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Rape and Domestic Violence Prosecutions

Volume 568: debated on Tuesday 15 October 2013

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on increasing the number of prosecutions for rape and domestic violence. (900458)

5. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of domestic violence. (900462)

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of domestic violence. (900465)

The Attorney-General and I regularly discuss the effective prosecution of cases of violence against women and girls, including both domestic violence and rape, with the Director of Public Prosecutions. Discussions also take place between the DPP, the police and the Home Office. In 2012-13 the proportion of such cases resulting in conviction increased to 74.3% for domestic violence and 63.2% for rape.

Under this Government more and more cases of both rape and domestic violence are being dropped by the police without being referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecution, leaving offenders unpunished and free and leaving victims vulnerable. What are the Government going to do about this?

The hon. Gentleman is right. The Government are aiming to increase the number not only of prosecutions, but of successful ones which result in conviction. On 26 September this year the Director of Public Prosecutions held a meeting with all the other stakeholders—the police, the Home Office, the College of Policing and the Attorney-General’s Office—to look at why the referrals from police to the CPS had fallen. Six actions were agreed at that time.

Does the Solicitor-General share my concerns that for 2012-13 around 30% of defendants for domestic violence were aged under 24, and more than 2,000 were between 14 and 17 years old? What are the Government doing to tackle domestic violence among young people?

My hon. Friend has a strong record of campaigning on this issue and he is absolutely right: it is of concern that young people are perpetrating domestic violence. The Government’s action plan for violence against women and girls includes a programme to increase understanding and awareness of these issues, and the DPP’s national scrutiny panel last year focused on teenage relationship abuse. The CPS is putting together specific training for prosecutors on issues to take into account when they are prosecuting cases and also to support the victims.

Taking into account the gravity of the offence, there is a concern that too many cautions are being issued in domestic violence cases. If this is established to be happening, will the Solicitor-General work with the Home Secretary to address it?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. As he will know, the Secretary of State for Justice has announced a wider review of out-of- court disposals, but at the recent meeting which I mentioned, convened by the Director of Public Prosecutions, it was agreed that there needs to be a closer analysis of domestic violence figures and how out-of-court disposals are being dealt with. That is ongoing.

The Solicitor-General has given us a rather tantalising answer, telling us that in September there was a meeting on ensuring that more cases were taken by the police and given to the Crown Prosecution Service for charging. We are all concerned that the CPS is not getting enough cases in front of it on which to make decisions. The Solicitor-General tells us that six actions have been agreed. Would he like to tell us what they are?

I did not want to trespass on Mr Speaker’s good will, but I am delighted to set out the six actions. First, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary will carry out a themed inspection of domestic violence, liaising closely with the Home Office and the CPS. Secondly, the evidence that I have just mentioned about how out-of-court disposals are dealt with will be examined in more detail to see what is happening in this area. Thirdly, the performance of the CPS is being closely examined to see whether there are differences between areas in the way in which cases are referred. The fourth action entails looking at the independent domestic violence adviser network and making sure that it is performing consistently across the country. Fifthly, six areas are being reviewed and cases which were not referred to the police are being examined closely to see why. Sixthly, the Crown Prosecution Service is going to give further advice to the police about how to pursue cases without the witnesses giving evidence.

Just about, Mr Speaker.

In 2012 there was the tragic death in my constituency of Eystna Blunnie, a victim of domestic violence. The CPS admitted that there had been a failure to prosecute the murderer for a previous assault. What steps are my hon. and learned Friend and the Government taking to ensure that the CPS properly follows through prosecutions of perpetrators of domestic violence?

Of course, the key is to have regular meetings and to issue the sort of guidelines that the Director of Public Prosecutions has done. If my hon. Friend wishes to write to me about the case he mentioned, I will certainly ensure that any review that is still available is undertaken.

As the hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) pointed out, this is a serious matter, and the consequences are serious. In Thames Valley last year there were 9,804 recorded incidents of crime involving domestic violence, but a further 22,627 incidents were reported to the police, and we know that such cases sometimes end in a tragic death. I fear that the hon. and learned Gentleman’s six actions are a bit laid back. What is he going to do?

First, the six actions relate to one important aspect: ensuring that referrals come through from the police to the CPS. But let us be clear that over recent years huge progress has been made, in both the proportion of cases that are prosecuted and the conviction rates achieved. The hon. Lady is absolutely right that we need a cross-governmental strategy, which we have in the action plan of the interministerial group on violence against women and girls, so there is no complacency in that regard, but she must recognise that there are achievements as well as areas that need improvement.