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Stalking and Domestic Violence

Volume 776: debated on Thursday 24 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether there are plans to include serial stalkers and domestic violence offenders on the Violent and Sex Offenders Register so that they are identified, risk assessed and managed like sex offenders.

My Lords, we are committed to tackling stalking and domestic violence. That is why we introduced a new domestic abuse offence last year and two stalking offences in 2012. Convicted perpetrators of these crimes are already recorded on systems such as the police national computer to support the police in identifying, risk assessing and monitoring offenders.

I thank the noble Baroness for her Answer. A register, as recommended by Paladin, the National Stalking Advocacy Service, would have helped Zoe Dronfield, who was the 13th victim of a serial stalker, as well as many others. Can the Minister say whether the Government have any plans to develop one-to-one programmes for serial stalkers, either in custody or in the community, because the onus needs to be on the perpetrators to change rather than asking victims to change their behaviour to protect themselves and their children?

My Lords, the Government have put a significant amount of effort into introducing these stalking offences. Certainly the victims need ongoing support, and that is one of the things that the Government provide.

My Lords, hopefully those noble Lords who listen to “The Archers” will have a greater understanding of the issue of coercive control following the Helen Archer case. I declare an interest in that I have first-hand experience as a victim. Does the Minister not accept that for many perpetrators, domestic violence and coercive control form a pattern of behaviour that is likely to be repeated and that the chances of reoffending are high? Surely public protection panels have a duty to engage with these offenders.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Stalking, coercive control and domestic violence are not generally one-off offences but recur time and again. There are perpetrator programmes with which some of the charitable organisations we work with engage. It is sad that it is the other way round and the victim tends to flee the scene of the offence, as opposed to the perpetrator receiving that kind of ongoing work.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the excellent charity Paladin. My fellow trustee, Dr Eleanor Aston, was the victim of horrendous stalking. Her perpetrator was jailed for five years, the maximum sentence. When he was sentenced the judge said he wished that the maximum sentence could be raised. Mr Alex Chalk, the MP for Cheltenham, therefore introduced a Private Member’s Bill at the other end to increase the maximum sentence to 10 years. Why would not the Government support this excellent Bill?

My Lords, I understand the concern about why the maximum sentence is not higher than it is. The Government keep these issues under review but we do not have any plans at the moment to change the maximum sentence.

My Lords, why does the Minister not have such plans? Also, do the Government know how many serial stalkers there are in England and Wales? If, as the Minister said in her Answer, there is a register of these men—they are mostly men, although not exclusively—have the Government considered how to warn women that they are in danger of becoming a victim of a serial stalker like Zoe Dronfield was?

My Lords, the number of stalking and harassment referrals by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service in 2015 was almost 13,000. There were 1,102 prosecutions under the new stalking offences. These new laws need to have time to bed in. At this point the system appears to be working well.

My Lords, will my noble friend suggest to the Home Secretary that it would be a good idea to look at the maximum sentence? There seems to be fairly general agreement that it is too low. Why will the Government not at least discuss this matter?

These offences, in particular the stalking offences, are relatively new. As I said, the Government keep legislation under review all the time. We will look at it if there is evidence that it needs to be changed.

My Lords, as the Minister said, during the coalition years laws were introduced so that a woman could stay in a house with an emergency order over the weekend, extendable up to one month. How many of those have been issued?

I will have to get back to the noble Baroness on the exact numbers, but that system is still in place. That has not changed.

My Lords, if I was in the Minister’s position answering Questions and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, had raised his question in the way he did, I would say, “I’ll take that back to my colleagues and have a look at it”. Why does she not do that?