commissioner to address matters relating to training and reporting in her duty to produce an annual report. But, while I hear and to some extent understand the Government’s reluctance to give specific direction in primary legislation to the domestic abuse commissioner regarding the need for public authorities to undertake front-line training, the present situation, based as it is on guidance, cannot continue to let down victims as it does. I look forward to the Minister’s response, in which I hope we will hear clearly her agreement with the principle of the amendment and how it can be taken forward.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

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Baroness Bertin Excerpts
The welcome commitments that the Government have now given will result in meaningful change and improvement for victims of domestic abuse only if the necessary financial and human resources are made available to increase and extend community-based services. I am sure that we will not be the only ones in this Chamber or outside it who will press the Government to ensure that welcome and worthy intentions today are not thwarted by an unwillingness by Government tomorrow to provide the necessary additional resources for the future provision of much-needed and enhanced community-based services.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am greatly relieved that he said what he said—he made some powerful points—but it is right that we back the government amendments. I will speak to that today.

The Bill’s commitment to giving refuges statutory status is vital, but we knew that giving no statutory recognition anywhere in the Bill to community-based services posed a clear risk to inadvertently downgrading their status, which we absolutely had to prevent. I believe that these amendments do that, but I agree that we will all keep a close eye on their execution to check that they genuinely safeguard the status of community services.

I thank the designate domestic abuse commissioner, as well charities such as Barnardo’s and SafeLives and my noble friend Lord Polak, for being so determined and tenacious. I am greatly relieved that these charities have welcomed these amendments. I know that they are satisfied and greatly relieved, but of course we will have to keep a close eye on whether they do the job. I also extend my thanks to my noble friend the Minister. She has given us a lot of time on this issue and genuinely cares about it. I know that she was integral to getting these amendments over the line.

I back other Peers’ calls to make sure that the domestic abuse commissioner’s office has the proper resourcing to carry out these additional responsibilities. Throughout this Bill’s passage, we have been sending her more and more work, so reasonable adjustments should be made. Helping victims to stay in their homes, stemming the abuse before it damages families beyond repair and prevention must be at the heart of our strategy over the coming years. These amendments point to that. I fully support them and urge noble Lords to do the same.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 31 and 85. I underline that domestic abuse services, which I very much support, should include victims being forced into marriage. I particularly have in mind the special needs of those being forced into marriage who are under the age of 18. I know that the Minister is well aware of the points that I am making. I am sorry to keep pressing them, but I want them on the record.

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Moved by
43: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Confidentiality of refuge addresses
(1) In family proceedings, where a person (“P”) is—(a) witness or party to the proceedings; and(b) has been subject to domestic abuse as defined under section 1 of this Act; and(c) is residing at a refuge;the provisions in this section apply.(2) The court must not share the residential address of the refuge with any individual or third party.(3) A court order must not be served on P at the residential address of the refuge.(4) A court order may be served on P at the refuge’s office address or by an alternative method or at an alternative place, in accordance with Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010.(5) The residential address of the refuge must be redacted from any court documentation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would prevent the residential address of a refuge being shared as part of court proceedings.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I laid this amendment in Committee because I was genuinely shocked that a refuge address could ever be revealed to a perpetrator. Victims are not moving to refuges because they fancy a change of scene; they are fleeing for their lives. Since laying that amendment I have heard many more anecdotes from those on the front line, suggesting that disclosure of a refuge address to a perpetrator is not a particularly rare occurrence. I am hugely troubled by this, and it is the reason why I have laid the amendment again.

I am also hugely troubled that we have absolutely no solid data on how frequently this happens. We should not have to rely on anecdotal evidence, important though it is. Surely there should be more formality in central record-keeping to document such serious disclosures.

To reach a refuge, a victim must leave behind their home, job and possessions, and in many cases they must uproot their children. To have reached the conclusion that that is the only way forward is to experience a level of trauma and abuse, and have reached a crisis point, that most of us simply cannot comprehend. We owe it to them to have a cast-iron guarantee that this course of action is not for nothing and that the law will protect them. I believe the amendment would do that.

As I said in Committee, the amendment seeks to provide a legal safety net for the secrecy of refuge addresses. The refuge model, as we know, is predicated on the secrecy and protection of safe addresses. The responsibility for protecting those addresses falls not only on the staff but on each and every resident at a refuge. Many of us in this House will have visited a refuge. I was not even allowed to talk about which part of London I had been in when discussing my visit at a later date.

By way of background, refuges can find themselves the subject of orders from the family court, particularly location orders, generally from fathers trying to locate mothers and children. Refuge providers are forced to disclose their addresses to facilitate the service of a court order on mothers, and although some protections are in place, it is clear that there are serious loopholes. As it stands, the court has discretion as to what information is provided and always has the option not to order refuges to disclose their addresses and locations. It is therefore deeply concerning that some judges either turn a blind eye or do not take enough care or proactive steps to ensure that maximum levels of confidentiality are maintained.

In the interests of time I will not repeat the two examples that I gave in Committee, but I know noble Lords will have enormous empathy for the fear and chaos that ensues when a perpetrator discovers the location of a refuge. This is not just about the safety of the residents; it also concerns the welfare of staff. They too are taking a risk in the job that they do, and should not have to put up with violent and threatening behaviour.

My amendment remains the same as in Committee and it is a simple one: the court order should never be served at the refuge itself, and the refuge address should remain confidential. It provides that the order should be served at the refuge’s office address or by an alternative method or at an alternative place. As such, the amendment would not make any significant change to the protections that already exist; it would strengthen and clarify the cases in which they should be used, so that all judges were crystal clear. In my opinion, any disclosure of the refuge address demonstrates that the existing safeguards are not adequate, and we cannot confidently say that refuge addresses will always be appropriately protected. I believe that the practice on the ground is not necessarily consistent with what is intended by the Family Procedure Rules, and they therefore require strengthening and updating.

In Committee, my noble friend the Minister raised the issue of child safety—as I am sure he will again in his response today—stating that there was some concern that an alternative route to service, such as using the office address of a refuge, would present a delay in proceedings and could have the unintended consequence of endangering the child. I reiterate once again that I respectfully disagree. I suggest that the current situation, where refuges are pressured into revealing their most fiercely guarded information, causes more delay and can of course result in significant harm. I add that refuges are not unregulated hideaways, and safeguarding standards around children will always be paramount. I stress that the amendment is absolutely not about denying contact. Indeed, if the refuge’s office address were formalised as the alternative route to service, providers would understand that they have a duty to locate the mother as soon as possible and would not be faced with a serious conflict in doing so.

In Committee, some noble Lords questioned whether it was reasonable to expect refuges to have an office address. Women’s Aid has reassured me on this point: if they do not have a separate office address, they have a PO box address that the refuge uses to ensure that GPs, police and other agencies are able to contact the women who live there.

I sincerely hope the Minister can find a way to accept the amendment, but, at the very least, I believe the guidance must be strengthened beyond doubt. I also feel strongly that the Ministry of Justice needs to find a way to keep track of the number of cases involving the service of court orders on refuge addresses and the disclosure of those addresses. If it is indeed rare then the amendment should not be too onerous, and it could ensure another check and balance on these proceedings. Furthermore, the lack of transparency in the family courts is surely something that needs looking at. I accept that that is not something for this Bill, but it has come up time and again, and it appears to present a barrier to reform.

I thank the Minister for his time on this issue. We are lucky to have his experience on these Benches, and I am sure he will bring an urgency to issues such as the one being addressed in this amendment. I beg to move.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her continued engagement on the issue of the confidentiality of refuge addresses. I take this opportunity to thank refuge providers and others in the sector who took time out of their very busy diaries to meet me on this issue: we had a very useful discussion.

As with many issues with the Bill, it seems to me that we all agree on the issues of principle. Refuges are places of safety. They play a vital role in effectively responding to domestic abuse, and in supporting victims and their children. Therefore, I am in complete agreement with the principle underlying my noble friend’s amendment, that those in refuges must be protected. As such, it is right that the Government and those involved in family proceedings carefully consider both whether existing measures offer enough protection and whether there are further steps that could be taken better to protect domestic abuse victims living in refuge accommodation.

In Committee, I outlined that those engaged in family proceedings are not required to disclose their address, or that of their children, unless specifically directed to do so by the court. Where such a disclosure direction is made, addresses are disclosed to the court only, and it is for the court to determine whether information it holds should be disclosed further. Where there are known allegations of domestic abuse, the court should hold this information as confidential. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the formulation I used in Committee was certainly intended to indicate agreement.

Turning to the service of orders at refuge addresses, I again thank those from the refuge sector with whom I discussed this issue and their experience of it. They gave some valuable evidence, and we heard some more this evening from the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. As I indicated in Committee, existing measures, particularly Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules, enable the court to direct bespoke service arrangements, and orders can be served at alternative addresses, such as the refuge office address. This approach should be taken wherever possible.

I noted the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put it: service on a refuge should be avoided. However, as I said on the last group, the real question is the welfare of the child, which is of paramount consideration in family proceedings. I remain of the view that there can be limited circumstances where the court may need to serve an order on a party at the refuge they are staying in because not doing so would pose risks to the safety of children involved in family proceedings.

One can envisage such cases, and I would not wish to limit the court’s ability to act quickly in those circumstances to safeguard a child, which might occur were we to place a blanket or inflexible restriction on addresses at which an order can be served. However, I would expect family proceedings where an order needs to be served at a residential refuge address to be very few and far between. Although the question must ultimately be a matter for the judiciary and not for the Government Front Bench, one would expect that a refuge address would be used only when there is no other viable alternative in the circumstances.

I have indicated that existing measures enable protection for victims in refuges. However, I am persuaded that there is a legitimate question of whether those measures could be strengthened to ensure that victims are better protected, that addresses are not disclosed to perpetrators, and that service of orders at refuge addresses is directed only when absolutely necessary. While I am clear that primary legislation, and therefore this amendment, is not the appropriate response here, there are other routes to explore, as I have discussed with my noble friend since Committee.

This issue has been discussed between Ministers and the President of the Family Division in recent bilateral meetings. I assure my noble friend that the judiciary is taking seriously the concerns raised. I appreciate, in this context, that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, wanted some reassurance from the Government; I hope I am giving it to him. The Whips may not agree, but one of the benefits of making slightly slower progress on Monday than we intended is that I can now say that this matter was discussed at the meeting of the Family Procedure Rule Committee on Monday, which was a couple of days ago. The committee agreed to work on this issue and will be giving it detailed consideration in the coming weeks and months.

The Government are committed to protecting vulnerable victims of domestic abuse from further harm by their abuser. I am confident that this issue is being properly and carefully considered by members of the senior judiciary and by the Family Procedure Rule Committee. I have full sympathy with the motivation behind this amendment. I understand why my noble friend has maintained this, and why the noble Lord, Lord Marks, had considerable sympathy with it on the confidentiality point, although I note that he did not engage with the lack of any exception to the proposition set out in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause—that is, service on a refuge address.

I have used my response to set out what the Government are doing and the steps being taken. I hope that, having provided that assurance to my noble friend, she will now be content to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this short but very important debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support and for putting her name to the amendment, and likewise to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, for her kind words. It was powerful to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, with all his deep knowledge of the law on these issues, and the noble Lord Ponsonby, agreed with the amendment. I felt it was important to hear them say that, and I thank them for it.

I am of course disappointed that my noble friend the Minister does not see that there is a need to put this into the Bill. I will never accept that there is justification for revealing the location of a refuge, but I have really appreciated the time that he has given to this issue. I can tell that he cares; he obviously has a concern about this issue and is committed to trying to deal with it. I absolutely accept that his response has gone further than that in Committee, so I will bank that progress and am grateful for it. We have indeed spoken at length about other routes to explore, and I will certainly be keeping in touch with him on this. I also want to pursue greater transparency.

I was very reassured—as my noble friend said, the timing has been fortunate—that the issue has already been discussed with the President of the Family Division on the back of the amendment. I do not doubt the judiciary’s willingness to tackle this and to take these accounts seriously. We will certainly keep a close eye on this and the progress that it makes. With that in mind, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 43 withdrawn.
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Baroness Grey-Thompson Portrait Baroness Grey-Thompson (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I speak to Amendments 46 and 47, which are in the name of my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton and to which my name is also added. Because Amendments 46 and 47 are an amendment to 45—and I do not wish to quote sections of the Companion to the Standing Orders to your Lordships’ House—I would like to make clear that those listed as signatories have been put in the unenviable position of making the heartbreaking decision of whether to divide the House and risk preventing the valuable amendment put by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, from being passed.

In speaking after my noble friend, I do not wish to reiterate what has already been well articulated. I would like to thank the staff of your Lordships’ House, the disabled peoples’ organisations and many disabled women for the considerable amount of work they have put into this Bill. If there is one thing I ask of the Minister and the Bill team, it is that, when legislation that has such an impact on disabled people is being considered, disabled peoples’ organisations are expressly and extensively consulted. The added issues disabled people face should always be included.

On Monday it felt that, while we might not have convinced Her Majesty’s Government of the need to include disabled people in this Bill, the Chamber strongly supported my noble friend’s amendments. I would like to thank the 318 Peers who voted to support and include disabled people this week. I am expecting that there will be much support as we debate this group, but there will be push-back from Her Majesty’s Government.

Having re-read Hansard several times this week, I fear that we still have to convince Her Majesty’s Government of the need to protect disabled people. It is important and welcome that controlling or coercive behaviour is more widely understood across society, but that same protection does not appear to be afforded to disabled people. For that, I am extremely disappointed.

I wholly, but with a sad heart, support my noble friend’s decision tonight. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, my noble friend has been put in the unenviable position of having to explain to disabled people who experience abuse in a domestic setting—whom she has spent a considerable part of her working life supporting and protecting—that the politics and procedures we are operating under have excluded their place in the Bill.

I know from extensive discussions with those involved in these amendments that, in accepting and supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which I absolutely do, if the House were divided we might put Amendment 45 at risk. There is always a price to pay by some in bringing legislation. Tonight, and in this instance, the price is being heavily paid by disabled people.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 45, but I do want to reference the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson. Their words have been very powerful, and we should never forget about the rights of disabled people. We should always try and give them a voice and make sure they are heard, because they are not heard enough in my view.

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Again, I express my thanks to my noble friend Lady Bertin for raising this issue. For these reasons, I beg to move.
Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con) [V]
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My Lords, given the hour I will be very brief. I thank the Government and my noble friend the Minister for listening and laying their own amendments to close the loophole I raised in Committee. It is a very small gap, but one it is right to fill. Doing so sends the right signal domestically and internationally. The UN said in a recent report that the home is still one of the most dangerous places for women. In many countries, sex is still seen as an automatic part of the marriage contract. No data on marital rape is collected in many countries, where not only is it not a crime but social pressure means that it is rarely reported or discussed. We have been pioneers in this area of law; it is right that this country be able to uphold the high standards of our legislation at all times.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for identifying this gap whereby marital rape is not an offence in some countries and therefore British nationals would not have been convicted had they committed marital rape in them. I am very grateful to the Minister for responding to the identification of that gap and closing it effectively.

Domestic Abuse Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Home Office

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Bertin Excerpts
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 73, to which my name is added. I also support the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Strasburger. I too extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Sarah Everard, but also to all the families and friends of those murdered since the beginning of this year. That there have been 30 murders of women since your Lordships’ House had its Second Reading of this Domestic Abuse Bill in January this year is deeply shocking. I suspect, as many of their cases come to court, that we will hear details time and again of how women sought help but were not able to get it from the people they should have been able to trust: the police and other parts of our judicial system.

I will briefly focus on three women murdered in the last five years, because what went wrong for them is still going wrong on a regular basis for this most heinous crime. They are Shana Grice, Pearl Black and Janet Scott.

Michael Lane stalked and murdered Shana in 2016. He had abused 13 girls before Shana and they had reported him for stalking. Shana herself reported him multiple times to Sussex Police. Despite this, there was no focus on Lane’s behaviour or his history, only on Shana’s. Outrageously, she was issued with a fixed penalty notice for wasting police time. She was polite and terrified, and went to the police for help. Shana did everything right, but there was no proactive investigation of Lane. In fact, he was interviewed by the police for just 12 minutes. There was no intelligence or information sharing, or referral to MAPPA.

Simon Mellors murdered two women, Pearl Black and Janet Scott. He murdered Pearl in 1999 when she split up with him. When he came out of prison, he began a relationship with Janet Scott. He coercively controlled her, threatened her and tried to kill her, which she reported to Nottinghamshire police and probation. At this point, Mellors should have been recalled on licence but no action was taken, despite her repeated reports. She was brutally murdered in 2018. The probation officer had told Janet that he doubted Mellors would reoffend, yet, when he did, police and probation took no action, saying that they just did not identify stalking behaviour. So why is it that a man who has killed his previous partner is not seen as a risk when Janet is terrified and reporting him for threatening to kill her? Janet did everything she could, and, despite the fact that Mellors had killed before, nothing was done to manage the risks and to stop him doing it again.

That is why Amendment 73 is necessary. I also heard yesterday that the Government are now considering consulting on a register for stalkers and serious and serial domestic abusers. That is not good enough. The need for a register is now and, as important, arrangements for MAPPA and ViSOR need to be strengthened. There is some very good practice, but it is not consistent, because the agencies are not being forced to work together and the impact that it is having on victims is appalling, as evidenced by the 30 murders we have seen this year alone.

My own experience was when a campaign of harassment, intimidation and then stalking started against me when I was the general election candidate in Watford. The perpetrator was my Conservative candidate opponent, a man called Ian Oakley. One of his particularly unpleasant traits was to harass and intimidate members of my local team to get to me, including poison-pen letters delivered to many houses in my area about our councillors, alleging that one of them had not supported his child in a previous marriage, and then later that he was a child sex abuser. None of this was true. He also perpetrated increasing levels of criminal damage to properties of people who supported me at election time. He sent obscene hand-drawn cartoons showing me in graphically sexual acts to our constituency office on postcards so that Royal Mail staff would see them too.

But for me, as his main target, on top of all these things happening day after day, week after week, there was more. He sent false letters about me to the weekly newspaper, the Watford Observer, making allegations about my family circumstances, trying to have us investigated by children’s services, as we were guardians and carers to two bereaved children. He reported me to Special Branch for falsifying my nomination papers; I had not. He dropped letters through my letterbox just so I knew that he knew where I lived. He phoned me very late at night and then did not talk. He sent me the most disgusting pornographic magazines in envelopes, but without stamps on, so I had to go to the Royal Mail collection office and pay for an envelope without knowing that it was yet another form of abuse. His messages would let me know that he had been following me at night when out canvassing. It was utterly relentless for three years.

Initially, I coped by cataloguing, reporting and helping others to report incidents to the police; I had a comprehensive Excel spreadsheet that grew. For the first 18 months, each reported incident was dismissed as “not serious”. Then the incidents grew and became more serious. Once we were at over 130 incidents on my spreadsheet, two detectives suddenly got it—they joined up the dots. By this time, we knew who it was, but there was no proof. We were issued with an operation name and mobile numbers for the detectives.

Publicly, I was very angry and determined that he would be caught, but privately, I felt constantly sick and nervous most of the time. I became tearful and anxious about having to go out campaigning in the evening in winter months; always watching, anywhere I went. I also felt personally responsible for the incidents targeted at my friends, colleagues and supporters, and I know that other victims of stalkers feel the same when their families and friends are targeted too.

Even when we had the evidence, after my husband bought and installed 10 CCTV cameras at the sites repeatedly targeted by Oakley, two things happened that still shock me today. The first was that a very senior police officer warned the detectives that they would be unlikely to prosecute a case like this, seen as political. That changed when Oakley started on my noble friend Lady Thornhill, who was then the elected Mayor of Watford, and an arrest was made very swiftly, thank goodness. The second thing was that not one of the more serious charges—to which Oakley had pleaded not guilty—was taken any further. This included incidents using 10-inch knives to slash car tyres, defamatory poison-pen letters distributed to large numbers of people, and the sending of pornographic images. For all of this, he received an 18-week suspended sentence—for a three-year campaign—and a year’s community order.

I relate my experience because the nature of the progression of the stalking is of utter relentlessness, and the police reaction is still not unusual. In 2016, eight years after my case, only 37 stalking offenders and 93 harassment offenders received a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or more and were therefore automatically eligible to be managed under the MAPPA process as category 2 offenders. However, we do not know how many of these offenders were either referred to or subsequently managed under MAPPA, but as the number of automatically eligible offences is low, and the number of prosecutions for serious harassment and stalking is considerably higher, we can infer that a substantial number of potentially dangerous individuals were not managed under recognised offender management processes.

The Violence Against Women and Girls report shows that in 2017-18 80% of stalkers did not face a charge. Out of over 10,000 only 1,800 were charged, 212 were convicted and only 48 went to prison. Furthermore, most cases were recorded as harassment or something lesser, as in my case, and in 2018-19 there was a further 10% decrease in stalking prosecutions. It is probable that the new stalking protection order will make sure that this continues to decrease as it is an easy alternative. In many domestic violence and stalking case prosecutions—where it is rare that convictions occur—unduly lenient sentences resulted for stalking, domestic violence and coercive control: namely, weeks, months or suspended sentences, which in no way reflects the severity of the crimes.

Stalkers have specific and complex needs to address due to their fixated and obsessive behaviour. For some, this behaviour becomes more serious as time goes on. There is a lack of suitable programmes for stalkers that will reduce the likelihood of reoffending and protect members of the public. It is vital that police, prosecutors, probation, judges and magistrates are trained to understand stalking, including the risks and dangers of stalkers, as well as the stalking legislation which was introduced in 2012 following the stalking law reform inquiry, which I worked on with Robert Buckland. This assumes even more significance if there is to be a stalkers’ and serial perpetrators’ register database, which we are calling for in this amendment. We believe it is urgently needed—now. We urgently need the elements to ensure that people such as stalkers are included in MAPPA.

Baroness Bertin Portrait Baroness Bertin (Con)
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My goodness me, I am almost left speechless by the account of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, of what happened to her; I am so sorry that she had to endure that, and it is hard to disagree with a word that she said. Having taken the now enacted Stalking Protection Bill through this House, I understand the very serious nature of this issue. I would also like to say that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, has spoken passionately to her amendment.

One note of caution is that MAPPA adviser arrangements are far from perfect as they stand. Only one thing that could be worse than not monitoring serial offenders and stalkers in this way is to say that we are keeping track of them, but in fact the opposite turns out to be true, due either to poor resourcing or a systems failure. So, if my noble friend the Minister is minded to reconsider this amendment, we must make sure the systems have the resource and the capacity—but it is hard to disagree after hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, make that speech.

I will now speak to Amendment 81. Sometimes events happen that make society stand up and say, “No more”. The tragic murder of Sarah Everard has done exactly that. As we know, she is the 118th woman to be killed over the past year. Their names may be less familiar, but each and every one of them must be remembered. I praise the honourable Member for Birmingham Yardley for doing just that in the other place, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, who just now read out the 30 women who have been killed since the Bill was brought to this House.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I mention my own cousin once again. Her name was Christine Bertin. At the age of 18 she had her whole life in front of her. Instead, she was murdered by a complete stranger. He had been harassing local girls in her neighbourhood in a suburb in Paris and she, also, had caught his eye. Unbeknown to her and my family he stalked her movements over a period of time, and when he knew she was alone in the house he forced himself in and he strangled her.

My heart therefore goes out to all those families who have lost loved ones at the hands of a killer. The journey they are now on is a long and lonely one, with no real end in sight. My cousin died many years ago now, but the sorrow we still feel is as acute as on the day she was murdered. No family should ever feel this. Sympathy and anger can and will spill over, but the only real thing we can do for them and their dead daughters, sisters and mothers is to ensure that they have not died in vain. We have to match heartfelt words with the far harder task of making changes that will actually drive down this death toll for good. I believe there is a lot in this Bill that will work towards that.

Stranger attacks and domestic abuse are inextricably linked. The media will alight on the former, and the latter, quite unacceptably, often just gets a shrug, as though it is some kind of inevitability. But the reality is that abuse and misogyny in the home flows freely into the street; they are the same crime. I often reflect that, if the police at the time of my cousin’s murder had taken that man’s harassment of young girls more seriously, if his behaviour had been called out as grossly unacceptable by his peers, or if he had been put on a perpetrator scheme such as the ones we now know work, my cousin just might still be alive today. His behaviour, and that of so many potential murderers and serial abusers, was simply allowed to carry on unchecked and unstopped. This must end.

However, the debate should not be about men versus women. If a boy is seeing only abuse and violence at home, compounding it with violence and abuse online, without the right support and guidance there is a chance that he will carry on that cycle. Early intervention and recognition of this are essential. I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger, for relaying this amendment. It was in my name in Committee and I support it wholeheartedly.

In the interests of time, I will not repeat what I said in Committee, but it feels more urgent than ever to focus attention on the perpetrator—the person actually committing the abuse. We will never see any real change in behaviours and attitudes if we carry on putting this as an afterthought. The new funding for perpetrators announced in the Budget was very welcome; more will be needed if we are to ensure a quality response everywhere, but it is certainly a really important move to building up a quality-assured national capacity to respond to perpetrators. We know that fewer than 1% of perpetrators receive any kind of intervention; that is a shocking statistic.