New guidance on handling cases of domestic abuse was announced by the Director of Public Prosecutions on 29 December last year, and that will help the CPS to deal effectively with a projected 20,000 more cases this year than two years ago. The updated guidance sets out the handling of all aspects of domestic abuse offending, including the many ways that abusers can control, coerce and psychologically abuse their victims. The new proposed offence of coercive and controlling behaviour announced by the Home Secretary will be introduced in the Serious Crime Bill.
I congratulate the Solicitor-General on the progress made so far, but a recent study showed that families experiencing domestic violence are 23 times more likely to abuse their children under the age of five. Does he acknowledge that children, who are more often than not the victims, often inherit those domestic violence traits themselves, and what is he doing to protect children from domestic violence abusers as early as possible?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s continuing work in this field, both when he was a Minister and as a Member of Parliament. The CPS guidelines are clear that the presence of children must be treated as an aggravating factor when deciding whether or not to prosecute. Often, criminal justice procedures are difficult for children and young people, who feel that they have to take sides, and special measures are available if they have to give evidence. I will do everything I can to ensure that children are protected within the criminal justice system.
Last spring in my constituency two women were brutally murdered by their partners within a three-week period, one alongside her toddler daughter. In both cases, families, friends and others in the community were aware that abuse was taking place. Is the Solicitor-General content that evidence gathered by the police from others outside the direct situation is being used effectively and passed to the CPS to aid in prosecutions?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I cannot comment on those specific cases, but she makes an important point about collaboration among agencies, whether social services or other arms of local government. The CPS and the police are clear that there needs to be even better collaborative working to ensure that tell-tale signs are not missed before it is too late.
I welcome the announcement of a new measure on domestic abuse by coercive and controlling behaviour. Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm whether this important proposed legislation, which could have had a real impact on the life of Hollie Gazzard, who was brutally murdered in Gloucester not long ago, will be complete before this Parliament comes to an end?
My hon. Friend raises a tragic case. The Government have such cases very much in mind when making sure that the full course of domestic violence conduct is reflected by the criminal law. The Serious Crime Bill will be in Committee next week, and is the platform on which these important reforms will be introduced. I very much hope that Royal Assent will be achieved before the Dissolution of Parliament.
Recent press reports have suggested that cuts to legal aid have been putting victims of domestic violence at a disadvantage, and even deterring them from pursuing their cases at law. Will the Attorney-General be making representations to the Justice Secretary on this serious matter?
My particular concern is the prosecution of cases involving domestic abuse. I am happy to say that numbers continue to rise, both in terms of the proportion of conviction rates and the absolute number of police referrals. In fact, we have now reached the highest number of police referrals ever recorded.