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Violence against Women and Girls

Volume 735: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2023

10. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (905641)

12. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (905643)

20. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (905652)

Tackling violence against women and girls is a driving mission of this Government, and we are delivering on it in three ways. First, we have created and are creating new offences, such as revenge porn, and coercive and controlling behaviour, so that abusers have no place to hide. Secondly, we are increasing penalties so that offenders are not just convicted and disgraced, but punished in a way that fits the crime and protects victims. Thirdly, we are supporting victims by quadrupling the funding for victim and witness support services.

Today, tragically, 300 women in Britain will be raped. Under this Government’s watch, in three of those cases there will be a charge. Under this Government’s watch, charging numbers have plummeted. What are the Government going to do about it?

What we are not going to do is come up with statistics that are completely untrue. This is incredibly important, because people listen to what the hon. Lady has to say and it is simply wrong to send a message out that people are not being prosecuted. Let me make one thing crystal clear: more people have been prosecuted for rape in the last year for which statistics are available than was the case in the last year of a Labour Government. That is an important point. If I may, I will read out something so that she understands this, because people are getting justice all the time. It relates to one of the new Nightingale courts that we have set up, in Cirencester. Let me tell her what happened when two victims spoke out as their rapist had been sent to prison for 25 years recently. Victim B said:

“I would just like to say how happy I am with the whole criminal justice system. I wasn’t sure whether to go”—

to the police—

“due to being scared and thinking nobody would believe me. If there is anyone out there with the same situation I encourage them go forward as soon as possible”.

Of course there is more to do, but people are being convicted, people are being put on trial and rapists are being punished.

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 is vital. It finally introduced a full statutory definition of domestic abuse and banned the horrendous cross-examination of victims by their abusers. However, the Act also rolled out controversial polygraph lie detector testing of high-risk domestic abuse perpetrators. Will the Secretary of State meet me and other members of the all-party parliamentary group on perpetrators of domestic abuse to discuss our concerns that polygraphs are pure pseudoscience and have no place in otherwise vital legislation?

The hon. Lady raises an important and sensitive issue. She is right to say that polygraph results have to be handled with care. That said, that testing has been shown to be one of a number of important risk management tools in monitoring the compliance of high-risk sexual offenders with their licence conditions. In the way it is used by the probation service, polygraph is 80% to 90% reliable when indicating deception. However, she raises this important point and of course I would be happy to meet her to discuss it further.

It is two years since the Government’s rape review, which the Secretary of State referred to earlier, but too many rape victims are still being failed by the criminal justice system, at every stage of the process. Although it is good to hear those positive reviews, too many women are not experiencing this. So what more are the Government going to do to step up the work to ensure that dealing with rape is a priority?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to talk about this issue, as indeed are all right hon. and hon. Members. All I respectfully plea for is some balance in the way we discuss this sensitive issue. Let me say something on the recovery that has taken place. The number of cases passed by the police, after having investigated the matter, to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration of charge is up by more than 130%; the number of cases where the CPS decides to charge is up by more than 90%; and the number of cases that come to the Crown court is up by more than 120%. I am not suggesting that the job is done—of course it is not, and we need to support victims. That is why we invest in independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers; why we ensure that section 28 is rolled out; and why we have the specialist sexual violence support services in court. That is why we do all these things, and will do more: it is because we want to ensure justice for victims of this appalling crime.