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House of Lords Hansard
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24 November 2015
Volume 767

Question

Tabled by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many convictions have been obtained under the laws relating to stalking and whether they are satisfied with the adequacy of legislative powers to prosecute perpetrators of domestic violence.

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I beg leave to ask the Question standing on the Order Paper in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon.

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My Lords, the latest figures show that 495 convictions were obtained under the new stalking laws in 2014. Legislative powers in this important area are kept under constant review.

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I thank the Minister for that information. It is clear, however, that without effective training and a cultural change in the criminal justice system, perpetrators will still not be brought to justice. It is in areas of the country where there has been training that the law is most effective. I would be grateful if the Minister could say what investment has been made in the training of prosecutors. Will he also say why there are still no sentencing guidelines for stalking, and when these could be expected?

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The sentencing guidelines are an independent matter for the Sentencing Council, but I will certainly look into that point. In terms of the training, a great deal of work has gone on through the College of Policing, which is the vehicle by which most training is provided. The Crown Prosecution Service has also done a great deal of work, particularly on encouraging more prosecutions under the stalking laws rather than under harassment legislation, which was there before, so that we get a better picture of the nature of the crime. But we continue to look at this important area.

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Is the Minister aware of the substantial growth in cyberstalking over recent months and years? Is he satisfied that adequate powers are available, under anti-stalking legislation or other legislation, and will he make it his business to link up with those in the police force who are quite concerned about this?

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The National Crime Agency takes the lead in this area, particularly on child exploitation. A great deal of work has been going on in schools, pointing out the dangers of online abuse. Of course, we took legislative action in the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, when we introduced the clause on revenge pornography. This area is one that my noble friend Lady Shields, the Minister for Internet Safety and Security, is very focused on and is having conversations with internet service providers about.

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My Lords, the Minister will be very aware of the effect of domestic violence on children and young people. What are the Government doing to ensure that their rights and emotional needs are being met during the proper but difficult process of prosecution for domestic violence incidents?

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We have now introduced a system where we have independent domestic violence advisers. They have a critical role to play because, in a very chaotic, difficult and emotionally stressful situation, they can signpost people to the help that they need, particularly the families who are victims in this area.

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My Lords, during the passage of the stalking law reforms in your Lordships’ House, there was considerable debate about how the CPS could be encouraged not to use the harassment law as an easy way to get a conviction. The Minister has outlined that he believes that more cases are being defined as stalking, but the opposite is true according to the press. How can the Government ensure that the CPS is held accountable to make sure that stalking cases are taken as such and not through the easy win of harassment?

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That is a very good point and comes back to the earlier point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Nye. A consultation is taking place between the CPS and the College of Policing, as well as with Paladin and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, which do so much valuable work in this area, to see what further training could be provided. When you look at the figures and see that there are 9,180 prosecutions under harassment and 676 under stalking, clearly there is still further work to be done to make sure that people are being prosecuted in the right area.

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My Lords, the Question also relates to domestic violence, and the same point on training and cultural change applies to the new domestic violence offence of coercive control, the campaign in respect of which was led by Paladin, Women’s Aid and the Sara Charlton Foundation. If I am right in saying that it has not happened already, could the Minister say, first, when the new domestic violence offence of coercive control will be introduced? Secondly, what action is being taken to ensure that the necessary training is being and will be provided throughout the police and the judicial system, including for prosecutors, judges and magistrates, to ensure that the new law—including the reasons for it and the psychological intimidation and control it is intended to address—is fully and effectively understood and that it is used and applied as intended in all relevant parts of the country? The evidence, including that from the new stalking laws, suggests that inadequate and incomplete training about new offences leads to cases not being pursued or to unduly lenient sentences because the seriousness of the new offence is not fully understood or recognised.

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That is a fair point. We have pledged that the coercive and controlling behaviour provision in the Serious Crime Act will come into force by the end of the year. It will be in force by the end of the year and training will be provided alongside it. On the other point, about ensuring the right response and that people are trained for it, Garry Shewan, the assistant chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, who is the national policing lead for stalking and harassment, has a very important role to play in co-ordinating the wider police response to this important crime.

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My Lords, what measures are being taken to assist Muslim women to access the reporting facilities? A great deal of domestic violence goes on in households against women who do not feel at ease with some of the representatives who are available for them to access.

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There is a particular group called Imkaan which works in this area with BME communities and they are represented on the national oversight group which the Home Secretary set up to advise her on improving her response across government to domestic violence.

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My Lords, the Justice Select Committee found that more than a third of the victims of domestic violence were unable to get legal aid because they could not provide evidence that such violence occurred within two years of their application. The Government responded with only a very minor reform. Will they now review the situation with a view to extending the time limits and, if not, why not?

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Certainly in relation to legal aid there is a merits test to go through. I understand that in cases of domestic violence there is a more generous provision than in other areas. There is an important new provision coming out in which we are going to refresh the cross-government strategy on tackling violence against women and girls. That will include some elements of new legislative responses which are available and being considered by the Government.