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Female Genital Mutilation

Volume 533: debated on Tuesday 11 October 2011

2. What representations he has received on the updated guidelines issued to prosecutors by the Crown Prosecution Service on the offence of female genital mutilation. (72845)

I have received no representations regarding the new legal guidance on female genital mutilation published by the Crown Prosecution Service on 7 September 2011.

It is well known that European countries such as France and Sweden have brought successful prosecutions on this matter, but it may surprise the House that many African countries such as Liberia, Ghana, Kenya and Burkina Faso have also brought such prosecutions. However, in the 25 years since the UK legislated on this matter, we have brought no prosecutions for this terrible crime. Does the Attorney-General feel that the new guidelines will bring that possibility closer, and will he urge prosecutors to use the expertise built up in child sexual abuse cases to bring prosecutions closer?

As I am sure my hon. Friend will understand, the Crown Prosecution Service has cases referred to it by the police, and if cases of female genital mutilation are referred, I can absolutely assure her that every effort will be made to prosecute them successfully if the evidential base on which to proceed is present. I understand that, in 2010-11, only one case was considered for prosecution by the CPS, and it resulted in no further action being taken because it did not meet the evidential criteria.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend that if we are to prosecute such cases successfully, we need to create a climate in which victims can come forward. Of course, in many cases people will have become victims when very young, and that is one problem that besets the matter. I simply say, finally, that the fact that there have not been prosecutions does not necessarily mean that the legislation is not succeeding at least in providing some deterrent effect on individuals engaging in this appalling behaviour.

I strongly support the thrust of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Battersea (Jane Ellison). Would it not perhaps be sensible to monitor unexplained absences from school among young girls from certain communities, to try to build up some evidence to pursue prosecutions?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point. I certainly know anecdotally, and indeed from visits to a school in my constituency, of concerns being expressed by teachers about the absence of pupils who appeared to have been sent abroad. In that context his idea is very sensible, but as he will appreciate, it will require co-ordination. The Crown Prosecution Service will not be able to do it on its own.