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Early Prisoner Release: Domestic Violence

Volume 677: debated on Tuesday 9 June 2020

What steps he has taken as part of the early prison release scheme to ensure that potential victims of violence in domestic settings are protected during the covid-19 lockdown period. (902951)

What steps he has taken as part of the early prison release scheme to ensure potential victims of violence in domestic settings are protected during the covid-19 lockdown period. (902957)

Domestic abuse is an abhorrent crime, and I am determined to better protect and support the victims of abuse and their children and to bring perpetrators to justice. I also recognise that measures announced to tackle covid-19 can cause anxiety for those experiencing or feeling at risk of domestic abuse, and therefore I have excluded any prisoner convicted of an offence relating to domestic violence, including harassment and stalking, from the scheme. I have also excluded anyone who is identified by prisons, police or other agencies as a domestic abuse risk from release under the scheme.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. As he will know, an increase in domestic abuse has been widely reported during the covid-19 outbreak. How many conversations have he and the Home Secretary had about suspending “no recourse to public funds” for any victims of domestic abuse to whom that condition applies?

The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that the Home Secretary and I discuss many issues relating to domestic abuse. With regard to public funding and access to justice, he will know that in a large number of measures involving police activity on domestic violence prevention orders, legal aid is not a barrier to those orders being made. Indeed, emergency applications make the domestic abuse test somewhat more accessible for people who need that protection. There is ongoing work with regard to aspects of legal aid, which we will return to later in the year, but I assure him that we are doing everything we can to assist the victims of domestic abuse, and not just in terms of access to legal proceedings.

There is real concern that a six-month time limit on a summary charge could mean that some domestic abuse victims may lose out on the opportunity to take charge during lockdown. What steps is the Department taking to address those concerns?

The hon. Lady raises an important point about summary-only offences, which, although relatively speaking might be not as serious as some other types of charge, have real effects upon the victims of domestic abuse. I have certainly drawn my mind to that issue throughout this crisis. I am confident, from the police activity I see, that arrests and charges continue and that a number of perpetrators are being charged within that time. Nothing has led me to believe that there should be a problem with regard to timely charging within the six-month time limit. That can be done, and then these people can be brought to justice.