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Domestic Violence

Volume 640: debated on Thursday 10 May 2018

2. What recent discussions he has had with the CPS on its effectiveness in prosecuting cases involving domestic violence. (905220)

I discuss domestic abuse regularly with the CPS, which continues to improve its performance in that area. In the 10 years between 2007 and 2017, the number of convictions secured rose by 61%. The conviction rate rose to its highest ever level of 75.7% last year.

I thank the Attorney General for that answer, but he will appreciate that stark regional variations in the rates of prosecution for domestic abuse exist throughout the country. What specific steps will he take to ensure consistency and fairness right across the country?

The hon. Lady is right to say that there is variation including, as she knows, in the number of cases referred to the CPS by the police. Of course, the CPS cannot prosecute unless a case is referred to it. We must ensure that those variations are understood and ironed out where possible, and the CPS is working closely with the police at a regional and national level to ensure that that happens.

Which regional CPS prosecutes domestic violence the best and which prosecutes it the worst, and will the Attorney General put the two together to compare notes?

As ever, my hon. Friend finds out the homework that I have not done, but if I can get back to him with those figures, I will. To reinforce the point I made to the hon. Member for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes), it is important that the CPS understands where regional variation occurs and the reasons for that and, where possible, we must ensure that lessons from the best are learned by the worst.

Despite the fact that, as we know, far too many victims of domestic violence still do not come forward, the violence against women and girls crime report shows that the overall volume of domestic violence prosecutions fell from 100,913 in 2016 to 93,519 in 2017. Does the Attorney General expect that figure to start rising again this year?

As I indicated, I think that part of that is to do with referrals. It is important to be clear about what is driving the figures, and I think a large part is those cases that are not referred by the police to the CPS for prosecution at the moment.

The hon. Gentleman raises a good point about the wider picture. It is important that we do all that we can to ensure that victims of domestic violence feel able to come forward to report what has happened to them and that they feel confident that the criminal justice system will deal with them sensitively. He will know that we have put in place a range of measures—not least to enable giving evidence to be somewhat easier—to make sure that that happens.

The Attorney General is right to refer to referrals, but it is important that we do all that we can to ensure that the criminal justice system supports victims. If the figure does not rise in 2018, will he undertake to look again at the domestic abuse guidelines for prosecutors to ensure that we are doing all we possibly can in this area?

I will certainly do that. It is important that we keep the figures under constant review. The hon. Gentleman will know that the Government are engaged in a consultation, to which we have already had some 800 responses, on the broader picture of domestic abuse. It is important that we look at both legislative and non-legislative options to make sure that across the board we are doing all we can to support victims.

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that new technologies such as video evidence give victims of domestic abuse greater access to justice by helping them to come forward and challenge their abusers?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is important, where we can, to be sensitive to vulnerable witnesses who do not wish to face the defendant. Through the roll-out of pilots involving pre-recorded cross-examination as well as examination-in-chief, they will be able to get their part in the case over with entirely without going into the court room.

Following prosecution, effective perpetrator interventions, such as those with which I worked before I became an MP—I declare an interest—can help to prevent domestic violence offenders becoming repeat offenders. Will the Attorney General encourage Members across the House to join the all-party group on perpetrator programmes, which I am launching next week?

I am not sure if I am allowed to do endorsements, Mr Speaker, but I entirely agree with the hon. Lady. What she refers to is incredibly important. I am sure all Members would wish to pay tribute to the work she has done. It is important, because we need to make sure that, across the spectrum of activities we can carry out, we do all that we can to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse before it happens. It is far better, as she says, to do that than to deal with these matters through prosecution. I hope that she will be able to contribute to the consultation that is under way and give it the benefit of her wisdom.

Will the Attorney General speak to colleagues in the Department for Education about the merits of training more domestic violence specialist social workers, given that about three quarters of child safeguarding cases involve domestic violence? That might help with prevention and provide more information that can lead to successful prosecutions.

I agree with my hon. Friend, who makes a very good point. It is important that we look at ways in which we can prevent as well as cure through the prosecution process. Social workers have a hugely important part to play and we want to make sure that we work with them.