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Offences Against the Person Act 1861: Section 24

Volume 703: debated on Thursday 18 November 2021

1. What steps she is taking to help improve prosecution levels relating to section 24 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861. (904187)

The recent rise in reports of spiking is incredibly concerning. The Crown Prosecution Service will always treat maliciously administering poison as a high harm offence. In 2020-21, the CPS brought 222 charges under section 24, which was an increase of 22% on the previous year.

It is truly horrendous to see reports in recent weeks about the huge numbers of people who are being spiked and then unable to find any sort of recourse to the criminal justice system. I am sure the Attorney General agrees with that. Does she further agree that it cannot be right to simply wait for the police to tell the Government how they can improve the levels of prosecution and bring about new charges? It really should be now for the Government to review the legislation to ensure that the victims are able to find redress and that those people who undertake spiking are prosecuted with the full force of the law.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to raise this issue, and I share his concern. I am really pleased that the Home Secretary has asked the National Police Chiefs’ Council to urgently review the extent and scale of the issue. Of note is that there was an increase of 46% in the number of prosecutions brought by CPS Wales for offences under section 24. On the point about the legislative framework, he will know of course that section 24 is not the only avenue for redress. There is section 23, and section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which can be used in appropriate circumstances.

Women and girls in pubs and nightclubs understandably feel vulnerable to having their drinks spiked, being spiked by needles or being supplied with dodgy and illegal drugs. The maximum penalty under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 is 10 years in prison. How many of those who have been prosecuted have been sentenced to 10 years?

As I mentioned, several legal bases may be invoked in regard to these circumstances. Section 23, which covers poisoning that endangers a person’s life, carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. CPS figures show that there were 10 charges for that offence in 2020-21. Section 61, which is an offence to administer a substance to a person without their consent, again carries a maximum of 10 years in prison. Again, there were 10 charges for that offence in 2020-21.

Chilling reports of women being spiked by injection are just the latest example of the epidemic of violence that has left women and girls feeling unsafe. The latest figures show there were 1,223 reports of spiking under this Act, yet only 88 convictions, so will the Attorney General confirm her Government’s support for Labour’s amendment, tabled in the other place, calling for a wide-ranging review into the prevalence of spiking and the response of the criminal justice system when investigating these offences, or will she continue to allow women and girls to be failed by this Government?

As I mentioned, the Home Secretary has already asked for an urgent review on the scale of this particular problem, about which we are very concerned. We are supporting the roll-out of pilot initiatives to improve the safety of women at nightlife venues. The £5 million safety of women at night fund and the £25 million safer streets fund will support projects that target potential perpetrators, seek to protect potential victims and deliver programmes intended to address offending behaviour.