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Domestic Violence

Volume 405: debated on Thursday 22 May 2003

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19.

If she will make a statement on her Department's handling of cases of domestic violence. [115015]

The Crown Prosecution Service, which the Attorney-General and I superintend, handles about 13,000 cases of domestic violence each year. Most are dealt with in the magistrates courts, but domestic violence also results in serious injury and death, and such cases are dealt with in the Crown court. The Government and the CPS are strongly committed to effective prosecution of domestic violence, so that women and children are protected and perpetrators are held to account for their crimes.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer and I invite her to use her powers of appeal against lenient sentences, so that we can get across the message that such offences will not be tolerated.

My hon. Friend raises an important point about sentencing in cases of domestic violence. If women go through the ordeal of domestic violence, have to go to court to support a prosecution and the man is simply given a slap on the wrist, the impression is that the courts have not taken the matter seriously and other women will think, "What's the point?" The Attorney-General and I take the issue seriously and we have the power to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal if they are, in our view, unduly lenient. In domestic violence cases, we will send—and have sent—cases to the Court of Appeal, because the lower courts have not taken them seriously enough. On several occasions, the Court of Appeal has agreed with us and increased the sentence. I remind hon. Members that they can refer such cases to us if examples come to their attention in their constituencies.

I thank the Solicitor-General for the answers that she has given on this important matter. She is aware that I have dealt with many domestic violence injunction cases in county courts. Will she recognise that many people are concerned that the police are still too slow to respond to reports of domestic violence? Will she use her good offices to try to liaise with police forces, to ensure that reports of domestic violence receive a prompt response from the police? Will she also recognise that appeal against over-lenient sentences, which she has just mentioned, was one of the most important powers introduced by the previous Conservative Government?

Yes, I acknowledge that the powers introduced in the Criminal Justice Act 1988 to refer sentences to the Court of Appeal were an important change in the law by the previous Government, and I give them full credit for that. The police have changed their attitude and are stepping up their act on domestic violence. Part of that is a general change in attitude and a recognition across society that attacking a woman in the home is every bit as bad as attacking a stranger in the street. The police response is improving and ACPO is monitoring that. It is important that the police have the right powers and information, and a good partnership with the CPS. We want men to realise that if they attack their wives and girlfriends, they are not ordinary, upstanding members of the community, but criminals—and as bad as any other sort of criminal. We must get the issue out from behind closed doors and make people recognise that domestic violence is a crime that will be investigated and prosecuted.