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Domestic Abuse

Volume 672: debated on Tuesday 25 February 2020

8. What steps he is taking to support victims of domestic abuse through the criminal justice system. (900818)

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime, and we are determined to better protect and support victims and their children and bring perpetrators to justice. We are fully committed to enacting the landmark domestic abuse Bill during this Session. That Bill, and the wider action plan, will help to ensure that victims have the confidence to come forward and report their experiences, safe in the knowledge that those in the justice system and other agencies will do all in their power to protect and support them and their children and to pursue the abusers.

What steps are being taken in tackling domestic abuse that are directed at perpetrator programmes to deal with the root cause of this serious problem?

My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of perpetrator engagement. There are a number of programmes aimed both at those who have been convicted of domestic abuse and at those who have not received such criminal convictions but who pose a real risk. The programmes address the factors that lead to domestic abuse, helping to teach people how to solve problems, manage their own emotions, and make the changes in their lives that will render them less rather than more likely to commit acts of domestic abuse. However, the effectiveness of the programmes is subject to ongoing review via monitoring and evaluation.

Will the Minister give a cast-iron guarantee that the domestic abuse Bill will be reintroduced during this Session?

Matthew Ellis, the Staffordshire police and crime commissioner, reports that three out of four victims of domestic abuse in Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire have children, and local head teachers have raised concerns with me about the effect on those children. What are the Government doing to support children who have witnessed domestic violence?

My hon. Friend raises a very important issue. Domestic abuse has a devastating impact on children and young people, which is why the Government have provided £8 million over the last two years for services designed to support children who are affected by it. We are also supporting the roll-out of Operation Encompass, which ensures that information is shared between the police and local schools when children have been exposed to domestic abuse. Following last year’s children in need review, we have committed ourselves to further action to improve the way in which that service is delivered.

At the moment, the justice system is failing the most vulnerable victims. Far too often, domestic abusers are using the family and criminal courts to publicly re-traumatise their victims. Will the Minister ensure that no woman is callously and unjustly cross-examined by her abuser, and will he ensure that these provisions are in place by the end of this year at the latest?

The hon. Lady is right to raise the perpetuation of abuse through the court system. That is why the provisions in the domestic abuse Bill relating to the prohibition of cross-examination by perpetrators are so important, and they will remain in the Bill when it is reintroduced. She will remember welcoming it last time. I can assure her that the special measures that we have already taken in the criminal courts, which she knows about, will be replicated in other forums to offer maximum protection and support to victims who get abused in that way.

Given the recent well-publicised judgment in the Court of Appeal on consent and the family courts, does the Secretary of State agree with the President of the Family Court when he said:

“I am confident that every judge and every magistrate undertaking family law proceedings now fully understands…the emotional and psychological harm that may be inflicted by one adult in a close relationship upon the other and upon their children”.

If he does not share the president’s confidence, will he raise that matter with Andrew McFarlane urgently?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. This relates to a case that enlisted an appropriately high degree of public interest and concern. She will be glad to know that I will be seeing the president tomorrow and that we will discuss this issue. I do share his confidence; he is an extremely experienced family practitioner and judge whose judgment I respect, and I will be talking about that issue, among many others, with him tomorrow morning.

20. My constituent has been a victim of domestic abuse, harassment and assault. The offender got a community rehabilitation order but Staffordshire and West Midlands failed to enforce it, so he has walked scot-free and she is still being harassed. Where is the justice for her? (900830)

It would be wrong of me to comment on an individual case, but there is a general principle about the enforcement of court orders and something has clearly gone seriously wrong here. That is why, as Minister of State and now as Lord Chancellor, I am driving forward, together with my colleague the Minister of State, thoroughgoing reform of the process so that we can ensure that when community orders are made they are properly enforced. If the hon. Gentleman wants to write to me about that particular case, I would be happy to hear his representations.

What assessment has my right hon. and learned Friend made of the rape and sexual abuse fund, and does he have any plans to increase its funding?

My hon. Friend raises an important point that affects people in his constituency and others right across the country. He will be glad to know that I have already referred to an increase to £32 million in regard to rape support services. We are also increasing support for independent sexual violence advisers. We announced a £5 million package relating to support services in September, and I want to drive that work further forward, first with the improved victims code and then with a victims law. Together with that, the evidence clearly shows that independent sexual violence advisers really make a difference when it comes to the maintenance of complaints of a sexual nature.