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Domestic Abuse: Supporting Victims

Volume 678: debated on Tuesday 14 July 2020

My Ministers and I are in regular contact with our counterparts across Government and the sector to ensure the smooth passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill and to provide timely support for victims at this difficult time. We announced £76 million to support the most vulnerable during the pandemic, including survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

One in six crimes in West Yorkshire is linked to domestic abuse. Lifting the lockdown restrictions may lead to an increase in reporting of this type of crime. What plans are in place to enable courts to deal with these cases swiftly?

My hon. Friend is right to talk about a local aspect of what is a national issue. The courts continue to prioritise cases of the utmost seriousness, which include domestic abuse. On 1 July we published a courts recovery plan, setting out how we are preparing to operate courts and tribunals after the pandemic, which includes priority being given to domestic abuse cases.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s remarks about priorities. The fact that courts have not been able to sit because of the covid-19 emergency has led to some hearings relating to domestic abuse being delayed, which is particularly damaging when child custody is contested and access to children is involved. What steps is he taking to ensure that these cases are heard at the earliest opportunity?

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. He will be glad to know that we are promoting access to the family courts via video or telephone, as well as through the 157 priority courts that remained open throughout the pandemic for essential face-to-face hearings. Domestic violence protection orders and non-molestation orders continue to be listed for urgent hearings, despite the current restrictions.

On Black Country Day, it is fitting that I pay tribute to Sam Billingham, a constituent of mine who, this being necessitated by her experience, founded her own domestic violence charity in the west midlands called SODA, which offers support for domestic abuse survivors. What is the Ministry doing to ensure that domestic violence survivors who do not have access to a lawyer can apply for domestic abuse injunctions?

I readily join my hon. Friend in paying tribute to the work of local campaigners such as the ones in her constituency. She will be pleased to know that we are providing £800,000 of funding to the FLOWS—Finding Legal Options for Women Survivors—project run by RCJ Advice, which provides free legal support to victims of domestic abuse who wish to apply for an emergency protective order from the courts. That funding is used to provide a helpline and email service, where victims can be referred to a legal aid solicitor or receive free advice directly.

Will my right and learned hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to grassroots organisations such as MK Act in my constituency, which has worked tirelessly to assist victims of domestic abuse throughout the lockdown? I would also like to make the House aware of the Open University open justice team, who have collaborated with the charity Support Through Court to launch free online resources to support those dealing with domestic abuse.

I am delighted to hear of the excellent work done by those organisations in Milton Keynes. We fully recognise the role that charities across the country play in providing vital services, which is why we announced £28 million of funding across Government to support domestic abuse charities providing services in safe accommodation and in the community. I am aware of the collaborative work done by the Open University and Support Through Court. That work was funded, in part, by a Ministry of Justice grant.

I was proud to support the Domestic Abuse Bill in this place last week, which shows that we are tackling this serious crime and protecting victims. Most domestic abuse charities reported an increase in cases during the lockdown and fear a further surge in cases as restrictions are lifted. While I appreciate the money that the Government have made available for charities during lockdown, will my right hon. and learned Friend fight for additional funding to support the expected surge in demand from domestic abuse survivors?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s diligence in this area, and I am grateful to him for high- lighting the challenges. He will be glad to know that of the £76 million that we announced in May to help the most vulnerable people in society, £10 million has been allocated for charities providing safe accommodation, such as refuges; £2 million has been allocated for national and other non-local charities providing support to victims of domestic abuse in the community; and £25 million is already being allocated via police and crime commissioners for support services for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence. Finally, there is an additional £3 million specifically to fund independent sexual violence advisers for the next two years.