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Violence against Women and Girls

Volume 730: debated on Tuesday 28 March 2023

1. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (904342)

The Government are taking a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls. Just this month, in response to the Wade review, we announced tougher sentences for domestic abusers who kill their partners and ex-partners.

It is now more than two months since His Majesty’s inspectorate of probation published its independent “Serious Further Offences” report into Jordan McSweeney, following the murder of Zara Aleena. Have the Government yet implemented the urgent actions set out in that report?

I have met Zara Aleena’s family and the chief inspector of probation to talk about those failings. We have accepted all of the recommendations. I can write to the hon. Gentleman in relation to those, because they were numerous, but we are in the process of implementing each and every one of them.

The Rape Crisis report, published yesterday, found that rape survivors are waiting 839 days for their cases to be heard in court—longer than for any other crime type. These delays are causing harm to some of the most traumatised victims. Many are dropping out of their cases altogether, while others have tried to take their own life. When will the Government fully commit to rolling out specialist rape courts in every Crown court in the country to fast-track cases, protect victims and punish rapists?

The hon. Lady raises a very important issue. As she knows, we have already rolled out specialist rape courts in Snaresbrook, London, Leeds and Newcastle. We have introduced the 24/7 rape and serious sexual violence support line, along with a range of other initiatives, including quadrupling the funding for victims since 2010. I can also tell her—because some of the data released in that report has been overtaken by more recent data—that the average number of days for adult rape from charge to case being completed has, in the past quarter, come down by 10 weeks, or 17%. There is more to do, but hopefully that will reassure her.

The initiatives that the Government have introduced are very welcome. One of those is the pre-recorded cross-examination under section 28, but, to make that work, there has to be a proper level of remuneration for advocates on both sides to ensure that we have skilled and experienced barristers prosecuting and defending those cases. What arrangements have now been made to finalise the conditions and terms of payment for section 28 proceedings with both defence and prosecution barristers? Until we get that right, we will not get the cases through at the speed we wish.

I thank the Chair of the Select Committee for his question. We have already introduced the statutory instrument to increase that uplift for those lawyers conducting the section 28 pre-recorded evidence. It has now been rolled out nationwide and it will start to make a difference.