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Domestic Violence

Volume 542: debated on Tuesday 20 March 2012

5. What recent progress he has made in increasing the rate of prosecutions for domestic violence. (100656)

The number of domestic violence prosecutions in England and Wales has increased from 57,361 in 2006-07 to 82,187 in 2010-11. Prosecution in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is, of course, a matter for the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland.

Each year, many of those who suffer domestic violence return to the home where it all began. For them, legal aid is vital before a decision is made. Will the Minister urge his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice not to reverse the improvements in protection for victims of domestic violence that the Lords have made to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill?

I will certainly make sure that my right hon. and hon. Friends in that Department have heard what the hon. Gentleman has had to say.

On domestic violence, does the Solicitor-General agree that the programme of having independent domestic violence and sexual violence advisers supporting victims has improved conviction rates?

Yes, my hon. Friend may well know that from his own experience as a criminal law practitioner, but it is certainly true for an observant Member of Parliament, too.

Housing authorities in Sheffield have reported to me an increase in domestic violence, given the stress on families resulting from the economic situation. Will the Minister tell us what the Government are finding out about domestic violence generally, as he has reported an increase in prosecutions? Is domestic violence increasing overall, and what work is going on across Government to look at this issue, which still leads, week by week, to women being killed by current or former partners?

My take on the matter is necessarily narrow, as it is to superintend the Crown Prosecution Service and its conduct of such prosecutions. Of course I am generally aware of the matter to which the hon. Lady refers, and it may well affect her constituents more than mine. The short answer is that the Government, and certainly my Department, will bear down on domestic violence—however it is caused or wherever it happens—so that women, in particular, can be protected and those who are guilty of it can be brought to justice.

6. What recent assessment he has made of the role of special domestic violence courts in improving prosecution rates for domestic violence. (100657)

Evaluations of specialist domestic violence courts, or SDVCs, in 2005 and 2008 clearly demonstrated that they had contributed to improving prosecution rates, as well as safety, for victims of domestic violence. There have been no further formal assessments since 2008.

In the light of the truly disgraceful comments by the actor Dennis Waterman, does the Minister agree that now might be a good time to reassure the House that the vital services provided by domestic violence courts will be maintained, despite the court closure programme and the plan to close 23 of them? Will those vital services be protected during the transfer of services?

Yes, they will. We need to distinguish between bricks and mortar and the service provided by the specialist courts. There will be a reduction in the court estate, but it is certainly my intention that there should be no reduction in the service provided for victims of domestic violence.

It is good news all round that stalking has been made a criminal offence, but there are countless examples of victims of stalking having been ignored for years by the authorities, despite the fact that the stalkers are already breaking the law. The law is one issue: enforcement is another. Will the Solicitor-General reassure the House that the new laws will be properly and robustly enforced?

As soon as the new criminal law comes into effect, it will of course be up to the police to provide the Crown Prosecution Service with the evidence upon which prosecutions can be progressed, but my hon. Friend makes a good general point, which will be followed up.