Report (2nd Day)
Relevant documents: 21st and 28th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee
My Lords, I will call Members to speak in the order listed. Short questions of elucidation after the Minister’s response are discouraged. Any Member wishing to ask such a question must email the clerk. The groupings are binding. Participants who might wish to press an amendment other than the lead amendment in the group to a Division must give notice in the debate or by emailing the clerk. Leave should be given to withdraw amendments. When putting the Question, I will collect voices in the Chamber only. If a Member taking part remotely wants their voice accounted for, if the Question is put, they must make this clear when speaking to the group.
17: After Clause 18, insert the following new Clause—
“Duty to report on domestic abuse services in England
(1) The Commissioner must, before the end of the relevant period, prepare and publish a report under section 8 on—(a) the need for domestic abuse services in England, and(b) the provision of such services. (2) But subsection (1) does not require the Commissioner to report on the need for, or provision of, services provided to people who reside in relevant accommodation (within the meaning of section 55(2)).(3) In subsection (1)—“domestic abuse services” means any advice, advocacy or counselling services provided, in relation to domestic abuse, to victims of domestic abuse or their children;“the relevant period” means the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this section comes into force (but see subsection (4)).(4) The Secretary of State, with the agreement of the Commissioner, may by regulations extend the relevant period for a further period of up to 6 months.(5) The power conferred by subsection (4) may be exercised only once.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause requires the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to prepare and publish a report on the need for certain domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new Clause comes into force.
My Lords, this group of amendments brings us back to the provision of community-based support for victims of domestic abuse and their children. I share the ambition of my noble friend Lord Polak, the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Rosser, and all noble Lords to ensure that domestic abuse victims receive the support that they need, regardless of where they reside. The provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, which relate to the provision of support within safe accommodation, are a major step towards meeting that goal.
The issue before us is whether we can and should now be legislating for a parallel duty in respect of community-based support, whether by extending the provisions in Part 4, as Amendment 31 seeks to do, or by making freestanding provision, as in Amendment 85. The Government remain firmly of the view that the necessary groundwork for such legislation has yet to be undertaken and, accordingly, that it would be premature to legislate in this Bill by either method.
I can see the attraction of Amendment 31, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. It seemingly accepts the government argument that we do not yet know how we should frame the duty in respect of community-based support, so a regulation-making power affords a mechanism to come back to this once the domestic abuse commissioner has completed her mapping work and the Government have consulted.
Let me make a couple of observations about Amendment 31. First, your Lordships’ House and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee are regularly critical of the Government for coming forward with skeletal delegated powers such as in the amendment. The framework for the provision of safe accommodation support is on the face of the Bill and it is right that any parallel duty in respect of community-based support should also be set out in primary legislation. Secondly, even if the route of delegated legislation was, in principle, an acceptable way forward, until we have developed and consulted on a scheme for that provision of community-based support, we simply do not know how properly to frame a regulation-making power to ensure that we have the necessary vires to give effect to a set of proposals post-consultation. The landscape for the provision of community-based support is more complex than that in respect of safe accommodation- based support, as Amendment 85 recognises, so a power simply to extend the provisions of Part 4 is not, in our view, the right approach.
Amendment 85, put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and in Committee by my noble friend, seeks to navigate the complexities of the current provision of community-based support by placing a new duty on local authorities in England, local policing bodies in England and Wales and clinical commissioning groups in England. This may or may not be the right approach, but I do not think that we are in a position to make that judgement yet. If the duty is to be split three ways, we need to know how the discharge of the duty is to be co-ordinated between the three agencies to ensure that there is not overlapping provision or that support for some victims does not slip through the cracks. In applying the duty across three agencies, Amendment 85 risks creating an environment in which accountability is unclear, presenting challenges for all bodies in ensuring that the necessary services are provided to those who need them.
It is the Government’s clear view that there are no ready-made solutions such that we would be in a position to legislate here and now. We need to better understand the existing landscape and the gap in provision, which is why the domestic abuse commissioner’s mapping work is so vital. We need to draw on the evidence provided by that work and other sources, consult widely and then come forward with proposals that command widespread support and, most importantly, deliver the necessary support in the most effective and efficient way possible.
As part of this work, we need properly to understand the resource implications of any new duty. The £125 million of new money that we have provided to fund the duty in Part 4 shows both the level of our commitment and the significant cost of any parallel new duty in relation to community-based support. Women’s Aid has suggested that some £220 million is needed. I make no comment on that or the accuracy of that estimate, but it at least demonstrates that Amendments 31 or 85, were either to be passed, would have significant financial implications, which this House should be alive to.
Recognising that the House is reluctant to let this Bill pass without it containing some provision that recognises the problem and provides a pathway to the solution, the Government have brought forward Amendments 17, 20, 22, 24 to 29 and 99. Amendment 17 places a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 of the Bill on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. As with the provisions in Part 4 of the Bill, we have limited this duty to the provision of community-based services in England in recognition of the fact that we are generally dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. The commissioner will be required to deliver a Clause 8 report on this issue within 12 months of commencement and then, by virtue of the provisions in Clause 16, Ministers will be required to respond to any recommendations directed at them within 56 days. This amendment will therefore set out a clear roadmap for the Government to set out definitive proposals for addressing the gap in the provision of community-based support.
Amendments 20, 22 and 24 to 29 address the concerns raised in Committee that the new duty in Part 4 of the Bill may have unintended consequences regarding community-based support that is currently provided or funded by local authorities. I know that my noble friend Lord Polak was particularly concerned about this. As a result of the £125 million funding that we are providing to tier-1 local authorities to support the delivery of Part 4, we think that such concerns are unfounded. However, we recognise that there would be merit in making provision in Part 4 to monitor any unintended impact. These amendments do just that.
The amendments will also ensure that the domestic abuse local partnership boards, provided for in Clause 56, play an active part in such monitoring and that the results are recorded in tier-1 local authorities’ annual reports under Clause 57. These annual reports will feed into the work of the ministerially led national expert steering group, of which the domestic abuse commissioner will be a member, so that the impact, if there is any, of the Part 4 duty on the provision of domestic abuse support to people in the community by local authorities can also be monitored.
The Government are ready to take one further step. I can say that the Government are now committed to consulting on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation. I recognise the concerns about missing the legislative bus and the suspicion—it is unfounded—that the Government will kick this into the long grass. The government amendments that I have outlined will ensure that that does not happen, as will our commitment to consult on a victims law later this summer.
As to the concerns that this is all too far off and victims need support now, there is already significant provision. Since 2014, Ministry of Justice funding has helped police and crime commissioners to support victims of crime within their local areas, addressing the specific local needs identified within their communities. This core grant will be around £69 million in 2021-22, which includes an uplift for child sexual abuse services. Additionally, the Government have committed a further £40 million, which includes £9.7 million for domestic abuse community-based services commissioned by PCCs for the coming year, as well as £8 million for independent domestic violence advisers, the support of which will be felt mostly in the community. This does not take account of support provided by local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and others. It may not be enough, but these sums demonstrate the significant levels of community-based support that are already available for domestic abuse victims and their children, and for other victims of crime.
I am very much looking forward to hearing the other contributions to the debate on these amendments. I reiterate my thanks to my noble friends Lord Polak and Lady Sanderson, who are in the Chamber now, and to other noble Lords who have engaged so constructively on this. I hope that what I have said today is evidence of our intent and that the House will support this approach. I beg to move.
My Lords, I welcome the Government’s amendments, but I am not yet convinced they go far enough. As the Minister explained, Part 4 places a duty on local authorities in England to deliver support to victims, including children, in accommodation-based services such as refuges. There is a risk though that, as the duty applies only to accommodation-based services, it could have the unintended consequence of diverting funding from community-based services to ensure the duty is met. It would indeed be a perverse incentive, resulting in victims having only one option left if they need support in accommodation-based services. Most victims— around 70%—currently remain at home or in the wider community, accessing community-based support. This can be through independent domestic violence advisers, outreach support and child specialist workers, helplines and perpetrator programmes, as well as specialist local agencies offering drop-in services for children.
As SafeLives commented:
“We have very serious concerns that, while well intended, the Government’s duty will push Local Authorities into reducing, rather than sustaining, vital services, leaving more vulnerable people in abusive situations … We know the financial pressure that Local Authorities are under, and a number have said that they can now only provide minimum requirements … and nothing further.”
The domestic abuse commissioner has similar fears.
The amendments that the Government have laid are clearly welcome in requiring the commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the need for community-based domestic abuse services in England and the provision of such services. It is also good to see that local authorities will be required to publish a strategy under Clause 55 to keep under review any effect of that strategy on community-based support in their area. However, welcome as they are, these amendments do not guarantee the maintenance or enhancement of community services, nor is there any guarantee that, following the commissioner’s review of the landscape of provision, action would then be taken by the Government.
I thought it was telling that the submission we received from the Local Government Association seemed rather lukewarm about these amendments. It said that nothing in the amendments provides long-term or sustained investment in these services.
This morning, the National Audit Office report on local government finance spelled out the financial challenge local authorities face. They will be under significant pressure in the next financial year and are likely to be operating with reduced tax bases and increased service demand as their local communities and businesses recover from the pandemic, and this is likely to go on for a number of years to come.
The NAO survey indicates that 94% of respondents from single tier and county councils, and 81% from district councils, expect to reduce service budgets. Some respondents considered that service users would be affected by their savings plans, due to reduced service levels from cutting staff and other efficiencies that they have to make. In other cases, authorities indicated that specific savings or income-generation measures would have direct and immediate effects on service users.
A key theme from the NAO case study discussions, stakeholder interviews and workshops is the long-lasting impact that the pandemic is likely to have on authorities’ finances. It is little wonder that, with the priority the Bill gives to accommodation-based services, there is real concern that community services will be starved of funds in the future.
My two amendments attempt to deal with the problem. Amendment 30 would give protection to community services. As part of the public sector equality duty under Section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, public authorities are required to have
“due regard … in particular, to the need to … take steps to meet the needs of persons who share a relevant protected characteristic that are different from the needs of persons who do not share it”.
Many domestic abuse services are specifically aimed at supporting people with protected characteristics, including women. The Equality and Human Rights Commission stresses the important role played by specialist “by and for” services, run by and for the users and communities they aim to serve. These include community-based services such as outreach, advocacy, information and advice services.
My aim, through Amendment 30, is to support the Government’s objective of inaugurating a more strategic approach to accommodation-based support, while at the same time making sure that local authorities that commission services are not deflected from their equality duty to cater for all the needs arising from protected characteristics. That is what my amendment seeks to do. It does not alter the public sector equality duty, but clarifies the way in which the duty applies to domestic abuse services. It does not touch, let alone conflict with, the Bill’s Clause 55 provisions on accommodation-based services, and it does not depend in any way on the commissioner’s mapping exercise.
My second amendment, Amendment 31, is very much related to the commissioner’s mapping exercise. It would give the Government the ability, through secondary legislation, to extend Part 4 to community services. So if the commissioner finds that local authorities are neglecting community services, a legislative vehicle would be immediately available to do something about it.
I listened with great interest to the Minister when she commented on this. It is very unusual for a Minister to turn down an extension of executive power, which I am very generously urging the House to give her. I confess that I am normally opposed to the extension of such executive powers, but needs must. In a situation where the mapping exercise has not been completed and the financial consequences of it have therefore not been calculated, it seems to me that there is a strong argument to say that the Government need some legislative provision in order to implement a policy in the light of that mapping exercise.
I listened very carefully to the Minister, and it was very helpful when she said that consultation on the victims’ law would be extended to embrace this. Clearly, we could see potential legislation in the future, but it will take time. Local authorities are under huge funding constraints, and I think there is a case for giving ourselves the ability in the Bill to ensure that, if community services are starved of funds as a result of the prioritisation of accommodation-based services, we have immediate levers to step in and deal with it. I hope the Minister will, even at this late hour, consider these amendments sympathetically.
My Lords, I was pleased to table my amendment in Committee. I welcomed the debate and the overwhelming support from around the House. In particular, I acknowledge the support of the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby.
I am, perhaps, even more pleased that I have not tabled it again on Report. I am grateful to my noble friend and her ministerial colleagues for giving so much of their time to meet and discuss this; for the amendments tabled in the name of my noble friend; and for confirming the Government’s commitment to address issues around community-based services in a letter to me last Thursday.
We all agree that community-based services are vital in supporting the majority of domestic abuse victims who remain at home. Government amendments to ensure that local authorities monitor and report on the impact of their duties under Part 4 on other service provision, are most welcome, as is the Government’s commitment to consult on the provision of community-based domestic abuse services in the upcoming victims law consultation this summer. These have been welcomed not just by me but in a press release, published under the leadership of Barnardo’s, by the domestic abuse commissioner, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, domestic abuse campaigner Charlie Webster, Imran Hussain at Action for Children, the End Violence Against Women coalition, the NSPCC and SafeLives. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on uniting these groups and organisations in welcoming the Government’s commitments. This is an incredibly important step forward in understanding and addressing the provision of community-based domestic abuse services, so that all victims, especially children, will be able to access support, regardless of where they live.
I hope the consultation will take a holistic approach to tackling domestic abuse, carefully considering what is needed to support children and adults, as well as programmes to tackle the behaviour of perpetrators and break the cycle of domestic abuse. I am certain that my noble friend the Minister and her colleagues, working with the professional and deeply impressive domestic abuse commissioner—who I thank for her advice—will place community-based services on the same statutory footing as accommodation-based services. I appeal for her office to be properly and adequately funded.
Again, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her time and for the helpful letter she sent me. I am pleased to support the amendments in her name. I look forward to continuing to work with her and with all noble Lords as this important Bill becomes law.
My Lords, I shall be extremely brief, not least because of the happy coincidence that the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Polak, have largely said what I was going to say. I thank them. I can now go and have a late lunch.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Polak, I was impressed by the Barnardo’s press release last Thursday, with all the different voices speaking in unison. My own experience of dealing with voluntary organisations over many years is that hell hath no fury like different voluntary organisations in pursuit of similar goals and, in particular, similar pools of funding. Peace seems rather dangerously to have broken out in this case. I hope it will continue.
I thank the Government for listening. It was a bit of a no-brainer with a Bill in which 25% of the accommodation-based services for domestic abuse victims were dealt with but 75% were not. That was an open goal waiting to be filled. I am grateful that the Government have acknowledged this and acted on it.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, I took note of the National Audit Office investigation and report into the state of local authority funding. I have observed a variety of individuals in this House—some of whom I have worked in co-operation with—who, for the best of reasons, ceaselessly plead with the Government to put more and more statutory duties on local authorities in a whole variety of different areas. In a sense, this is dangerous because, in a situation where local authorities are under the strains and stresses that they are, piling even more statutory duties or guidance on them runs the risk of mission failure and initiative fatigue. I am very conscious of this. It requires a joined-up approach from the different parts of Her Majesty’s Government.
The Home Office is doing its bit. The Ministry of Justice is going to do what may not come easily to it and talk more openly with the communities department —and vice versa. It was not terribly helpful that the Secretary of State, while acknowledging the councils’ problems, could not resist the political dig of accusing them of poor management. This is a bit rich coming from a national Administration who have spent the amount of money they have on initiatives such as test and trace, or who have presided over the highest number of deaths per million in the world during the current pandemic. Before one starts throwing political missiles at one’s opponents, it does one a lot of good to look in the mirror and have a degree of humility. None of us gets it right all the time.
When the domestic abuse commissioner comes back with her recommendations, I would plead with the various parts of national government and the local authorities to talk to one another, agree, buy into whatever is recommended, and put in place properly thought-through, long-term plans to deliver on this strategy and to fund it properly.
My Lords, government Amendment 17 requires the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report on
“the need for domestic abuse services in England, and … the provision of such services.”
The report must be published no later than 12 months after this new clause comes into force.
Other government amendments require local authorities to keep under review the impact of the duty to provide accommodation-based services on their provision of other domestic abuse services in the community.
Amendment 30, in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, makes it clear that the public authority may not prioritise accommodation-based support services for persons with a protected characteristic over other support services for the same person, except in so far as those persons have a greater need for accommodation-based services than for other support services.
Amendment 31 would give the Secretary of State power through regulations to extend the duty in Part 4 to include community services, instead of just accommodation-based services. I agree with the points made and the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath in his powerful contribution.
Amendments 85 and 86 in my name are the community service amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Polak, re-tabled. We tabled them pending sight of the Government’s specific commitments and amendments. I will not move them. Like others in the House and outside, we welcome the Government’s amendments and commitment to consult on community-based services as part of the consultation on the victims law. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Polak, and to other noble Lords, as well as to all the organisations which have worked on this issue. I also pay tribute to the shadow Minister in the Commons, Jess Phillips, who pursued the proper provision for community-based services with some vigour and determination during the Bill’s passage through the other House.
We now need to see the Government’s words and commitments translated into real progress and meaningful action. The key to achieving this is for services, victims and perpetrators to be looked at holistically; to see what needs to be done in the round to prevent abuse, and to support victims who experience it. This also means providing services for children who are victims, for older victims and for perpetrators, as well as ensuring that there are specialist services for black and ethnic minority victims. Healthcare services are also vital.
The government amendments also require local authorities to keep under review the impact of the duty to provide accommodation-based services on their provision of other domestic abuse services in the community. We do not regard the current level of community-based domestic abuse services as sufficient, so I simply register that, if local authorities conclude that carrying out their duty to provide accommodation-based services has no adverse impact on their current provision of other domestic abuse services in the community, we would not regard that as meaning that those community-based services do not need enhancing and extending.
The welcome commitments that the Government have now given will result in meaningful change and improvement for victims of domestic abuse only if the necessary financial and human resources are made available to increase and extend community-based services. I am sure that we will not be the only ones in this Chamber or outside it who will press the Government to ensure that welcome and worthy intentions today are not thwarted by an unwillingness by Government tomorrow to provide the necessary additional resources for the future provision of much-needed and enhanced community-based services.
My Lords, it is a great honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am greatly relieved that he said what he said—he made some powerful points—but it is right that we back the government amendments. I will speak to that today.
The Bill’s commitment to giving refuges statutory status is vital, but we knew that giving no statutory recognition anywhere in the Bill to community-based services posed a clear risk to inadvertently downgrading their status, which we absolutely had to prevent. I believe that these amendments do that, but I agree that we will all keep a close eye on their execution to check that they genuinely safeguard the status of community services.
I thank the designate domestic abuse commissioner, as well charities such as Barnardo’s and SafeLives and my noble friend Lord Polak, for being so determined and tenacious. I am greatly relieved that these charities have welcomed these amendments. I know that they are satisfied and greatly relieved, but of course we will have to keep a close eye on whether they do the job. I also extend my thanks to my noble friend the Minister. She has given us a lot of time on this issue and genuinely cares about it. I know that she was integral to getting these amendments over the line.
I back other Peers’ calls to make sure that the domestic abuse commissioner’s office has the proper resourcing to carry out these additional responsibilities. Throughout this Bill’s passage, we have been sending her more and more work, so reasonable adjustments should be made. Helping victims to stay in their homes, stemming the abuse before it damages families beyond repair and prevention must be at the heart of our strategy over the coming years. These amendments point to that. I fully support them and urge noble Lords to do the same.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 31 and 85. I underline that domestic abuse services, which I very much support, should include victims being forced into marriage. I particularly have in mind the special needs of those being forced into marriage who are under the age of 18. I know that the Minister is well aware of the points that I am making. I am sorry to keep pressing them, but I want them on the record.
The noble Baroness, Lady Goudie, has withdrawn, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb.
My Lords, having listened to other speeches from noble Lords, I realise that the comments that I have prepared are far too mild. I was just going to congratulate everyone who has campaigned and fought for proper provision and thank the Government for working constructively. It is not often that I find myself on the mild end of things. I think that there is now a clear understanding of the need for community services, including supporting survivors of domestic abuse in their own homes. I feel strongly that the abusers should have to leave and not the survivors. The Green group is very supportive of Amendment 85 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I am sure that we will come back to it at another time in another place. In the meantime, well done everyone.
My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Baroness and her mild comments. I will speak to and welcome Amendments 17, 24 and 28. As we have said many times before, this was already a very good Bill. I thank the Government and particularly my noble friend Lady Williams for the lengths to which she has gone to improve it further. She has been unstinting in her determination to address many of the outstanding issues, always putting the victims’ needs first. With these amendments, I believe that the Government have addressed the potential unintended consequences of a two-tier system.
The Government are wary of specifying what the independent commissioner should and should not report on, and I agree with them. The Minister has also made the point that the commissioner is already undertaking the relevant mapping exercise. None the less, Amendment 17 sends a signal about the importance of community-based services. Together with the requirement for local authorities to assess the impact of the duty under Part 4 and the further requirement, via Amendment 28, for local partnership boards to advise on other local authority support, I believe that this provides a robust and, importantly, ongoing mechanism and structure for ensuring that community-based services are not adversely affected by the duty.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to consult on the provision of community-based services and congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak on all the work that he has done in this area. I also welcome the amazing number of charities and stakeholders that have welcomed these amendments. As I have said before, I understand why the Government cannot extend the duty in this Bill. On this issue and so many others, they have come forward with significant changes. They have moved where they can and altered their position in areas where we thought that they would not.
I realise that I am still relatively new to this House. I also realise that no Bill will ever be perfect and that noble Lords will fight for the changes that they think are right, but this Bill has cross-party support, and for very good reason. It will create a genuine step change in the way we tackle domestic abuse. It has already raised so much awareness. Someone who works on the front line said to me on seeing the raft of government amendments:
“You should see the amazing survivor messages I’m seeing this morning. I’m quite emotional seeing their excitement. We feel the tide is turning.”
The tide is turning but, as we all know, we have only a limited period to get this Bill through. I believe it is now up to us to bid it safe passage.
I call the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock. No? Perhaps we should hear from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, since she is with us.
My Lords, I will speak briefly in support of my noble friend the Minister and congratulate her on bringing forward this group of amendments. It shows that a serious issue has been raised and the Government have risen to the challenge and addressed it. It is extremely important, for the reasons that others have set out. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Polak and others on the work that they have done in bringing us to this place.
I will raise one concern with my noble friend the Minister, which was addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and which I think we are all aware of. We are yet to assess the implications of the pandemic and the recent Budget on local government finances. I seek assurance from my noble friend because there is a genuine concern out there. I know that many authorities, such as North Yorkshire and many others in rural areas, prioritise the most vulnerable in society—young people, children and the elderly—but there is concern that their budget and resources are severely stretched. While I welcome the amendments, particularly government Amendment 17 and the others set out by my noble friend, we are entirely dependent on local authorities having the provision to make this happen. Is she entirely convinced that they will have the resources to enable them to do so?
My Lords, I should make it clear that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins of Tavistock, has withdrawn from the debate, so we shall not be hearing from her on this occasion. I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff
My Lords, I should declare that I chair the Commission on Alcohol Harm. I added my name to Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Goudie and Lady Hollins. It is very welcome that the Bill will, for the first time, give local authorities a formal role in the provision of domestic abuse support. The voluntary sector has done a heroic job in protecting survivors, victims and their families, but this vital task should not be left to the voluntary sector alone.
The words of the Minister were welcome, reflecting her deep and sincere commitment to tackling domestic abuse. The government amendments recognise the need to ensure that regulation will meet need and are certainly to be supported. If I heard correctly, some of the additional finance will apply only to England. How will parallel community services be financially supported in Wales? Without that additional funding also coming to Wales, there will be a serious risk that women fleeing abuse will also have to flee Wales to get the support they need.
We must not ignore those outside refuges, some of whom are turned away due to their alcohol and substance-use needs, which makes them ineligible for support from their local authority. However, they still need support. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is needed in addition to the Government’s amendments. It would ensure that the necessary support is available and would support the whole scoping exercise without any discrimination. I really urge the Government to support it.
My Lords, the new statutory duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation-based services for victims of domestic abuse and their children is widely welcomed, but I am still sympathetic to the ongoing fears that this might mean local authorities simply redistributing funding away from community services in order to meet that statutory need. I welcome these thoughtful amendments and the discussion that focuses on protecting specialist community service provision. While I am still not sure whether this issue should be dealt with through legislation, it is very important that it has come up. I am minded to consider seriously Amendments 30 and 31 in particular.
However, there is one category of specialist services that I am worried the Bill has inadvertently not focused on: women’s domestic abuse services, whether community or accommodation-based, which are under threat. Ironically, council funding does not help. The Bill’s increase in funding and the new legal duty on councils will not resolve this issue. There seems to be some muddled thinking about how councils should deliver specialist services more broadly. I would appreciate it if the Minister would take that into account in this set of amendments or in guidance notes.
I declare a minor interest, in that I am a long-standing columnist for the MJ – for the uninitiated, the Municipal Journal. It has been eye-opening watching councils in recent years trying to negotiate equalities legislation in the context of new political trends such as gender-neutral policies. The Equality Act 2010 clearly protects single-sex exemptions that allow women to have legitimate access to women-only services and spaces: gyms, hospitals, changing rooms and, of course, crucial services such as Rape Crisis, women’s refuges and women’s advice services. The newly launched organisation Sex Matters notes that rules and explanations are now confused and controversies around gender identity mean that organisations can be reluctant to communicate their women-only services clearly, and, when they do, councils can use this against them. This needs to be clarified as we go forward; otherwise, all the good will will be undermined.
One example of the unintended consequence of fudging championing women’s refuges is how councils are interpreting equalities impact assessments. In the drive for more inclusive, non-gendered service provision that caters for the needs of all protected characteristics, women’s refuges are in danger of losing funding for not being inclusive enough.
One recent example that I mentioned in relation to another Bill is the Brighton-based organisation RISE, which has lost a contract worth £5 million over seven years. After 26 years of stalwart work, its existence is now threatened. RISE is predominantly, but not exclusively, a women-for-women service, but the briefing from Brighton & Hove City Council’s bids evaluation team explained that RISE needed to cater more for heterosexual and gay men and specifically address the barring of services experienced by the trans community. The message was clear: that RISE should stop mainly focusing on women victims of domestic abuse. RISE has an LGBTQ domestic abuse casework service and it has co-piloted an LGBTQ refuge. Surely, its women-only services should not need to be anything other than exemplary for women, whether accommodation-based or community-based. However, the council was clear that the contract would not be continued because RISE is primarily a service for women. As Women’s Aid’s Nicki Norman said:
“We are at serious risk of losing our network of refuges run by women for women.”
We should not be naive or disingenuous here. One reason why there is a coy reluctance to demarcate services for women only is the controversies over definitions of a woman, as defined by biological sex. Gender neutrality can become a shield to avoid any accusations of transphobia, and councils can hide behind that. Even this Bill, in its attempts at being gender neutral, seems reluctant to defend or bolster the women’s refuge movement or women’s services in the community, without which, to be honest, the whole issue of domestic abuse would not even be on the political agenda at all.
Perhaps the Minister can just assure us that the Bill will not lead to a new type of procurement of less-specialised service provision or the downgrading of essential services for women, whether accommodation-based or community-based, and that communities will not lose the unparalleled expertise, garnered over decades, of women’s refuges and women’s services in the enthusiasm to hand over funding and procurement to councils. Do not forget some of the risks involved in that.
My Lords, my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who regrets that she cannot be here today, was pleased to support the noble Lord, Lord Polak, when his amendment on specialist and community-based services was discussed in Committee. We really warmly welcome the government amendments, which represent significant improvements on the Bill. All that being said, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, introduced Amendment 85 so that we might just press a little further. I do not want to repeat what other noble Lords have said, so I will make just a few brief comments.
We have heard repeatedly in debates in this House of the value of specialist and community-based services which allow survivors to remain in their homes and retain their community, their faith links and their workplaces and to keep children in their schools. Finding a long-term solution, as others have said, to supporting these services is essential. With colleagues on the Bishops’ Bench, I look forward to engaging with the victims’ law consultation and to reviewing the promised Clause 8 report from the domestic abuse commissioner to Parliament on the provision of, and need for, community-based support services.
I look forward to the excellent intentions being translated into provision of what is much needed.
My Lords, I will refer to Amendments 20, 22, 24 and 29.
I understand that the Minister has committed to consulting on community-based domestic abuse services as part of the victim’s law consultation this summer; that is extremely welcome. I thank the Government for this, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for his commitment to this issue. I also thank the Minister, who rightly responded to concerns raised by Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as the vice-president of that charity—and many other charities and organisations representing adult and child victims. As we know, children are often the hidden victims of domestic abuse. Can the Minister confirm that a statutory duty to deliver community-based services is a possible outcome to ensure that the majority of victims are supported in future?
The noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, has withdrawn so I call the next speaker, the noble Baroness, Lady Primarolo.
My Lords, like the other speakers this afternoon, I welcome the Government’s amendments. However, I remain concerned about two matters, to which I will speak briefly; I will also ask the Minister to try to assure the House on them.
Many speakers have mentioned my first concern. Although having a statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation is welcome, if we do not deal with the question of community-based services, there is—as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said—a huge danger of money being transferred into the provision of the accommodation and away from such services. The Minister, who has done an excellent job on this Bill, has not explained clearly to the House why Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Lord cannot be accepted so as to protect these services in the interim while the commissioner undertakes her mapping exercise. If she is not prepared to accept that amendment, will she explain to the House what steps the Government will take to protect community-based services in the period when the mapping will be undertaken?
The second area that I want to refer to briefly is that of joint commissioning and the work being done in localities to provide these valuable services. The Minister touched on the lack of clarity over what this meant. I made inquiries of these services in Gloucestershire, a large county where localities have been undertaking community-based commissioning since 2013; this involves working across local authorities, health authorities, the police and crime commissioner and other services. The joint commissioning model has enabled them to offer far more women help than would be possible under an accommodation-based offer only. The service, they tell me, has taken referrals for 6,000 women in the past year, whereas an accommodation-based model would not have been able to deal with more than around 100 a year.
When we understand this perspective of the importance of community-based services and how they support victims and their families, it is incumbent on the Minister to explain why she is not prepared to take the route of Amendment 85. In Gloucestershire, the emphasis is on safely keeping victims in their homes, allowing them to maintain family and community networks and avoid isolation, and enabling their children to stay connected to their school friends. These are clear objectives that can be distilled in demonstrating what a community-based model looks like. The services also offer places of safety through a scheme in which they provide safe accommodation in the form of individual properties for victims and their families, who can access this accommodation alongside outreach support.
We are talking about specialist services that are there to support victims of domestic abuse aged 16 and over. They provide help desks, phone lines, specialist group work and independent domestic violence advisers to support victims in the courts. They provide independent advisers to support young people and encourage them to confront the perpetrators and the type of behaviour that is developing. They also work with the health services and GPs to identify domestic abuse and respond to it rapidly.
This model is not unique to Gloucestershire. The Government have enough to make provisions in Amendments 30 and 85 to move us forward. This does not mean that the services will be available tomorrow, but it does mean that we understand what types of services are necessary. Even at this late stage, with the excellent work that has been undertaken by many noble Lords in this area, I sincerely hope that the Government will think again, give a much clearer lead on the pathway to deliver jointly commissioned community-based services and make the provision of such services a statutory duty.
My Lords, in Committee, the need to consider help for victims in the wider community as well as in refuges was raised again and again. These amendments put other local authority services for domestic abuse victims and their children front and centre, giving them the recognition and attention they deserve. However, it must be said that concerns have been expressed across the House about funding because we cannot enforce the provisions in the Bill and in these amendments without it.
We already know that most help and services are accessed in the community; the noble Lord, Lord Russell, described it as a no-brainer. I am therefore absolutely delighted by the Government’s response. I want to give the Minister full credit for the way in which she has listened and acted.
I support government Amendment 99, which would, for the first year only, give six months’ leeway for the Government’s new clause duty to report on domestic abuse services in England. That seems entirely reasonable to me. Who knows what challenges and obstacles the first report will encounter?
This has been an extremely useful and succinct debate. When I looked at the number of speakers, I thought “Oh my goodness, we’re going to be here a while”, but we have not. I hope that noble Lords, both those in the Chamber and those listening from home, will appreciate that we have a lot to get on with; their succinct comments are very welcome.
I will take a leaf out of their book and conclude by saying that peace has broken out. This debate is an example of the Lords working at its best. I congratulate noble Lords, the Minister and all the charities and organisations that have worked together in the best way possible to ensure that we have got to this situation.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, is absolutely right to say that peace has broken out, but I do not think that your Lordships were ever at war. We have all been seeking the same ends. This has been a good and succinct debate—long may that last—and from what several noble Lords have said I know that they will keep a close eye on developments over the next few months.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb and Lady Primarolo, made specific points about perpetrators being brought to book and that victims should be able to stay in their own home. The importance of community-based services for the victims of domestic abuse and their children is unquestionable. We share noble Lords’ ambitions to see all the victims of this terrible crime being supported.
It might assist the House if I briefly recap the Government’s reasoning on why now is not the appropriate time to legislate on this issue. I shall return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. The current landscape is complex. Unlike accommodation-based services, those in the community are funded and commissioned not only by PCCs but by local authorities and clinical commissioning groups. Further, as another noble Lord said, the third sector is prominently involved in this. Introducing an undeveloped statutory duty in the Bill would run the risk of cementing in legislation a complex landscape that we are working hard to simplify. Equally, placing the duty on only one of these public bodies would be to risk legislating for responsibility in the wrong place. This is far too important an issue on which to legislate in a rush.
Several noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hunt and Lord Russell, the noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Burt of Solihull, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh talked about the funding behind this, which is crucial. In fact, it has gone to the heart of the position taken by the Government. We must understand fully the cost of such a duty before we can implement it. The MHCLG duty has been funded at a cost of £125 million, so any action around community-based services must be funded appropriately. As I have said, significant government funding is already provided for these services, with an additional £17.7 million for them having been announced only last month. The results of this funding will be a further crucial piece of information to help us understand further need. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and others that funding for the commissioner also has to be in place.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about the position in Wales and Amendment 17 placing a duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to prepare and publish a report under Clause 8 on the provision of domestic abuse services in England. As with the provision made in Part 4, we have limited the duty to the provision of these community-based services in England in recognition that generally we are dealing here with devolved matters in Wales. However, the noble Baroness is absolutely right to ask the question. We recognise the concerns raised by noble Lords, which is why we have tabled amendments to demonstrate our commitments in this space.
The statutory duty on the domestic abuse commissioner to publish and lay before Parliament the Clause 8 report on the provision of and need for community-based support services, and the statutory duty on tier 1 local authorities to monitor and report on the safe accommodation duty on the provision of community-based support in their area, will together ensure that the Government have all the information they need to protect and support safe accommodation and services in the community. In addition, I have committed today to consulting this summer on a statutory duty around community-based services in the upcoming victims’ law consultation. This is a commitment to explore precisely the issues that noble Lords have highlighted in this debate. It will give us the time to do them justice. To rush legislation now would, as I have said, risk solidifying into statute the wrong framework and accountability mechanisms, as well as the wrong arrangements for ensuring that responsible public authorities collaborate to ensure that victims receive the services that they need.
We also cannot take a shortcut with a regulation-making power, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. As I said in my opening speech, your Lordships’ House does not like the kind of skeletal powers that would be provided for in Amendment 31. Any new duties in respect of community-based support should be set out in primary legislation, as we have done for accommodation-based support in Part 4. This issue must be given thorough and thoughtful consideration. We will use the consultation to interrogate fully the current landscape of community-based services and to develop effective proposals on how we might ensure that it remains robust and effective in order to give all victims access to these vital services.
My noble friend Lord Polak pointed to the fact that Amendment 85 also seeks to make provision for perpetrator programmes. I agree entirely that more is needed here. The noble Baronesses, Lady Primarolo and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, also talked about the issue. I will set out our plans in this area when we come to debate other amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, and the noble Lord, Lord Strasburger. The needs of victims and perpetrators are clearly of a different order, but we recognise that both issues need to be addressed. However, we are not persuaded that they should be conflated in a single provision such as that provided for in Amendment 85.
I turn finally to Amendment 30. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that for the reasons I have explained, we would not expect local authorities to give priority to accommodation-based support services over community- based services, so the circumstances addressed in the amendment should not arise. In response to his question, once the new duty under Part 4 becomes law the public sector equality duty will apply to local authorities in delivering their functions under it.
In assessing needs, local authorities will consider the differing requirements of all victims. This goes to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, because that will include those with relevant protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010, as well as victims who might come in from outside the specific local authority area. As set out in the draft statutory guidance, tier 1 local authorities should make it clear in their strategies how they plan to make support services available that will meet the needs of all victims. The strategy should set out the support needs that have been identified as part of the local needs assessment, along with a clear breakdown of the differing needs of victims’ groups such as, but not limited to, those from BAME backgrounds or who identify as LGBT, and how they will address the barriers faced by victims with relevant protected characteristics and/or multiple or complex needs. I hope that that will answer the point put by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
We want the same outcomes here. I think and hope that the road map that I have set out, underpinned by our amendments, has reassured noble Lords that the Government are committed to taking this issue forward at pace. I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, not to move his amendment. I thank all noble Lords for taking part in what has been an incredibly constructive debate and I hope that these government amendments will be universally supported.
I have received a request to ask the Minister a short question from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath.
My Lords, I want to ask the Minister a couple of quick questions. The first relates to the additional money she mentioned today and in Committee that is going to local authorities to help to implement the legislation. Given what the NAO has said this morning, is she confident that local authorities will actually spend the money in the areas in which the Government wish them to? Secondly, on the question put by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about the jeopardy that women-only spaces in refuges are coming under because of local authority commissioning policies, will the Minister remind those authorities of the need to implement fully the Equality Act 2010 and not try to reinterpret it?
My Lords, I will answer the last question first. The Equality Act 2010 is of the utmost importance here. Whether or not I actually remind every local authority of its obligations under that Act, they have statutory duties, and under- pinning the work of every single local state body is the Equality Act.
Will local authorities necessarily spend the additional money on what they have been tasked with spending it on? It is being given to them in conjunction with a duty. I know, because of what she has said, that both the domestic abuse commissioner and the local boards will be scrutinising the spending and commissioning of those services locally.
Amendment 17 agreed.
We come now to the group consisting of Amendment 18. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
Clause 37: Breach of order
18: Clause 37, page 23, line 28, leave out “without reasonable excuse the person fails” and insert “the court is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the person has without reasonable excuse failed”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment applies the criminal standard of proof to a breach of a domestic abuse protection order.
My Lords, this amendment raises the relationship between the civil order and the criminal conviction that can result from a breach of it. I hope that this debate is as constructive as the last one, because my intention is not to divide the House but to get on record the explanation of how a DAPO—a domestic abuse protection order—and the breach of it will work.
The order may be made if the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities, which is the civil standard of proof, that an individual has been abusive to someone with whom he or she has a personal connection— I find it difficult to use “they” of the singular. It is also a condition that the order is
“necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse, or the risk of domestic abuse”.
The civil court can impose requirements and the Bill gives examples, such as non-contact, not going to specified premises and electronic monitoring. If the subject of the order fails to comply with a requirement, without reasonable excuse, it is an offence of which he or she may be convicted. If found guilty, he or she is liable to a fine or imprisonment up to five years.
We debated protection notices and orders in Committee. The Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, in a long and helpful reply, said that he agreed with the aims of our amendments and he summarised them correctly as:
“to ensure procedural fairness so that criminal liability and punishment for breach of a DAPO will occur only where the breach is proved to the criminal standard of proof”.
He also said:
“One of the strongest elements of a DAPO is that it is a civil order, made on the civil standard of proof. That means that if a victim is not able to, or chooses not to, seek remedy through the criminal justice system, they can still access protection from the court.”—[Official Report, 1/2/21; cols. 1950-51.]
I wonder whether the Minister can unpack that “not able”—why not? And “chooses not to”—why would we not require that course to be pursued? I understand, as much as someone who has not been in this situation can, the difficulties facing someone going through everything in a court, which is an issue that we will come to later. It is important to enable a victim to pursue both justice and protection, but it is also important to have regard to the rights of an alleged perpetrator, which is about the standard of proof to be attained.
The Minister wrote after the last stage, and I thank him for that, referring to a question that I asked in Committee about the experience of applying the alternative of contempt of court to punish the breach of an order. The letter did not answer that point, and that may be because it is not known how often that route is taken in the case of comparable civil orders. He said—and this is another aspect of my questions—that choosing not to pursue a breach as a criminal matter allowed victims to obtain protection
“based on their individual circumstances.”
Can he amplify on that? How does it come about? Do the police advise victims on their choice? Is there guidance or a code of practice? Does the CPS get involved at this stage?
The primary reason for the amendment is to ask the Minister to repeat, from the Dispatch Box, the clear statement that he made in his letter about standard of proof. He wrote emphasising
“that a breach will not result in an automatic prosecution. … the breach will need to be reported to the police, who will then investigate and refer to prosecutors for a decision on whether to pursue a prosecution. Criminal sanctions will only be imposed following a conviction for the breach offence in the criminal court, which would need to be proved to the criminal standard in the usual way. By this, I mean that the matter will be dealt with by a criminal court which will automatically apply the criminal standard of proof when deciding whether to convict.”
That was reassuring, but it is better to have it on record in the Official Report. Therefore, I beg to move.
First, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for such clarity in raising some of my concerns. My enthusiasm for the Domestic Abuse Bill is somewhat muted by the worrying trend from the Government more broadly to use civil protection notices and orders to expand the coercive powers of the state, criminalising a greater range of behaviours without the bother of reaching the burden of proof of criminal law.
To be honest, I was surprised that those who usually speak up on civil liberties in this place seemed rather quiet on this, which is why I was glad to see this amendment. I know that the issue of domestic abuse is emotive and sensitive, and that we all want to do what we can to oppose it, but due process is important too, so I warmly welcome this amendment and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for raising it.
It is a crucial amendment, because it aims to ensure that a criminal standard of proof is applied to a breach of a domestic abuse order. That is just not clear as the legislation is written. It seems an important protection for justice and the rule of law. The danger of any hybridisation of civil and criminal instruments is that criminal penalties can be given out without satisfying the criminal burden of proof, which means that someone can effectively be found guilty of a crime and labelled as a proven abuser without a legal test or representation. That feels far too subjective in the Bill, as it stands.
Of course, I understand that breaches of orders must have consequences. They are not just a piece of paper; they are not just there for show. The amendment seeks to clarify how the judgment of a “reasonable excuse” for a breach in the legislation, or that it was “beyond reasonable doubt”, is arrived at. It must be the role of the courts, but it is just not clear.
Dispensing with the criminal burden of proof can have some unintended consequences that are not in the interests of the victim either. Some campaigners fear that the police may choose to use breaches of an order as an easier alternative to proving charges for more serious criminal offences, such as assault or criminal damage. A lower threshold may imply that something has been done by the authorities—as it were, ticking a box—but perhaps more should be done. If the police go about choosing an easier tick-box solution, without the nuisance of gathering evidence that can be tested, that is a bad outcome, so we must ensure that order breaches are not used as an alternative to pursing criminal charges where appropriate.
It is also nerve-racking that some breaches of an order may be relatively minor and very far from criminally threatening to anyone, least of all the person the order is protecting. Some fear that alleged victims may be deterred from reporting breaches if that automatically criminalises their partner or their ex-partner, who might perhaps be the parent of their children.
The worry is that those who the Bill seeks to protect are being sidelined in the process and potentially disempowered. Their agency is potentially undermined by decisions taken by the police or third parties who can use breaches of an order to criminalise alleged perpetrators, regardless of what the victim wants or of however minor the breach. If that were to happen, the main loser would ultimately be due process. I therefore support this amendment wholeheartedly and look forward to the Minister clarifying this or reassuring us that this is not a way of avoiding a criminal burden of proof.
My Lords, I want to go one step back and start with domestic abuse prevention notices. These can be given by a relatively junior police officer, despite what the legislation describes as a “senior police officer”—I was a police inspector at the age of 23—on the basis that he has reasonable grounds to believe that P has been abusive towards another person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected and reasonably believes that the notice is necessary to protect the person from abuse by P. If P breaches the notice, P can be arrested and must be held in custody before they can be brought before the court. That is a lot of power invested in a relatively junior and potentially inexperienced police officer, with serious consequences for P. A practical alternative might be to seek the authority of a magistrate, in a similar way that the police might seek a search warrant, which can be done at short notice, on a 24/7 basis. Did the Government consider such an alternative?
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, domestic abuse prevention orders can be made by a court on application, and must be applied for if P is already subject to a domestic abuse protection notice. The orders are made on the basis that the court is satisfied on the balance of probabilities, the civil standard of proof, that P has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected and the order is necessary and proportionate to protect that person from domestic abuse, or the risk of domestic abuse, carried out by P.
The order can be made in the absence of P, and it can impose a range of prohibitions and requirements. If P fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with the order, he commits a criminal offence and can be imprisoned for up to five years. Normally an accused person is convicted of a criminal offence only if the offence is proved beyond reasonable doubt, and while I accept that a breach of the order might be so proved, the basis upon which the order is given is on the balance of probabilities.
When this House debated knife crime prevention orders, we discussed whether the breach of what is effectively a civil order, granted on the balance of probabilities, should result in a criminal offence, rather than a fine or a term of imprisonment for contempt of court without a criminal conviction being recorded against the perpetrator. In that case, the Government claimed that it was the police who said that a criminal sanction was necessary, rather than a civil penalty, in order for perpetrators to take them seriously. What is the Government’s reason this time?
As we discussed then, Parliament changed a similar regime introduced under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and the Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, whereby breach of the civil order resulted in the criminalisation of many young people with no previous convictions for breach of an anti-social behaviour order or ASBO. Parliament replaced ASBOs with anti-social behaviour injunctions and community protection notices—a purely civil process—by means of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
On the basis of hearsay, potentially a malicious allegation, someone could be given a domestic abuse protection order, breach of which may result in a criminal conviction and a term of imprisonment. Can the Minister please explain why it is necessary for a criminal record to be created when there is a breach of the civil domestic abuse prevention order when it is not necessary in relation to anti-social behaviour injunctions and community protection notices?
My Lords, I am speaking to this amendment on the basis that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, said that she will not be moving it to a vote, and that what she is seeking is, essentially, for the Minister to read into the record the contents of the letter the noble Baroness received, in which the Minister explained the nature of the process when people breach the DAPO.
I thought I would address a couple of the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, when she opened her contribution, in her typically provocative way, by saying she feared that the state was expanding its coercive powers. In some ways, the situation is more extreme than she or the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said.
I remind the House that I sit as a magistrate in family and criminal cases; in particular, I sit on domestic abuse-related criminal cases. In domestic abuse criminal cases, if we find a perpetrator not guilty, we still occasionally give them what is now called a restraining order. We do that because although the necessary standard of proof has not been met, the alleged victim is clearly vulnerable, so we put a restraining order in place in any event. In the family court, we use non-molestation orders.
The purpose of the DAPO is to supersede restraining orders and non-molestation orders, but we very frequently put non-molestation orders in place without the alleged perpetrator present. The alleged perpetrator will be told of it and given an opportunity to come to court and argue against the imposition of a non-molestation order, but the reason the process is as I have described is to protect the woman, as it is usually. I understand that the purpose of the DAPN and the DAPO is to supersede the arrangements we have in place.
I understand the points the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made about the appropriateness of these sorts of orders when compared to ASBOs and community protection notices. They are points he has made before and they are interesting. Nevertheless, as I said in my opening, I see that the purpose of this short debate is for the Minister to put on the record the contents of the letter he has written to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to make crystal clear the standard of proof that would be necessary to get a conviction for breaching these orders.
My Lords, as I indicated in Committee, I agree with the general aim of the amendment, which is to ensure that criminal liability and punishment for a breach of a DAPO should occur only if the breach is proved to the criminal standard of proof. I heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and a number of other contributors to this short debate that the essential purpose of the amendment is for me to repeat from the Dispatch Box what I set out in a letter. I will aim to do just that.
I therefore make two main points. First, a breach of a DAPO is a criminal offence. As with all criminal offences, this will require the police to investigate the case and refer it to prosecutors, who will decide whether to pursue a prosecution. Secondly, the fact that a breach of a DAPO is a criminal offence means that, as with all criminal offences, the criminal standard of proof will apply automatically when the court is dealing with the case. A criminal conviction cannot be entered, or criminal sanctions imposed, unless and until the criminal standard of proof has been met.
The criminal standard of proof applies, therefore, when we are dealing with a breach of a DAPO. It does not apply when we are dealing with the making a DAPO. When we look at whether a DAPO should be made, the civil standard of proof applies—that is, the balance of probabilities. But in order to impose criminal sanctions for its breach, the criminal standard of proof will apply—that is, beyond reasonable doubt. I hope that has set out the position clearly and unambiguously.
Picking up on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, “beyond reasonable doubt” is the standard of proof; “without reasonable excuse” is an element of the offence, which would have to be proved to that standard. That is the difference between the two phrases.
We have taken this approach to the DAPO because we want to send a clear message to perpetrators that breach of an order is a serious matter and will be acted on. As I stated in Committee and during my engagement with the noble Baroness and others since, this approach is similar to other civil protective orders that carry criminal liability for breach, such as the non-molestation order, stalking protection order and knife crime prevention order. The approach is therefore consistent with our existing legal framework.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked why some victims may not want to go for criminal sanctions. That might not be their preference for a number of reasons. First, they may be concerned about the possible consequences for their partner or ex-partner and would not want them criminalised for a breach or, indeed, if the point of the question was, “Why isn’t the original order criminal?”
Fundamentally, the proposed orders are intended to be preventive and not punitive. They will enable courts to impose positive requirements which can help to achieve long-term sustainable behaviour change and challenge perpetrators to address their abusive behaviour. For example, the perpetrator might be required to attend a behaviour change programme or an alcohol or substance misuse programme, or undergo a mental health assessment. That may help those victims who wish to maintain a relationship with their partner or family member but want the abuse to stop. It is a strength of the DAPO that it is such a flexible remedy.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised contempt of court. If a victim wanted a breach of an order other than one made in a magistrates’ court to be dealt with as a civil contempt of court, they could make a committal application to the court, including for an arrest warrant, if necessary. In those circumstances, the court has the power to remand the perpetrator on bail or in custody. We would expect that victims’ views would be considered, together with other questions of public interest, when deciding which sanction for breach is appropriate.
On her point about the guidance, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, will recall that in Clause 48 there is a provision for guidance to the police, and in Clause 73 there is provision for guidance to others, including victims.
This is one of the strengths of the DAPO when compared to other existing orders used in these cases, such as the domestic violence protection order. The responses to our consultation highlighted that the absence of a criminal sanction following breach of the DVPO limits the effectiveness of that order. We have therefore ensured that non-compliance with a DAPO is met with the appropriate consequences. In that regard, I reiterate a point I made in Committee: in its report, the Joint Committee did not raise issues with using the civil standard of proof for making a DAPO when examining the draft Bill.
As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, noted, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, raised on a number of occasions that we are making a move from civil standard to criminal standard when breached. With respect, I have set out the Government’s position in response to that on a number of occasions. We are satisfied that the system we have in the Bill is appropriate. There is nothing in the point, I would respectfully say, that there is something wrong with criminal sanctions on breach for an order made on the balance of probabilities. They are two conceptually distinct questions First, what is the standard for the order to be made? Secondly, what do you have to prove for criminal sanctions when there is a breach of that order?
As for the question on going to the magistrates’ court, one of the strengths of this order is that it can be issued quickly in response to a crisis incident, as with the existing domestic violence protection order. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, said, ultimately, we are dealing with the question of protection for victims.
I hope that my explanations on the standard of proof in this short debate, alongside the explanations I provided in Committee and my subsequent discussions with noble Lords, have been helpful. I hope that what I have said today has been clear and unambiguous. I therefore respectfully invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I think my noble friend Lord Paddick’s question about the underlying architecture, if that is the right phrase, still stands, but I will not pursue it now. I am grateful to the Minister for all he said about the application of the provisions. I did not make myself as clear as I should have done about what he explained as someone not wanting to go for criminal prosecution. That was not quite my point, which was about inability and due process, which is a term we would do well to keep in mind—due process for both parties.
The Minister has been very clear in his explanation of the standard. I am conscious of how much business the House has to get through today, so I will not prolong this. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 18 withdrawn.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 19. I point out to the House that Amendment 98 should also be considered in this group. It was left out inadvertently.
19: After Schedule 1, insert the following new Schedule—
“SCHEDULE STRANGULATION OR SUFFOCATION: CONSEQUENTIAL AMENDMENTSPolice and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
1_ In section 65A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (qualifying offences for the purposes of Part 5 of that Act), in subsection (2), after paragraph (r) insert—“(ra) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Housing Act 1985
2_ In Schedule 2A to the Housing Act 1985 (absolute ground for possession for anti-social behaviour: serious offences), after paragraph 14 insert—“14A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994
3_ In Part 1 of Schedule 7A to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 (offences in England and Wales for which cross-border powers of arrest available), for paragraph 24 substitute—“24_ An offence under either of the following provisions of the Serious Crime Act 2015— (a) section 45 (participating in activities of organised crime group);(b) section 75A (strangulation or suffocation).”Crime and Disorder Act 1998
4_(1) Section 29 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 (racially or religiously aggravated assaults) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1), after paragraph (b) (but before the “or” following it) insert—“(ba) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation);”.(3) In subsection (2), for “or (b)” substitute “, (b) or (ba)”.Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999
5_(1) Schedule 1A to the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (proceedings in which witnesses are automatically eligible for assistance on grounds of fear or distress about testifying) is amended as follows.(2) After paragraph 29 insert—“Serious Crime Act 201529A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation) in a case where it is alleged that—(a) the accused was carrying a firearm or knife at any time during the commission of the offence, and(b) a person other than the accused knew or believed at any time during the commission of the offence that the accused was carrying a firearm or knife.”(3) In paragraph 30, after “paragraphs 1 to 8” insert “or 29A”.Sexual Offences Act 2003
6_ In Schedule 5 to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (cases where sexual harm prevention orders may be made), after paragraph 63B insert—“63C_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Criminal Justice Act 2003
7_ In Part 1 of Schedule 15 to the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (violent offences specified for purposes of certain custodial sentences), before paragraph 63G insert—“63FA_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004
8_ In section 6A of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (evidence and procedure in cases of serious physical harm: England and Wales), in subsection (2), at the end insert—“(c) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Children Act 2004
9_ In section 58 of the Children Act 2004 (reasonable punishment: England), in subsection (2), after paragraph (c) insert—“(d) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
10_ In section 98 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 (violent offender orders), in subsection (3), after paragraph (d) insert—“(da) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation);”.Modern Slavery Act 2015
11_ In Schedule 4 to the Modern Slavery Act 2015 (offences to which defence for slavery or trafficking victims under section 45 of that Act does not apply), after paragraph 35 insert—“Serious Crime Act 2015 35A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).”Sentencing Act 2020
12_(1) The Sentencing Act 2020 is amended as follows.(2) In section 67 (assaults on emergency workers), in subsection (3), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) an offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation);”.(3) In Part 1 of Schedule 18 (violent offences for which extended sentence of imprisonment available), after paragraph 25 insert—“Serious Crime Act 201525A_ An offence under section 75A of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (strangulation or suffocation).””Member’s explanatory statement
The new Schedule amends other legislation in consequence of the proposed new Clause in the name of Baroness Newlove that provides for an offence of strangulation or suffocation.
My Lords, the amendments in this group are government amendments tabled in my name. The principal amendment in this group is Amendment 49, which is also in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Wilcox and Lady Meacher. Amendments 19, 89, 95, 98, 100, 101 and 106 are consequential amendments. Amendment 49 establishes a specific offence of strangulation or suffocation. My noble friend the Minister has added his name to this group of amendments and has indicated to me the Government’s support for them. I thank my noble friend and welcome his support.
I am grateful to the Government for listening to this House and to the many organisations which have worked tirelessly for this vital change. I thank especially the women who have shared with me and other organisations their horrific experiences of strangulation and suffocation; this has helped make the case for this change in the law. One such woman is Rachel Williams. Rachel was strangled and then later shot by her partner. She was severely injured. I put on record my thanks to her for her tireless work in getting this offence recognised, as well as in supporting other victims through the organisation she has set up, Stand Up to Domestic Abuse. This year, 2021, is the year when we can be so proud to say to the thousands of victims and survivors who have suffered from this brutal act, and to their families, that your Lordships’ House is making this change.
I also pay tribute to all those who have worked side by side with me since Committee to ensure that a suitable amendment came together, as we have in front of us today. They include my successor as Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird; the domestic abuse commissioner designate, Nicole Jacobs; the noble Lords, Lord Marks, Lord Anderson, Lord Blunkett and Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London. Last but not least, I give a huge thank you to Professor David Ormerod. I am most grateful to all noble Lords around the House who have indicated to me their full support during the debates that we have had.
I know that I would not have got here without the incredible work of Nogah Ofer and the Centre for Women’s Justice, and Dr Cath White, the clinical director of SAFE Place Merseyside, whose detailed research and understanding of these cases has produced a strong case for reform. I am very conscious that they have done much of this work in their own time and my thanks go to them personally as well as to their organisations. Moreover, the work of the charity Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse has been pivotal in getting us here today. I have huge respect for the chief executive Frank Mullane, who works tirelessly to help support traumatised families and ensures that professional training is given towards understanding domestic homicide reviews.
It is now accepted that our existing laws on assault are a very poor fit for strangulation and suffocation. Current laws focus on visible injuries, but with strangulation and suffocation there can be a high level of violence but few or no visible marks. Having a stand-alone offence will make assessing cases much more straightforward for the police as well as prosecutors. Implementation will be crucial. There will need to be appropriate training for police officers, the CPS, medical staff and domestic abuse workers. This will, of course, need financial resourcing. However, such investment into stopping domestic abuse at the very first opportunity will save countless lives of misery and the far greater costs of addressing further horrific crimes, including homicides, as well as suicides where domestic abuse is a factor. Implementation needs to be thorough and consistent across England and Wales.
I am concerned that many police forces’ specialist or dedicated domestic abuse units have been disbanded or so downsized that they cannot provide the service that victims have every right to expect. If this new offence within this landmark Bill is truly going to cause a sea-change in attitudes—a change that we desperately need—domestic abuse in all its forms must become a priority for all police forces, so that victims everywhere feel their voices are heard with dignity and respect and they are given the support that is needed for them to feel confident in and trust the criminal justice system.
I will leave it to the Minister to deal with the technicalities of the amendments but there are some obvious changes from Committee. The maximum sentence proposed here is five years, rather than seven, to bring it in line with the normal maximum sentence for actual bodily harm. The provision now includes the offence when carried out abroad by a UK national, which it is right to catch under this legislation. The new amendment introduces a limit on the consent normally allowed in law, so that a defendant cannot rely on a defence of consent if serious harm is caused, even if the defendant did not intend to cause the harm but was reckless; that is, they were aware that there was a risk of harm when they strangled someone but disregarded it. This limit to the defence of consent is in line with the “rough sex” defence amendment, which has become Clause 65 of the Bill. I accept the need for consistency, and I know that strangulation and suffocation can be part of rough sex.
Personally, I am concerned that many young people consent to violent acts because they feel pressured or coerced by partners and because of the normalisation of this violence through pornography. They may not be aware of the serious harm that this causes; even death can be caused in a matter of seconds. In a BBC survey of over 2,000 participants, 38% of women under 40 had experienced strangulation during sex; for women aged 18-24, this rises to 54%. Of the women who had been strangled or experienced other violence during sex, 53% had at least sometimes not consented; 42% of them said that on some or all occasions they had felt pressured, coerced or forced.
My warning to those considering consenting is that there is no evidence that strangulation improves the sexual experience for women, but there is evidence that men routinely use strangulation as a method of assault, and it is dangerous. When people speak of strangulation for sexual gratification, they really mean sexual gratification of men at the expense of women’s safety.
It is important that where consent is raised and disputed, the CPS opposes such defences robustly to get across the message that strangulation can be very dangerous, and that using it is reckless as there is always a risk of harm because you are depriving the brain of oxygen. Restricting oxygen to the brain, even for a short time, can have long-term consequences such as neurological damage.
However, within domestic abuse most cases of strangulation are not to do with sex. In these cases, the strangling is usually part of an episode of aggression and the issue of consent is not raised by the police or the CPS. This new offence will make it clear that it must be taken seriously, not dismissed because there are no visible marks. The offence heightens the level of risk for the victim of further abuse.
If the implementation of the Bill is properly resourced and monitored, this will really be the start of a tangible change in attitudes towards a particularly horrifying form of domestic abuse. I hope we will see the culture shift so that such abuse becomes unacceptable to everyone. The new offence is just one part of the changes needed, and I urge all noble Lords to support the amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I warmly commend the sterling efforts of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to see the introduction of new offences of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation. The noble Baroness generously mentioned a number of organisations and people who have helped her but she deserves huge credit for the way in which she has championed this action, which I am delighted to see in today’s amendments.
The noble Baroness’s speech was very powerful. The statistics that she shared with us about the relationship between strangulation and sex were shocking but, as she said, it goes much further beyond that as well. Indeed, she has explained at previous stages of the Bill that non-fatal strangulation and suffocation have the unique characteristic of being extremely harmful physically and psychologically but often with no external physical signs. Because of the lack of observable injuries and the lack of understanding of the seriousness of the offence, strangulation when charged is generally pursued as a summary offence of common assault in the magistrates’ court. Undercharging limits sentencing options, and a summary offence also deprives the victim and the defendant of the greater resources and attention devoted to a Crown Court prosecution. Without the establishment of a separate offence, those unique characteristics mean that more victims would suffer and be killed in future.
The amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, creates a new criminal offence of strangulation or suffocation. The offence will apply where a person intentionally strangles another person, but it will also cover a range of behaviours, including suffocation and other acts that affect the person’s ability to breathe and which amount to battery. Alongside the new offence must go training and strong guidance to police forces and other statutory agencies about how it is to be implemented, but today is a very significant step forward. I am grateful to the Government for responding to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I warmly welcome the amendments.
My Lords, I too welcome the amendments. I welcome the new offence of non-fatal strangulation and suffocation. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in saying that this is a very significant achievement for the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. As she generously said in opening the debate, many have helped to bring this new offence to the statute book, but she has been the driver throughout. This has not been for herself; her motivation has been to relieve the suffering of victims.
We on these Benches have given the noble Baroness our wholehearted support throughout. It was always an extraordinary anomaly that non-fatal strangulation was not a specific offence. As discussed in Committee, cases of strangulation were generally charged, and therefore sentenced, as assault occasioning actual bodily harm at most—for the reason, which she explained, that they often left little or no mark. The result was that strangulation and suffocation were undercharged and underpunished, and indeed often not punished at all. That was all despite the appalling truth that strangulation was so much the marker of more generalised domestic abuse, and despite the tragic fact that so often it turned out be a predictor of future killing.
I am very grateful to Ministers for engaging with so many of those concerned with the promotion of these amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, and I had the opportunity to discuss the legal aspects of the new proposed offence with Ministers, and the Government quickly saw the strength of the argument for a specific offence. It is a credit to Ministers that, after initial hesitation, they decided to include the new offence in the Bill and resisted the temptation to put it off to a future date. Because of the strong connection with domestic abuse, it is an offence that sits clearly within the Bill, but it was the right decision to work on this with the speed that we have. That decision must have saved many victims from further serious harm and has almost certainly saved lives.
It is right that the new offence is of general application, not just limited to domestic abuse. It would not have been appropriate to confine it to cases within the statutory definition of “domestic abuse” contained in the Bill, despite the overwhelming majority of cases falling within that category. That is because all cases of strangulation or suffocation are required to be treated as specific offences, for the reasons that I mentioned earlier.
I am grateful for the advice of Professor David Ormerod, the former criminal law commissioner at the Law Commission, for his help with the drafting. He changed my view on the consent issue; I had originally been of the view that consent should be no defence, but it is right that there is a defence of consent—to cover, for example, cases of sporting contests that lead to injury—provided that serious harm was unintended. That proviso is elegantly drafted in the amendments before us. I know the Government are also grateful for the generosity with which he gave his advice, and for the advice of the Law Commission.
In my view, the broad definition of “serious harm” in proposed new subsection (6) to include actual bodily harm is right. It will be less difficult to prove, in cases of both physical and psychiatric injury, than if the only harm that met the required criteria were those for grievous bodily harm or wounding offences under Sections 18 and 20 of the Offences against the Person Act. It is also right that the new offence has extraterritorial application under the new Section 75B, and we welcome that.
I commend the Government on behalf of these Benches for their comprehensive and well-modulated response to this new offence, and to the amendments by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I congratulate her once again. It is a victory for her but also for the many victims of this horrible crime. It is to be hoped that this provision will ensure that many others are spared both strangulation offences and the possible escalation to fatal violence thereafter.
My Lords, I will keep my remarks short, in view of the amount of work to get through today. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who has shown the most incredible tenacity to get to this point. It is absolutely amazing, and an example to us all. Also, if I can say this without sounding anodyne or even boring, I congratulate the Government on picking this up. It was the right thing to do, and I am delighted. It opens the way for survivors of domestic abuse to seek justice and have a legal pathway to see their abusers punished. In later amendments, I will pick up on other areas where women are legally discriminated against very seriously, but for the time being, this is a fantastic move by the Government.
My Lords, in view of the pressure of time, I shall be brief, but I could not allow this amendment to pass without congratulating all those who have played such a significant part. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has shown enormous tenacity. There are times in all our parliamentary, public and political lives when we suddenly realise that we can make a real difference to the well-being, and in this case the lives, of others. I congratulate her from the bottom of my heart. I pay tribute to those whom she generously paid tribute in her speech, and also to her co-signatories, my noble friend Lady Wilcox and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who have stuck with this all along.
Unusually for these Benches, I congratulate, as my noble friend Lord Hunt did, the two Ministers, who have been assiduous in their preparedness to listen, respond and be flexible. This is the House of Lords at its best. Parliament is at its best when people listen to each other, where divides are narrowed and overcome, and where people of good will are prepared to find a way forward in the interests of the people whom we seek to serve in the country as a whole.
I have played a very small part in this, but I like to think that the Minister, as I said to him on another occasion, would not wish to put his parliamentary colleagues in the House of Commons in the invidious position of voting down such an important and critical measure. He certainly listened, as have the Government. Will we be able to do so on other issues?
Today there will be many votes. It should not diminish the importance of the Bill that we have continuing issues to raise, because this is a really important piece of legislation. I have one thing to put on the record on the statistics that the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, gave us this afternoon. This is about power and domination, never about love. It is about people who are prepared to use their manhood for ill, not for good. It is about inadequates who then inflict their inadequacy on the people they claim to love. If we can put that message out to young men in particular, we will have done a very proud job of work this afternoon.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for what she has done. Many people will have cause to thank her in years to come.
My Lords, this Bill will be remembered in years to come for the many important changes and reforms that will be introduced through it, but without doubt one of the most welcome changes will be the recognition of non-fatal strangulation in law and, we hope, the effective response by the criminal justice system. I say “welcome”; this particular amendment will be most welcomed by the most severely abused women who suffer this particularly horrible crime. As others have said, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has done a superb job, supported by some pretty superb people, in steering the amendment to this point. She has said pretty well all that I would have said, and therefore I will be extremely brief.
The only point that has not been mentioned is that if we really want the amendment to achieve what it should achieve, which is the appropriate response by the police, the courts and so on, then training police officers so that they are aware of this stand-alone offence will be very important, and maybe a little training for doctors, although they should certainly be aware of what a strangulation looks like. Can the Minister say anything about that?
Like others, I say a tremendously sincere thank you to our Ministers, who have really listened. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, has been a marvellous Minister in this House for a long time now, and we now have the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, as well as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson. We are very lucky to have those Ministers in this House and I pay credit to them.
My Lords, like others who have spoken, I am absolutely delighted at this outcome and grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the two Ministers for addressing this gap in the legislation by giving this cruel and dangerous offence its rightful place as a crime in its own right. I congratulate all outside and inside this place who have campaigned for years to bring non-fatal strangulation on to the statue book. This will make a huge difference, as others have said, to the police, who will be given the confidence to arrest perpetrators. Judges will be able to bring the full force of the law on these sadistic, controlling criminals, who threaten, hurt, maim and kill their terrified victims.
Nothing that I can say can add to the cogent, clear contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. As my noble friend Lord Marks said, this is a victory not only for her, but for all those victims from the past and the future who will now get justice, as well as greater awareness that this is not okay, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, says, is nothing about love.
My Lords, the important issue of non-fatal strangulation has been powerfully supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, throughout the passage of this Bill, and she deserves every plaudit available to her for taking this through. I add my thanks to the Ministers engaged in this matter and echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Blunkett, which emanate from his huge experience in the Commons. This is indeed the House of Lords at its best, and I am delighted that the Government have listened and introduced Amendment 49.
Having the separate offence of non-fatal strangulation on the statute book will help the police to stop domestic abuse and coercive control. One of the UK’s leading domestic abuse campaigners is Rachel Williams, whom I got to know very well during my time as leader of Newport City Council. She lobbied me at every opportunity on these matters. She currently has a petition running on change.org to ask the Prime Minister to amend the law on non-fatal strangulation. She says in her petition:
“Strangulation is a very symbolic act of control which leaves its victim in no doubt that there is a real and visceral threat to their life. If you put your hands on someone’s throat and squeeze the message and terror for the victim is clear.”
As a survivor of domestic violence, Rachel really knows what impact that has.
Strangulation is a very particular form of assault for three reasons: it is likely to cause serious injury or death, it is perceived by the victim as a direct threat to their life, and it is highly predictive of future homicide. A separate offence on the statue book will give the power to the police and the justice system to treat these offences with the seriousness that they deserve. I am delighted to tell Rachel, and the 108,609 people who had signed her petition when I last checked, that this amendment will ensure that the law is indeed changed, and that non-fatal strangulation will become a stand-alone offence on the face of this landmark Bill.
My Lords, first, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Newlove on bringing forward these amendments, which, as she said, will create a new criminal offence of strangulation and suffocation. A number of tributes have been paid to my noble friend; they are all well deserved and I associate myself and the Government with them. If I may pick up one phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, she has made a real difference and, moreover, in a really important area. I assure him and the House that we listen. I will listen to noble Peers on this and on other matters. We will not always agree but I will always listen.
There have been a number of powerful and brief contributions. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, was kind enough to thank the Government, which is very welcome. I will seek to make it a more regular occurrence but it is warmly accepted. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, mentioned, and as my noble friend Lady Newlove identified, a number of organisations have worked hard in this area. Their names are on the record and they deserve the credit as well.
I am also personally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for the discussions which he and I have had on this matter, together with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich. They have been extremely useful to me. Perhaps I may also pick out some good discussions I have had with somebody who did not contribute to this debate but has worked hard in this area: the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. She certainly improved my knowledge of and focus on this matter.
My noble friend Lady Newlove has highlighted to the Government why this new offence was necessary. She has engaged with me and my officials, to whom I should also pay tribute for working at significant speed, together with Professor David Ormerod—I think I can now say Professor David Ormerod CBE. This is not the first time, and will not be the last, that he has contributed significantly to the criminal law of this country. I will take a few moments to explain the architecture of the offence, because it is a new offence.
The key amendment in the group is Amendment 49, which provides for the substantive new offence. Strangulation and suffocation are always dangerous and, subject to the issue of consent, which was raised by a number of noble Lords and which I will come back to, they are wholly unacceptable. Strangulation can not only injure but be used by perpetrators to cause fear or exert control over their victim, as part of an abusive relationship.
Amendment 49, as I have stated, seeks to create a new offence of non-fatal strangulation or suffocation in England and Wales. It applies to behaviour which is currently criminal, so the aim is to improve the ability to prosecute such offences effectively—a point made by a number of noble Lords. The offence is designed to deal with assaults on any person where this affects their ability to breathe, whether by application of force to the neck—that is, strangulation—or by any other act; for example, by suffocation or constriction. The offence applies to all cases where strangulation or suffocation takes place, including those that occur in a domestic abuse situation. To pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, this offence is not restricted to domestic abuse situations but it is quite right that it is in this Bill, because it is often found in those situations.
Although such criminal behaviour can currently be captured under the offence of battery or, where more serious harm is caused, via the offence of causing actual bodily harm under the Offences against the Person Act 1861, the Government have been persuaded of the need to distinguish such crimes through a stand-alone offence. Serious offences against the person currently require actual bodily harm, which can make cases of strangulation or suffocation potentially difficult to prosecute. That is because the victim may have no, or limited, signs of injury. The problem can be compounded by the fact that the existing charge of battery, which carries a penalty of six months’ imprisonment, does not enable the seriousness of the offence as experienced by the victim—the terror caused during the assault or the often long-lasting psychological effect of it—to be suitably punished.
Unlike the summary-only offence of battery, the new offence of strangulation or suffocation will not be time-limited if a prosecution does not commence within six months of the offence. But perhaps of greater importance here, as my noble friend Lady Newlove identified, the new offence will expose the defendant to a more serious sentence than the current six months’ imprisonment for battery. That is because the nature of the harm required to qualify for the maximum five-year penalty has been reduced.
As is the case under the law for other assaults, the new offence will also provide a defence for the perpetrator to show that the victim consented to being strangled. However, and importantly, that defence of consent will not apply if the victim suffers serious harm, including where the perpetrator intended to cause serious harm or was reckless as to causing harm, regardless of the victim’s consent to those acts.
Noble Lords may ask why consent needs to be addressed here at all. The reason is that the law has to strike a balance. On the one hand, it must not interfere with an individual’s Article 8 ECHR rights to respect for their private life; we also do not want to criminalise low-risk consensual activity. But, on the other hand, we must ensure that any activity which causes serious harm is punished. We have sought to strike that balance in a manner which reflects the current law of the land. That was established by your Lordships’ House in its previous judicial function, which some of us still remember, in its decision in 1993 in the case of R v Brown.
If I can summarise a very long decision in one sentence, it would be this: where a victim consents to an act that amounts to no more than a battery, the consent of the victim can be a valid defence for the perpetrator. Subsection (3) of proposed new Section 75A, however, also gives effect to the other aspect of R v Brown in that a person ordinarily cannot consent to having serious harm inflicted upon them. This is linked to Clause 65 of the Bill, which lists the three assault offences for which, to cite R v Brown, consent to serious harm for sexual gratification is not a defence. That, of course, ties into the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, when she said that this is nothing about love. Importantly, exceptions that are recognised separately under the common law in relation to sports and other activities will not be affected and will also apply here. In such cases, where serious harm is caused the courts will consider this offence inapplicable where an existing public policy exemption applies.
The extraterritoriality point was raised by a number of contributors. A new Section 75B is to be inserted into the Serious Crime Act 2015, providing extraterritorial jurisdiction for the offence created by new Section 75A. It will mean that where the offence of strangulation or suffocation is committed outside the United Kingdom by a UK national or a person habitually resident in England or Wales, they can be prosecuted for the offence in England and Wales as if they had committed the offence in England and Wales.
Finally, given that the creation of a new offence of strangulation or suffocation is being achieved here, a number of consequential changes are required, including a new schedule and a change to the Long Title. These are set out in Amendments 19, 89, 95, 98, 100, 101 and 106. The amendments in the new schedule add this new offence to existing lists of mainly violent offences which trigger special consequences; for example, at paragraph 12(3) of the schedule it becomes a violent offence for which an extended sentence of imprisonment is available.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has also put her name to Amendment 49, asked about training. In short, whenever there is a new offence, the police and CPS consider training for that new offence. Such training is a matter for them but I am sure that all those involved in the criminal justice system will be alive to the point that she made.
I hope it is not impertinent to say, as a recent arrival in your Lordships’ House, that I respectfully endorse the comment made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, who also put her name to Amendment 49. She said that the amendment—and, if I may say, the work that has led up to it—has shown the House at its best. As a new Minister, it has been a pleasure to work with everybody involved in this matter. I am very conscious that I am taking some of the credit for work done by other Ministers, including my predecessors.
To conclude, it is important when considering the creation of any new criminal offence that the offence is proportionate, and that it allows for more prosecutions to brought and convictions secured. As I stated in Committee, there were several difficult legal and technical issues which needed to be considered, particularly matters such as consent and the application of existing public policy exceptions, including those that exist for sports.
The Government are happy to agree that the amendments now address those points while ensuring that crimes of strangulation or suffocation can be prosecuted, with the perpetrators of such crimes more readily brought to justice. I therefore join my noble friend in commending these amendments to the House.
My Lords, I thank everybody in the Chamber and speaking virtually for their very kind words. This is the first Bill I have been completely involved with and I have been blown away by the experience, knowledge and huge support I have received from each and every noble Lord.
I thank my noble friend the Minister and my noble friend Lady Williams because they have truly listened and taken everything that has been discussed on board. I am not a lawyer or barrister so I thank those I call my “legal eagles”— I mean them no disrespect by that —who have the brains to narrow this down and support the victims of this horrific and violent offence.
I have goosebumps about what has been said. I think the best words were from the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, when he said that this shows the House at its best. When we listen, we learn, and we can resolve to get what is needed for the victims on the ground. I especially thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has been by my side throughout this passage of the Bill. I appreciate her expertise and, more importantly, her support. I also thank the back-room staff and the government lawyers, who have worked really quickly for us to get to this point today.
To all the victims and survivors who have challenged for change to get this support for many years, I say: this is your day, you are the heroines of what we are discussing. All of us across the Chamber, no matter our political party, have achieved the very best we can for you on strangulation and suffocation. It is for you, the victims of these horrific offences, that I urge all noble Lords to support these amendments.
The one thing I would like to ask—and the best thing I have always said throughout my journey—is that we treat victims and survivors with dignity and respect. One of the sincerest forms of respect is listening to what another has to say, to hear them and help them, so that they will no longer struggle on a daily basis as we progress this Bill. I hope that noble Lords will support these amendments.
Amendment 19 agreed.
Clause 55: Support provided by local authorities to victims of domestic abuse
20: Clause 55, page 35, line 25, leave out “domestic abuse” and insert “accommodation-based”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the Minister’s amendment at page 35, line 30, would change the current label of “domestic abuse support” in Clause 55 to “accommodation-based support” and are consequential on the Minister’s other amendments to Clauses 55 and 56 relating to “other local authority support”.
Amendment 20 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 21. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
21: Clause 55, page 35, line 28, at end insert—
“( ) ensure all child contact centres and organisations that offer child contact services are accredited in accordance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.”
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for meeting me and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Burt of Solihull, over this vexed issue of child contact centres.
A little history is important here. In 2007 the Department for Education commissioned the National Association of Child Contact Centres, the NACCC, to develop national standards for child contact, but no regulatory framework was created. The NACCC and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cafcass, agreed a memorandum of understanding on service delivery accreditation standards and safe- guarding protections to keep children safe. This cross-party amendment builds on the work of both. They, along with Women’s Aid, Family Action and Barnardo’s, all support this amendment.
The amendment aims to ensure that these standards protect children wherever they have facilitated contact. The NACCC, Cafcass and key sector providers, including the Salvation Army, Barnardo’s, Family Action, Relate, Action for Children and Core Assets, all do an outstanding job and these third sector organisations agreed by consensus in 2019 that regulation is required by the sector.
Accredited child contact centres and services have clear procedures and staff training and support staff in decision-making where risk may be present, including in safeguarding children and preventing domestic abuse. Sadly, it is not uncommon for one or both parents to have deep-seated problems, including risks of problems with alcohol and/or drug abuse, and the risk of ongoing abusive behaviours.
However, many centres and services currently fall outside the oversight of local authorities, NACCC or Cafcass because the current regulatory framework is only voluntary and patchy. Such unregulated provision of centres and voluntary child contact services unfortunately leaves this field open to those of malintent, including paedophiles and those from extremist factions.
I ask noble Lords to ask themselves why anyone who really cares about children would not want to be fully trained in child development and safeguarding. Is it acceptable to leave children already traumatised by being victims of or watching abuse in situations of increased risk? The amendment closes the loophole by providing the Secretary of State with powers to specify regulations and delivery.
As the Minister requested in Committee, we provided an initial review of evidence to the Minister. I am most grateful to the Minister for meeting us. In the list of over 50 centres advertising on the internet, we found some operating without oversight. Local authorities have a duty when commissioning under Section 34 of the Children Act 2004, but financial stringencies and the lack of universal standards contribute to variability. Importantly, not all services are local authority-commissioned.
For example, one child contact centre had NACCC accreditation withdrawn due to safeguarding and health and safety concerns, including Disclosure and Barring Service checks that were not up to date and poor storage security of personal information and records. After the removal of accreditation, the centre accepted a high-risk supervised referral where the father was on the sex offenders register, but the centre could not provide adequately supervised services. It continues to advertise as NACCC-accredited and take referrals from solicitors.
There are also a significant number of child contact centres with no website presence. In the time available, the NACCC could do only a desktop study and so could not ascertain how many are still operating. For example, I have been informed by the NACCC of at least two that are operational, but their details cannot be found anywhere online.
Without oversight and clear standards, there is no way of verifying how these child contact centres and services are operating, and no levers to close them down. Compounding this, the courts’ awareness of the judicial protocol on child contact is patchy, so inappropriate referrals continue to be made.
The motivation behind this amendment is to ensure the safest environment in child contact cases, to allow regular contact between absent parents and children, and to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place. All this amendment does is provide the Secretary of State with powers to specify regulations and delivery standards. We cannot let a Bill on domestic abuse proceed without ensuring the safeguarding of those children, already victims in family breakdown, in situations where abuse may be ongoing.
I hope the Minister will be able to tell me that this amendment will be accepted or that the Government will return at Third Reading with an amendment of their own, or give a firm undertaking to bring forward the necessary regulatory standards. At the moment, children are at risk in unsupervised and dangerous situations. The specific question is therefore this: when will the Government lay before Parliament the regulations required to protect children in child contact services? Without an answer to this, I will feel forced to test the opinion of the House. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as vice-president of NACCC and the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Child Contact Centres. I am delighted to join the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, in supporting the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, in this amendment. I thank her for bringing forward Amendment 21 at this stage. I refer to my previous attempt to plug this legislative loophole in the Private Member’s Bill that I brought forward in 2016-17.
Life is full of choices, and, regrettably, children do not choose when their families will split and break down and their parents separate. What is important for children’s well-being, and in keeping with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, is that children continue to have contact with both parents following a family breakdown. Often at that time, the absent parent in particular may suffer severe stress from the family breakdown and encounter substance or alcohol abuse. It is extremely important in those circumstances where a child cannot see the absent parent in their own home that they have a safe haven of a secure contact centre, or related services are provided, where contact can safely take place. That is why the terms of this amendment are so important. It is a very simple, straightforward amendment to ensure that all child contact centres and organisations that offer child contact services are accredited in accordance with national standards in relation to safeguarding and preventing domestic abuse, as specified in regulations made by the Secretary of State.
I too am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the two meetings he has held with us and for sharing the text of the letters he proposed to send, which I will come on to in a moment. At present, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has explained, while the National Association of Child Contact Centres has been asked to set standards, the regulations required have not yet been put in place. This remains one area of family law which is unregulated. It is essential that the memorandum of understanding between Cafcass and NACCC, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, referred, be respected by all referrals, and that the judicial protocol also to be followed by family courts is adhered to in all referrals.
I am concerned that my noble friend the Minister appears not to appreciate that child contact centres are the only group that do not have requirements in law, whereas all others—for instance, childminders and nurseries—do. At the moment, anyone can set up a child contact centre. The amendment seeks to ensure that the standards for public and private law provision are the same.
There is evidence that court referrals are, at times, to centres that are not accredited by NACCC or overseen by local authorities, as is required by the judicial protocol. It is also true that awareness by courts of the judicial protocol on child contact is, at times, patchy.
The motivation behind the amendment is to ensure the safest environment in child contact cases, to allow regular contact between absent parents and children, and to ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place, including in instances where a parent may have alcohol or substance abuse issues, as I set out earlier.
While I welcome the proposal of my noble friend the Minister to write to the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of Cafcass, I believe that this is not going far enough. We have a one-off opportunity here to plug the legislative gap, and letters alone will not implement the provisions and put in place the legal framework that we seek to achieve.
I end with a plea to my noble friend the Minister, and all noble Lords, to ensure two things: first, that the same standards will apply for both public and private provision for all child contact centres and services; and, secondly, to accept Amendment 21, providing the legal basis to bring forward the regulations required to achieve this. I believe that this is the only way that we are actually going to do justice to providing a safe environment for the innocent children in a family breakdown, by providing them with a safe haven in which to meet the absent parent. If there is anything short of a full commitment from the Minister in these circumstances, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for meeting the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and other supporters of this amendment, including me. There is no agenda here: we just need children to be safely supervised during contact by properly trained people who can spot the signs of stress and distress in children.
On the first day of Report, I spoke to Amendment 15, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, about the need for training for all who come into contact with victims. Child contact centres are a very strong and sensitive example of the need for training. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay said in Committee, the quiet child is not necessarily the happy child. Trained professionals know how to spot the difference and what to do. There are many examples like this, where a trained professional could, and should, intervene to help, to signpost and to stop potential harm being done.
The main issue here revolves around whether unaccredited centres are operating and in what circumstances. We know that court referrals should be made only to accredited centres, but does every member of the judiciary know? The Minister has attempted to reassure us about that. What about non-court referrals? I discussed this with Barnardo’s. Anyone can make a referral to a child contact centre—a social worker or other professional working with the family, a parent, the child who wants contact with their parent, and Barnardo’s itself. Who is making them pick an approved centre, especially when they are likely to be more costly?
Anyone can start up a contact centre. The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, in his remarks in Committee, asked for proof that unapproved child contact centres were operating. As the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said earlier, this has proved difficult to obtain, because there is no obligation on them to register.
In January, the Government launched an independent review into children’s social care. Will the Minister commit to including child contact centres in this review? As it stands, this is not good enough. If the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, decides to put this to a vote, we on these Benches will support her.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said, the Minister has been generous with his time and has spoken with the group twice. The purpose of this amendment is well understood by the contributors to this short debate and by the Minister. The purpose is simple: it is to close a loophole, to make sure that all child contact centres reach the necessary standard, that there is some form of overview and accreditation and that there are consequences if that standard is not reached.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, succinctly put it, we know that, as far as the courts are concerned, only accredited child contact centres should ever be used. However, what about other referrals to child contact centres? What about private referrals or referrals by local councils or other organisations such as Barnardo’s?
In the discussions that we have had with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, he has asked for proof that there is a problem. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, said, it is difficult to provide proof, because you are looking for organisations and child contact centres that do not necessarily advertise their services. If they run into problems, they can easily withdraw the advertising and re-emerge in another form, but with the same people running them. At the moment, there are no consequences for people playing fast and loose with the system, if I may put it like that. There needs to be some consistency across the range of services and regulated services that children use. This anomaly needs to be addressed and I can see no better place to do it than in this Bill with this amendment right now. I and my party will support the amendment if it is moved to a vote.
My Lords, as I indicated in Committee, I fully recognise that the provision of child contact centres is extremely important to supporting families and enabling parents to have contact with their children, while at the same time providing a safe environment that protects children and adults from potential harm. As the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, put it, there is no agenda here, in the sense that we all have the same aim. The question is the best means of achieving it.
It is essential that all children experience the same high level of care and safeguarding where circumstances have necessitated their involvement with the family justice system and child contact centres or services. I thank noble Lords and the National Association of Child Contact Centres for their engagement with me and my officials since Committee. I have met, on a number of occasions, several noble Lords who have spoken in support of this amendment. I have found those discussions extremely helpful and I am grateful to them for the time that they gave to discussing the issue with me in more detail.
This amendment differs from the amendment debated in Committee, because it provides that the child contact centres should be accredited in accordance with national standards to be specified in regulations laid by the Secretary of State. The amendment in Committee did not specify who would set the accreditation standards. I continue to question whether the statutory accreditation proposed in this amendment is required or would provide a more effective form of regulation than that which currently exists through the NACCC accreditation framework and the statutory regulations governing local authorities.
I extend my sincere thanks to the NACCC for the useful overview of the current landscape of unaccredited child contact centres and services in England and Wales that it produced following Committee. That review was conducted at some pace and has been used to inform further discussions on this matter. While I accept and take on board the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, that it is hard to identify evidence in this area, it is fair to say that the work that was done was at a somewhat high level.
Since the last debate, and following meetings with the noble Lords sponsoring this amendment, I committed to writing to the President of the Family Division and the CEO of Cafcass, requesting that they raise awareness among their colleagues and officials of the judicial protocol and memorandum of understanding that has been agreed between the NACCC and Cafcass. The protocols that are in place require the judiciary, magistrates and Cafcass family court advisers to refer parties to accredited child contact centres only. I have shared the draft text with relevant Peers and I will send letters to the President of the Family Division and the CEO of Cafcass after this debate.
Again, as I detailed in Committee, local authorities are able, in limited circumstances, to commission unaccredited child contact services. However—and this is an important point—any services that they commission in discharging their statutory duty to allow reasonable contact between a child in their care and parents fall within Section 22(3)(a) and Section 34 of the Children Act. Those provisions require local authorities to ensure consistency with safeguarding and promotion of the child’s welfare. Therefore, respectfully, I do not agree that there is a legislative gap in this area or, to use the word used by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, a loophole. Rather, the Government remain convinced that, given the regulatory and compliance mechanisms already in place with regard to local authorities, a requirement of mandatory accreditation for such services would impose an additional layer of costs and bureaucracy on local authorities, which already face significant resourcing pressures.
As I indicated in Committee, the Government continue to be willing to work with the NACCC and other interested parties to keep the situation regarding child contact centres and services under review. The work undertaken by the NACCC provides a good starting point from which to build a more robust evidence base around this issue, which would cover both public and private law. However, I am not persuaded, despite the rapid and, as I have said, informative work of the NACCC following Committee, that we today have enough evidence on which to legislate for the accreditation of child contact centres and services at this time.
Given what I have said this afternoon and my clear commitment to follow up on this debate with the President of the Family Division and the chief executive of Cafcass, I hope that, despite the comments that she made in her speech introducing the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will be content to withdraw it.
I have a request to ask the Minister a short question from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.
My Lords, may I address head on two points that the Minister has raised? First, the case has been made of how difficult it is to access the evidence and whether it is in the public interest to put this in the public domain. This is an extremely sensitive area and we have done our best to provide the evidence on the two occasions when my noble friend has requested it. Secondly, there is a legislative loophole. The Government undertook to come forward with regulations to establish the regulatory framework to set the standards in place and they have failed to do so. For what reason have the Government not brought forward these regulations and why are they not prepared to bring them forward at this time? I am at a loss to understand why that is the case.
I will be brief. On the first point that my noble friend raised about evidence, I accept that people have done their best in the short time available. However, with respect, the points that I made about the high-level nature of that evidence stand. At the moment, we are not persuaded that there is a need to legislate in this area. On the second point about the loophole, I would be repeating what I said earlier. For the reasons that I set out, the position at the moment is that the use of unaccredited child services is rare. In circumstances where they are used by local authorities, that would be covered by their statutory duty under the Children Act. In those circumstances, we are not persuaded that the amendment is required or would even necessarily be effective.
I am most grateful to the Minister for his fulsome reply and for trying to get to grips with this issue, but I point out that it has been 14 years since the need for standards was originally raised. I did not mention some cases in my speech today because I have not been able to check them out in detail—we could not track down the details of the services—but I have names of services that I would be prepared to share in confidence with the Minister. I believe that there is evidence that this area is unregulated, that there is a gap and that children are at risk now, today. If we are dealing with domestic abuse, we must not leave children vulnerable. Therefore, I wish to test the opinion of the House.
[Owing to an administrative error, the total number of Members voting Content was misreported as 310. The correct total was 311.]
22: Clause 55, page 35, line 30, leave out first “domestic abuse” and insert “accommodation-based”
Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement to the Minister’s amendment at page 35, line 25.
Amendment 22 agreed.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 23. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division should make this clear in debate.
23: Clause 55, page 35, line 30, at end insert “including, where necessary, alcohol and mental health support,”
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Commission on Alcohol Harm. The commission received evidence from many who had first-hand experience of the relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse. As many noble Lords pointed out in Committee, there is a strong, if complex, relationship between alcohol and domestic abuse. The figure often quoted is that up to half of perpetrators have been drinking when an assault takes place. Alcohol also tends to make violence more serious, doubling the risk of severe violence and rape. Tragically, substance use is a factor in over half of intimate-partner homicides.
It is not only perpetrators who drink. Women who have experienced extensive physical and sexual violence are more likely to use alcohol or drugs harmfully than women who have not. They might do so in an attempt to self-medicate and cope with their experiences, or drink with their partner as a form of bonding. Substances may be part of the abuse itself, and perpetrators may use alcohol to control victims. ONS figures show that around 10% of those accessing domestic violence support services have an alcohol use need, many times higher than the rate for the general population. Around 6% have a drug use need and around 40% a mental health problem. Given the difficulties people with additional needs have in accessing domestic violence support, these figures may well underestimate the scale of the problem.
Indeed, survivors may have been forced to choose which of their needs they are able to get help with. Alcohol treatment is desperately underfunded, and there simply are not enough alcohol treatment services set up to help domestic abuse survivors. For example, female survivors of male violence may not feel able to receive treatment in a mixed space; yet less than half of local authorities in England and Wales have provision for women-only substance use services. Women may also find that their drinking can prevent them accessing a safe space, with some turned away from refuges due to drinking or drug use. Only about one-quarter of refuges in London, when asked the question, stated that they “always” or “often” accept women who use alcohol or other drugs.
Following a very constructive and productive meeting with the Minister last week, she has written reassuring me that this is a priority for the Government. She has agreed to address the issue of alcohol and domestic abuse in statutory guidance and in the domestic abuse strategy, which will set out a comprehensive framework for responding to and supporting victims. I welcome the Minister’s recognition of the seriousness of the problem and her attempts to resolve it. In her letter, she also set out the opportunities created by the new integrated care systems to allow for greater joined-up working between services to better support victims with the alcohol treatment they so often need urgently.
This urgency has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, making it more important than ever for us to act now. During the first lockdown, visits to the UK’s national domestic abuse website surged by 950% by the end of May. NSPCC Wales reported average referrals for parental substance use to police and agencies were 72% higher in the 10 months to February 2021 than in the first three months of 2020. These figures are frightening, but they go only a small way to illustrate to your Lordships the scale of what people are experiencing right now. I am grateful to the Minister for her letter to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, where she recognised the need for much better sobriety schemes, which we greatly appreciate, but I remind the House of the size of the problems.
I shall finish by sharing the words of a 15 year-old boy who contacted Childline. Speaking of his own experience, he said:
“I’m really scared of my dad, especially when he’s been drinking. Sometimes he gets really angry and throws things at my mum. It’s been getting worse since the coronavirus and I worry a lot. I have no idea what to do as I can’t escape because of the lockdown.”
I hope, therefore, that I will get an even warmer reception for this amendment than I received in the letter from the Minister, and I reserve my ability to divide the House on this very important issue pending the response I get. I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to take a moment to support the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, in her Amendment 23. I pay tribute to all her work in this field and to the other signatories to the amendment. I want to single out the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, with whom I had the privilege of serving on the ad hoc committee on the Licensing Act 2003.
Without any shadow of a doubt, as the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, set out, domestic abuse is, unfortunately, aggravated and fuelled by alcohol and drug abuse. It behoves all of us to try to limit the damage done in these circumstances. I therefore hope that my noble friend the Minister will look favourably on the modest change to the wording of the Bill that is proposed here.
I know that Scotland has taken a lead, particularly on the unit pricing of alcohol. I initially had reservations about that until I heard the evidence we took on the ad hoc committee. It was always understood, and we concluded that we would press them, that the Government would come forward with unit pricing in Scotland. I think my noble friend the Minister would agree that it has led to a significant reduction in alcohol abuse.
With those few words, I lend Amendment 23 my support, and ask my noble friend to look favourably on the modest additional wording it proposes.
I should have declared earlier an interest as chairman of the National Commission on Forced Marriage.
I thank the Minister very much for listening and for what she said in response to the debate on an earlier amendment on forced marriage. I agree entirely with what the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, said. I would just add that mental health issues should include people who are forced into marriage, most of whom are very young and some of whom are under 18.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who supports this amendment. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, I acknowledge the helpful letter on this amendment that we received today from my noble friend the Minister.
Accommodation-based support, as proposed in government Amendment 22, is highly relevant because domestic abuse can take place in settings other than the home. Alcohol intoxication increases vulnerability because it makes victims less physically able to get away from an aggressor and more likely to make poor decisions. Likewise, alcohol increases the chances of the aggressor assaulting someone in the home or other accommodation-based settings. We know that the more intoxicated someone is, the greater their chance of sustaining serious injuries.
We should also be concerned about the effects of domestic abuse on children—the hidden victims of domestic abuse, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, noted in the debate on the first group of amendments. Witnessing domestic violence and alcohol abuse are major events in childhood and may lead to an anti-social lifestyle of offending, truancy and violent behaviour in the years ahead.
As a surgeon, I treated many patients with injuries sustained following domestic disputes, nearly all of them fuelled by alcohol. Some were horrific injuries to the chest and abdomen; others were less serious but, none the less, led to long-term complications—particularly injuries to the face from the assailant’s fists or a blunt weapon. The consequences lead to long-term disfigurement, and the sight every day in the mirror of a broken nose or missing teeth is a constant reminder of the abuse suffered. Children, too, may suffer injuries as part of the collateral damage. Many choose not to admit to the assault outside the home.
I am grateful to Professor Jonathan Shepherd, a surgeon and professor at Cardiff University’s Crime and Security Research Institute, for providing me with his publications in the journals of both the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Psychiatrists and his position statements on the management of alcohol abuse and the mental health impacts of violence. My noble friend the Minister may wish to consider these in the formal consultation after Royal Assent.
In conclusion, where alcohol is concerned, it is important not to view physical injuries in isolation. All too often, the two are inextricably linked. I would welcome the opportunity to share these Royal College policies with my noble friend the Minister, in the hope that they may influence national policy in providing alcohol abuse and mental health support, as this amendment proposes.
My Lords, we had an extensive and informed debate on this issue in Committee, so there is no need for me to detain the House by repeating what I said before.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, has confined herself to just one amendment this time, to which I have added my name in support. It encapsulates the importance of the issue and uses the modest vehicle of including alcohol and addiction support in the definition of domestic abuse support when local authorities assess the need and prepare their strategies to meet it.
I hope the Minister will agree that the close and complex relationship between what I called in my remarks in Committee
“the unholy triumvirate of substance abuse, domestic abuse and mental ill-health”—[Official Report, 27/1/21; col. 1621.]
is intrinsic and deserves to be included somewhere in the Bill. However, I fear that that will not be the case today. The Minister has written to the mover of the amendment, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and I am grateful for the copy she sent me. In the letter, the Minister says that the Government will reflect on the importance of this unholy triumvirate in statutory guidance to be issued under Clause 73 of the Bill. I am not convinced that this will be good enough to get the concerted result we need, so if the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, decides to call a vote, my party and I will support her.
My Lords, it is important to recognise that domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo. It is inherently bound up with the wider issues of mental health and substance abuse.
We cannot ignore the impact of devastating cuts to our public services through a decade of austerity. The Royal College of Psychiatrists called for the Government to reverse the cuts and enable local authorities to invest at least £374 million in adult services to cope with the increased need. Indeed, report after report highlights the poor preparedness of our public realm to cope with this dreadful pandemic. It is as a consequence of the austerity decade that council funding has been cut to the bone.
Mental health services have been particularly impacted by austerity, leading to a lack of services and long waiting times. Victims and survivors with mental health problems also face barriers in accessing many other vital services due to strict eligibility criteria and not being able to engage in the way that the services require. Such barriers often lead to people being bounced between different services and having to constantly retell their story. There is awareness of the complex and interrelated needs of those with mental ill-health, but many services are unequipped to support them and few services exist that can care for people with both mental health and substance misuse issues.
The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, spoke expertly and knowledgably about the close link between domestic abuse and alcohol, with a perpetrator drinking heavily. Of course, there are instances where the victim’s drinking leads to uninhibited behaviours that can trigger abuse. Similarly, the victim may use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate. We know that the level of alcohol consumption has increased during the pandemic, thus exacerbating an already known problem.
This should be part of the Government’s work on community services. They have made a commitment to consult on the provision of community services for victims and perpetrators. Will the Minister give a commitment that the consultation will explicitly include the provision of alcohol and substance misuse services? All this work will be effective only if we look at tackling domestic violence in the round.
In conclusion, the importance of multiagency and holistic working in this area cannot be overemphasised. It is important to recognise that mental health and addiction problems can create additional vulnerabilities which people perpetrating abuse may seek to exploit. If the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, decides to test the opinion of the House, the Opposition Benches will strongly support her.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for tabling this amendment. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discuss the issue with them at length. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, observed, domestic abuse does not happen in a neat silo. That is a very good way of putting it in the context of this amendment.
In Committee we debated the complex relationship and obvious correlation between domestic abuse, mental health problems and the misuse of drugs and alcohol. Some of us have witnessed the way in which someone who abuses a substance such as alcohol seems to have a switch flicked within their brain and suddenly becomes potentially very aggressive. That is not an excuse for domestic abuse. It is important that both victims and perpetrators have the opportunity to address these issues, and that they get the support they need. To this end, the statutory guidance issued under Clause 73 will reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services.
As I informed the Committee, local authority spending through the public health grant will be maintained in the next financial year. This means that local authorities can continue to invest in prevention and essential front-line health services, including drug and alcohol treatment and recovery services. We want to ensure that people who need support for alcohol and substance misuse issues can access the right services commissioned by local authorities. The Government are working on increasing access, and we have appointed Professor Dame Carol Black to undertake an independent review of drugs to inform the Government’s work on what more can be done.
The overarching aim will be to ensure that vulnerable people with substance misuse problems get the support they need. The review will consider how treatment services can enable people with a drug dependency to achieve and sustain their recovery. These will span a wide range of services with which they might interact across mental health, housing, employment and the criminal justice system. The review is currently focusing on treatment, recovery and prevention. The Government look forward to receiving Dame Carol’s recommendations shortly.
I reassure noble Lords that we intend to reflect the importance of joining up domestic abuse, mental health and substance misuse services. The joint strategic needs assessment produced by local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and other partners should include consideration of the needs of victims and survivors. This assessment informs the commissioning process for the local area. In addition, joint working through local health and well-being boards helps support people who may have co-occurring substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse issues with more effectively commissioned services in order to improve outcomes and the use of local resources. We want to ensure that, no matter where someone turns, there is no wrong door for individuals with co-occurring conditions, and that compassionate and non-judgmental care centred on the person’s needs is offered and accessible from every access point; for example, people can access via a referral from their GP, or by self-referral. I hope this reassures noble Lords that assessing and meeting the needs of the local population are already integral to the commissioning and provision of healthcare services.
In addition, the Government have announced a total of £25 million in funding for domestic abuse perpetrator programmes. This more than doubles the £10 million funding for such programmes last year. Through them, we funded a number of interventions that sought to address issues such as substance misuse and mental health problems as part of a wider programme of intervention.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, is pleased that the Bill introduces domestic abuse prevention orders—DAPOs—which enable positive requirements such as attendance at a drug or alcohol programme or a behavioural change programme. The courts will also be able to require the subject of such an order to wear a sobriety tag.
The Government recognise the harm that alcohol can cause and have already committed to rolling out sobriety tags as part of a wider programme to tackle alcohol-fuelled crime. Following two pilots and a successful judicial engagement programme, the alcohol abstinence monitoring requirement was launched in Wales on 21 October last year. This has proved a popular option for sentencers in Wales and we will be rolling out the new requirement in England later in the spring.
We are also committed to our ambitions in the NHS long-term plan for expanding and transforming mental health services in England, and to investing an additional £2.3 billion a year in mental health services by 2023-24. This includes a comprehensive expansion of mental health services, ensuring that an additional 380,000 adults can access psychological therapies by 2023-24.
I would add that the domestic abuse commissioner’s role requires her to adopt a specific focus on the needs of victims from groups with particular needs. She also has the power to make recommendations where she sees gaps in provision. I believe her role will offer independent oversight and the assurance that all issues relating to domestic abuse will be monitored closely.
Finally, it is worth briefly touching on the drafting of the amendment. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox of Newport, referred to this. It seeks to add to the definition of domestic abuse support in Clause 55. This relates to a new duty on tier 1 local authorities to provide support to victims of domestic abuse and their children within safe accommodation. As such, the amendment does not touch on the issue of support for perpetrators to help them address problems with alcohol misuse; nor does it deal with the provision of alcohol and mental health community-based support. This is the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, was making.
That said, I can assure the noble Baroness that, as part of the new duty in Part 4, tier 1 local authorities will be expected to assess the accommodation- based support needs of all domestic abuse victims and their children. Within the statutory guidance that will accompany Part 4, we describe the support within “relevant” safe accommodation as including support designed specifically for victims with unique and/or complex needs, such as mental health advice and support, and drug and alcohol advice and support.
Again, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Finlay and Lady Burt, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and other noble Lords for drawing attention to this important issue, and I thank all noble Lords who have raised it during this debate. I hope I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness in relation to the existing provisions and our ongoing ambitions to address the links between substance misuse, mental health and domestic abuse. On that basis, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the detail she has provided in her full reply. I understand from a previous conversation that the guidance to the Bill will be statutory, as will, therefore, the implementation of the many factors to be included in it that she listed in her response. I am also glad to hear that the review of my long-standing friend and colleague, Professor Dame Carol Black, will report soon. I have always held her in the highest regard and I am sure that her report will be very sound.
I recommend that all noble Lords recall that we need early intervention; otherwise the next generation to experience alcohol abuse will become alcohol abusers themselves. The link is horribly real and certainly well documented, and I appreciate the Minister saying that there will be no wrong door. The £25 million for programmes for perpetrators is welcome, but there is a lot of evidence to show that every £1 invested in local treatment services saves £3 in wider social costs. This is indeed a sound investment by the Government.
In the light of the full response I have received, I will withdraw my amendment. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken for their strong support, both now and behind the scenes, for the amendment and the work being done. I hope that the Minister will take back to the Treasury the need to recognise the financial cost to the nation of alcohol-fuelled domestic violence. Measures such as minimum unit pricing, a differential duty on off-sales to decrease drinking at home—which would support pubs and restaurants—and stopping the promotion of alcohol close to checkouts in supermarkets are all needed to make her strategy to decrease alcohol-fuelled domestic violence as effective as she and I would hope. These issues do not come directly into the Bill, but they are of wider concern. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 23 withdrawn.
Amendments 24 to 26
24: Clause 55, page 36, line 2, at end insert—
“(aa) must keep under review any effect of the strategy on the provision of other local authority support in its area,”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require a relevant local authority that publishes a strategy under Clause 55 to keep under review the effect of that strategy on the provision by the local authority of domestic abuse support to people in the community as opposed to those residing in relevant accommodation.
25: Clause 55, page 36, line 4, at end insert—
“( ) In this section “other local authority support”, in relation to a local authority, means support, in relation to domestic abuse, that—(a) is provided to victims of domestic abuse or their children, and(b) is provided or funded by the local authority,other than accommodation-based support (within the meaning of subsection (2)).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would define “other local authority support” for the purposes of Clause 55.
26: Clause 55, page 36, line 23, at end insert “or any effect of the strategy on the provision of other local authority support in its area”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide that regulations under Clause 55(8) can make provision about the frequency with which a relevant local authority must review the effect of its strategy on the provision of other local authority support in its area.
Amendments 24 to 26 agreed.
Clause 56: Domestic abuse local partnership boards
Amendments 27 to 29
27: Clause 56, page 36, line 31, after “about” insert “—
(a) ”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement accompanying the Minister’s amendment at page 36, line 32.
28: Clause 56, page 36, line 32, at end insert “, and
(b) the provision of other local authority support in the authority’s area.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would provide for a domestic abuse local partnership board to also advise a relevant local authority about the provision of other local authority support in the authority’s area.
29: Clause 56, page 37, line 5, at end insert—
““other local authority support” has the same meaning as in section 55.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would define “other local authority support” for the purposes of Clause 56 (by reference to the definition that would be inserted into Clause 55 by the Minister’s amendment at page 36, line 4).
Amendments 27 to 29 agreed.
Amendments 30 and 31 not moved.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 32. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
Clause 62: Special measures in civil proceedings: victims of specified offences
32: Clause 62, page 39, line 23, after “person” insert “—
(a) is, or is at risk of being, a victim of domestic abuse;(b) ”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that rules of court made by virtue of subsection (1) of Clause 62 must make provision which enables the court to make a special measures direction in respect of a party or witness in civil proceedings who is a victim, or is at risk of becoming a victim, of domestic abuse.
My Lords, I apologise for the short intermission while we changed places. The government amendments in this group relate to special measures and the ban on cross-examination in person as they operate in civil proceedings. The Government have taken careful note of the debate in Committee on Clauses 62 and 64, particularly the argument that there should be equivalent protections for the victims of domestic abuse in the civil courts as in family courts. I am personally grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for our discussions about these issues. As I explained in Committee, while we want to ensure that there is parity between each of the jurisdictions, we also need to build in allowances for the differences. That is why the provisions in respect of cross-examination and special measures in civil proceedings differ from those in family proceedings.
I shall speak first to Amendment 32 in respect of Clause 62. It is worth noting that the original provision in the Bill was based on recommendations made by the Civil Justice Council in its report published last year entitled Vulnerable Witnesses and Parties within Civil Proceedings. However, having reflected on the representations we have received and the cogent arguments put forward in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, Amendment 32 would extend eligibility for special measures to those at risk of domestic abuse in addition to the existing provisions which provide eligibility for special measures for the victims of specified offences. We see the force of the argument to include this measure so that there will be an equivalent level of protection for domestic abuse victims across the jurisdictions. The Civil Procedure Rules will lay out how this is to work in practice, but the instruction in the Bill is a clear indication that those victims who have not reported their perpetrator to the police will have an opportunity to let the court know where they are at risk of domestic abuse.
As the existing clause provides, judges will still need to consider whether the quality of a person’s evidence or the person’s participation in proceedings is likely to be diminished by reason of vulnerability and, if so, whether it is necessary to make one or more special measures directions. However, we believe that including provision for those at risk of domestic abuse will mean that these victims will be covered and given the ability to avail themselves of special measures.
I shall say a further word on that, which I mentioned in Committee as well. By their nature, civil cases have the potential to cover a much broader range of circumstances where there is no prior connection between the parties; for example, where a victim is suing an alleged perpetrator of sexual abuse, an action against an employer where abuse is alleged, or in a boundary dispute. This amendment is therefore an appropriate step. The breadth of cases in the civil courts means that it may not be appropriate in all cases to grant special measures, although our amendment makes it likely that they will be granted where there is a genuine need.
I turn now to Amendments 33 to 40 to Clause 64. These introduce an automatic ban on cross-examination in person by a litigant in person if the party to proceedings has been convicted or cautioned in relation to a specified offence against a party to the proceedings or where there is a protective injunction between the parties. The witness may also introduce additional evidence to prove that they are a victim of domestic abuse, and this too can give rise to an automatic ban. The evidence would be based on legal aid evidentiary standards and may include a letter from a GP or an employer. This is provided for in family courts through Clause 63. These amendments would therefore move the position in civil courts substantially closer to the provision in family courts on a ban on cross-examination. However, as with the point I made in regard to Clause 62, we have to be mindful of the differences between the two jurisdictions.
The clause, in so far as it relates to banning the cross-examination of vulnerable parties or witnesses, again stems from the report by the Civil Justice Council. The council recommended that the prohibition of cross-examination by a self-represented party should be extended to cover civil proceedings, thereby ensuring some parity with the criminal and family jurisdictions. The council did caution, however, that the ban or prohibition should not be automatic and absolute, bearing in mind the broad range of cases that come before the civil courts.
As I have said previously in our debates on the Bill, we have concerns in relation to the civil jurisdiction that there should be an automatic ban on cross-examination where the position is only that someone is charged with an offence against an individual; that is, where the facts of the case have yet to be proven. In the circumstances where someone is charged with an offence, we believe that it should be left to the discretion of the court to determine whether a ban is appropriate on the facts of a particular case. That is because, as I have said, civil and family jurisdictions are different in type of case they deal with, the civil jurisdiction having a much wider range.
I believe that these amendments will give better protection to victims of domestic abuse and bring closer parity between the civil and family jurisdictions. I beg to move.
My Lords, I explained in Committee the reasons for my amendments, which were directed at ensuring that special measures and the prohibition of direct cross-examination should be applied in civil cases on the same or a very similar basis as they are to be in family cases. Our debates highlighted the difficulties, fear and trauma for parties and witnesses in giving evidence and taking part in proceedings where they were victims or at risk of being victims of domestic abuse at the hands of other parties or witnesses. We spoke of the effect of reliving the trauma of abuse in subsequent court proceedings and the fear of the consequences of giving or challenging evidence given by or in the presence of perpetrators.
I argued that in many civil proceedings the risks and effects were the same. I mentioned disputes over property and goods, landlord and tenant disputes, employment disputes, inheritance disputes and business disputes—particularly when partners break up and the separation of their joint business interests gives rise to litigation. It is a truism for litigation lawyers that the disputes giving rise to the most bitterness and unpleasantness are precisely those where the litigants have a close personal connection. However, of course I take the Minister’s point that the range of disputes in civil cases is very much broader than it is in family cases.
The Government have listened to those concerns. I am particularly grateful to the Minister for the time that he and officials in his department made available to consider these issues and for the very useful discussions we had, which have led us to the position that special measures are now to be extended to persons who are or who are at risk of being a victim of domestic abuse, where the original unamended clause required that the person had to be the victim of a specified offence for which the perpetrator would have had to have been convicted, cautioned or charged.
I am delighted that the Government have agreed, no doubt because so many cases of domestic abuse never reach that stage—largely because so much abuse goes unreported or is never the subject of criminal investigation—that victims and those at risk of being victims should be protected in civil proceedings, as they are to be in family proceedings.
Although the amendments on direct cross-examination are complex, as the Minister has explained, they effectively offer broadly equivalent protection to victims of abuse in civil proceedings to that offered in family proceedings, which was the aim of my amendments. In addition to the discretionary protection which the court is to be able to give as a result of new Section 85F of the Courts Act 2003, to be introduced by Clause 64, there is now to be a clear bar on direct cross-examination in cases where the victim is a victim of an offence or protected by an injunction or where there is evidence of domestic abuse against the victim by a party or witness. The nature of the evidence to be required to trigger the mandatory bar will be specified in regulations. It is to be hoped that no undue formality will be required, but I am confident that will be the case.
These amendments achieve what I set out to achieve: to protect witnesses and parties in civil proceedings who have been subject to domestic abuse. I am therefore very pleased to have been able to add my name to the amendments and say—it is not the first time it has been said today—that this process has shown the House at its best. It has been a model of co-operation between some of us on the Opposition Benches and the Government of the day.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, for pursuing this issue. It is not something I had focused on. The concessions he has got from the Government are welcome. There will be a ban on cross-examination in family courts and a broadly equivalent set of rules in the civil courts, although, as far as I understand it, there will still be some judicial discretion on these matters because of the wider nature of the types of cases heard in the civil courts. As the noble Lord just said, while the nature of the cases may be wider, the risks may be the same, particularly if the parties are personally connected in any way. I welcome these government amendments and congratulate the noble Lord on pursuing this matter.
I conclude by drawing on something completely different: the advent of remote working, which I am actively involved with in both criminal and, more importantly, family proceedings. We are developing different ways of remote working in real time. For example, in videoconferences, should a party be able to ask that their face not be available to be seen by all parties taking part in the case? These are difficult matters which we are dealing with day to day; at the moment there is no guidance as such, other than consulting with colleagues and senior judges. These are very live matters which may be on the horizon to be further regulated in future. However, for now, I am glad to accept these government amendments.
My Lords, I hope the House will forgive me if I am brief, because I am conscious there is a lot of business still to get through. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames—my co-sponsor of these amendments—for his kind words and engagement. As he said, we have reached the position where there are broadly equivalent provisions in place across the jurisdictions.
I am also grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede. The point he raised about remote working and the courts having to work in real time in dealing with the pandemic and its effects is very important. To say any more at this stage would take me both outside the confines of this Bill and well off my brief. However, I have no doubt we will discuss it in this and other contexts in future.
Amendment 32 agreed.
Clause 64: Prohibition of cross-examination in person in civil proceedings
Amendments 33 to 40
33: Clause 64, page 47, line 21, at end insert—
“85EA Prohibition of cross-examination in person: victims of offences(1) In civil proceedings, no party to the proceedings who has been convicted of, or given a caution for, a specified offence may cross-examine in person a witness who is the victim of that offence.(2) In civil proceedings, no party to the proceedings who is the victim of a specified offence may cross-examine in person a witness who has been convicted of, or given a caution for, that offence.(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not apply to a conviction or caution that is spent for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, unless evidence in relation to the conviction or caution is admissible in, or may be required in, the proceedings by virtue of section 7(2), (3) or (4) of that Act.(4) Cross-examination in breach of subsection (1) or (2) does not affect the validity of a decision of the court in the proceedings if the court was not aware of the conviction or caution when the cross-examination took place.(5) In this section—“caution” means—(a) in the case of England and Wales—(i) a conditional caution given under section 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003,(ii) a youth conditional caution given under section 66A of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, or (iii) any other caution given to a person in England and Wales in respect of an offence which, at the time the caution is given, the person has admitted;(b) in the case of Scotland, anything corresponding to a caution falling within paragraph (a) (however described) which is given to a person in respect of an offence under the law of Scotland;(c) in the case of Northern Ireland—(i) a conditional caution given under section 71 of the Justice Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, or(ii) any other caution given to a person in Northern Ireland in respect of an offence which, at the time the caution is given, the person has admitted;“conviction” means—(a) a conviction by or before a court in England and Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland;(b) a conviction in service disciplinary proceedings (in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, or elsewhere), including—(i) in the case of proceedings in respect of a service offence, anything that under section 376(1) and (2) of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (which relates to summary hearings and the Summary Appeal Court) is to be treated as a conviction for the purposes of that Act, and(ii) in the case of any other service disciplinary proceedings, a finding of guilt in those proceedings;(c) a finding in any criminal proceedings (including a finding linked with a finding of insanity) that the person concerned has committed an offence or done the act or made the omission charged;and “convicted” is to be read accordingly;“service disciplinary proceedings” means—(a) any proceedings (whether or not before a court) in respect of a service offence (except proceedings before a civilian court within the meaning of the Armed Forces Act 2006);(b) any proceedings under the Army Act 1955, the Air Force Act 1955, or the Naval Discipline Act 1957 (whether before a court-martial or before any other court or person authorised under any of those Acts to award a punishment in respect of an offence);(c) any proceedings before a Standing Civilian Court established under the Armed Forces Act 1976;“service offence” means—(a) a service offence within the meaning of the Armed Forces Act 2006, or(b) an SDA offence within the meaning of the Armed Forces Act 2006 (Transitional Provisions etc) Order 2009 (S.I. 2009/1059);“specified offence” means an offence which is specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor.(6) The following provisions (which deem a conviction of a person discharged not to be a conviction) do not apply for the purposes of this section to a conviction of a person for an offence in respect of which an order has been made discharging the person absolutely or conditionally—(a) section 14 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000;(b) section 82 of the Sentencing Code;(c) section 187 of the Armed Forces Act 2006 or any corresponding earlier enactment.(7) For the purposes of this section “offence” includes an offence under a law that is no longer in force.85EB Prohibition of cross-examination in person: persons protected by injunctions etc (1) In civil proceedings, no party to the proceedings against whom an on-notice protective injunction is in force may cross-examine in person a witness who is protected by the injunction.(2) In civil proceedings, no party to the proceedings who is protected by an on-notice protective injunction may cross-examine in person a witness against whom the injunction is in force.(3) Cross-examination in breach of subsection (1) or (2) does not affect the validity of a decision of the court in the proceedings if the court was not aware of the protective injunction when the cross-examination took place.(4) In this section “protective injunction” means an order, injunction or interdict specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor.(5) For the purposes of this section, a protective injunction is an “on-notice” protective injunction if—(a) the court is satisfied that there has been a hearing at which the person against whom the protective injunction is in force asked, or could have asked, for the injunction to be set aside or varied, or(b) the protective injunction was made at a hearing of which the court is satisfied that both the person who applied for it and the person against whom it is in force had notice.85EC Prohibition of cross-examination in person: evidence of domestic abuse(1) In civil proceedings, where specified evidence is adduced that a person who is a witness has been the victim of domestic abuse carried out by a party to the proceedings, that party to the proceedings may not cross-examine the witness in person.(2) In civil proceedings, where specified evidence is adduced that a person who is a party to the proceedings has been the victim of domestic abuse carried out by a witness, that party may not cross-examine the witness in person.(3) In this section—“domestic abuse” has the meaning given by section 1 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;“specified evidence” means evidence specified, or of a description specified, in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor.(4) Regulations under subsection (3) may provide that any evidence which satisfies the court that domestic abuse, or domestic abuse of a specified description, has occurred is specified evidence for the purposes of this section.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment provides for an automatic prohibition in civil proceedings on the cross-examination of witnesses in person in certain cases, similar to the provisions in Clause 63. For example, it prohibits a party who has been convicted of a specified offence from cross-examining in person a witness who is the victim of that offence. “Specified” here means specified in regulations made by the Lord Chancellor.
34: Clause 64, page 47, line 25, after “if” insert “—
(a) none of sections 85EA to 85EC operates to prevent the party from cross-examining the witness, and(b) ”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 47, line 21.
35: Clause 64, page 48, line 9, at end insert—
“(ca) any charge of which the court is aware in respect of a specified offence alleged to have been committed by the party in relation to the witness; (cb) any charge of which the court is aware in respect of a specified offence alleged to have been committed by the witness in relation to the party;”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, and the Minister’s amendment at page 48, line 25, provide that, in deciding whether to make a direction under new section 85F of the Courts Act 2003 prohibiting a party from cross-examining a witness in person, the court must have regard to the fact that the party has been charged with a specified offence alleged to have been committed in relation to the witness (or vice versa).
36: Clause 64, page 48, leave out lines 10 to 13
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 47, line 21.
37: Clause 64, page 48, line 25, at end insert—
“( ) In subsection (5)(ca) and (cb) “specified offence” means an offence that is a specified offence for the purposes of section 85EA.”Member’s explanatory statement
See the explanatory statement for the Minister’s amendment at page 48, line 9.
38: Clause 64, page 49, line 7, leave out “a direction under section” and insert “any of sections 85EA to”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 47, line 21.
39: Clause 64, page 50, leave out lines 16 and 17
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 50, line 30.
40: Clause 64, page 50, line 30, at end insert—
“85K Regulations under Part 7ARegulations under this Part may make different provision for different purposes.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on the Minister’s amendment at page 47, line 21.
Amendments 33 to 40 agreed.
We now come to the group beginning with Amendment 41. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in this group to a Division must make that clear in debate.
41: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Orders under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989Orders under section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989
(1) The Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.(2) In section 91 (effect and duration of orders etc.), at the end of subsection (14) insert—“For further provision about orders under this subsection, see section 91A (section 91(14) orders: further provision).”(3) After section 91 insert—“91A Section 91(14) orders: further provision(1) This section makes further provision about orders under section 91(14) (referred to in this section as “section 91(14) orders”).(2) The circumstances in which the court may make a section 91(14) order include, among others, where the court is satisfied that the making of an application for an order under this Act of a specified kind by any person who is to be named in the section 91(14) order would put—(a) the child concerned, or(b) another individual (“the relevant individual”),at risk of harm.(3) In the case of a child or other individual who has reached the age of eighteen, the reference in subsection (2) to “harm” is to be read as a reference to ill-treatment or the impairment of physical or mental health.(4) Where a person who is named in a section 91(14) order applies for leave to make an application of a specified kind, the court must, in determining whether to grant leave, consider whether there has been a material change of circumstances since the order was made.(5) A section 91(14) order may be made by the court—(a) on an application made—(i) by the relevant individual;(ii) by or on behalf of the child concerned;(iii) by any other person who is a party to the application being disposed of by the court;(b) of its own motion.(6) In this section, “the child concerned” means the child referred to in section 91(14).””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment inserts a new section 91A into the Children Act 1989 which makes further provision about the circumstances in which the court may make an order under section 91(14) of that Act (also known as a barring order), including where the court is satisfied that the making of a further application for an order under that Act, by any person to be named in the order, would put the child concerned, or another individual, at risk of harm.
My Lords, Amendments 41 and 104 relate to Section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989. Last year we committed to exploring whether an amendment to the Bill was needed to clarify that Section. As noble Lords will be aware, it deals with barring orders, as they are often called, which allow courts to bar individuals from making further applications without permission of the court. Importantly, therefore, the order does not prevent access to the court; it prevents making an application without first obtaining the permission of the court to do so.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and my noble friend Lady Newlove asked for an update on the progress of the work. On responding to an amendment on barring orders put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, I said that I would consider the issue of Section 91(14) carefully ahead of this next stage. I can assure noble Lords that I have done precisely that.
The sad fact is that perpetrators sometimes use the family court as a way to continue their abuse, often bringing their victims back to court repeatedly, which can in itself be a traumatising process. It is an abuse of the victims and also, therefore, an inappropriate use of the court process.
As it is currently formulated, Section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 does not include any detail as to the circumstances in which such barring orders should be used. Courts have therefore elaborated the principles for when such barring orders may, and should, be made. Last year we heard compelling evidence from the expert panel in its report Assessing Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Children Cases that, while they can be an effective measure, Section 91(14) barring orders are not being used sufficiently to prevent perpetrators continuing their abuse through the use of court applications under the Children Act 1989.
Before I go further, I want to pay respectful tribute to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who delivered the seminal re P judgment in this area of law back in 1999. For over two decades the guidelines included in that leading judgment have been regarded as the main reference point for judges when they are making the often difficult decision on the use of Section 91(14). It is fair to acknowledge that it is clear from those guidelines that specific cases and types of harm, including harm from domestic abuse, are not excluded from consideration for a barring order. None the less, now is the right time for us to act on the evidence presented by the harm panel about how Section 91(14) is being understood and applied, particularly in domestic abuse circumstances.
As is evident from the many debates we have had on the Bill, we now know far more about the prevalence of domestic abuse and the different forms that it can take than we did in 1999. It is therefore right that as the Bill approaches the end of its parliamentary journey, we use the opportunity to clarify the ambit and application of Section 91(14) to ensure that we are providing greater protection to victims, survivors and their children.
The Government are clear that barring orders are available to protect parents and children where further proceedings would risk causing them harm, and particularly where proceedings could be a form of continuing domestic abuse. To that end, Amendment 41 introduces a new provision into the Children Act 1989: new Section 91A. The new section clarifies that the circumstances in which a court may make a barring order include where the court is satisfied that a further application made by the named person would put the child or another individual—for example, the parent victim—at risk of harm. It is a non-exhaustive example; the discretion is preserved, but an additional statutory indication is provided. As I have mentioned, this amendment responds to recommendations made by the harm panel.
The aim of Amendment 41 is therefore to make it clearer to courts and practitioners that Section 91(14) barring orders are indeed available where a further application would pose a risk of harm to a child or a parent victim, and in particular where that application could constitute further domestic abuse. In that context, I should highlight to noble Lords that while this amendment does not expressly mention domestic abuse, it refers to the concept of “harm” that is already found in the Children Act 1989. This is because the definition in Section 31(9) of the Children Act is already very broad. It already includes coercive control and other forms of domestic abuse, along with many other forms of harm.
We touched on that point in the government response to the Joint Committee’s recommendation to amend the definition of harm. As we said there, we believe that singling out a specific form of harm in any part of the 1989 Act could have unintended negative consequences and risk appearing to give greater weight to one form of harm than another. We do not want to create a hierarchy of harm. We have therefore opted for the wider concept of harm, consistent with the approach in the Children Act.
We have also responded to the harm panel’s report in a further way. The new Section 91A makes it clear that in determining whether to grant permission to make an application to a person who is subject to a barring order under Section 91(14), the court must consider whether there has been a material change of circumstances since the barring order was made. Our intention is to require that courts consider carefully whether the circumstances that gave rise to the barring order have materially changed, such that permission to apply should be granted. The amendment does not draw a red line such that permission can be granted only if there has been a material change of circumstances, but we believe that the inclusion of this provision, which requires the court to consider this question, will offer further protection to domestic abuse victims.
The amendment also makes it clear that courts can make these orders on their own initiative—of their own motion, as it used to be said—for example, without an application being made by the victim for an order to be made. This, too, is a response to the harm panel’s recommendations. We want to put beyond doubt that there need not be an application for a barring order in order for the court to consider making one. Of course, the court will still need to give due consideration to the making of such an order, but the amendment clarifies that the court can make an order on its own initiative.
The Government are therefore confident that the amendment will mean that barring orders are used more often by courts to protect victims of domestic abuse where further applications put them at risk of harm. It will also make sure that permission to apply will be granted only where the court has considered whether there has been a material change of circumstances since the order was made, and also clarify that courts can make these orders on their own initiative. For those reasons, I beg to move.
My Lords, we support this government amendment and the amendment of the Title of the Bill that goes with it. As the Minister has explained, Section 91 of the Children Act permits the court to make a barring order—that is, an order forbidding someone, usually an applicant who has failed to persuade a court to make an order in his or her favour, from making an application for an order of a particular kind; this is usually but not always a repeat application—with respect to a child, importantly, without the leave of the court.
An order under this section still permits a further application for an order to be made if the court decides to permit it, which the court may in its discretion decide to do. This amendment, as the Minister has explained, extends the discretion to make a barring order if a further application would put the child concerned, or another individual, at risk of harm. That is the real purpose and merit of this amendment: it is for the protection from repeated litigation of those who might be victims of domestic abuse, when that repeated litigation often amounts to a particularly unpleasant form of harassment by legal proceedings.
The jurisdiction is similar to the court’s jurisdiction to make civil restraint orders and civil proceedings orders against vexatious and unmeritorious repeat litigants in civil cases. Under this government amendment, a person subject to a barring order may of course seek permission to apply further to the court. That application for permission will be considered, but the court considering whether permission should be given to make a fresh application must consider whether there has been a change of circumstances since the making of the original order. That, I suggest, seems entirely sensible. The amendment therefore strikes a careful and judicious balance between protecting potential applicants and providing a safeguard against people being harassed by unmeritorious repeat litigation.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing these amendments, which we support. As he explained, they put in additional strengthening factors for barring orders; of course, there are barring orders in place in the family courts in any event. The purpose, as he explained, is to make it crystal clear, and to set out clearly, what the court must consider where there is any risk for the children or the other parties through repeated litigation. However, there is discretion for the court, if there is a material change in circumstances, to decide to accept and hear the case. So I accept the amendment as presented.
One case that I dealt with comes to mind. It had come to court 24 times in six years. The child was six years old, which means that every three months that child’s issues had come to court, as a child arrangements order. There were no allegations of domestic abuse. It was a youngish couple who were using the court system to resolve matters that seemed trivial. At what we hoped would be the final time we were dealing with this case, we came up with six pages of guidance for the child arrangements, with a lot of detail. At the recommendation of the legal adviser, we put in place a barring order to get those parents to sort out those problems themselves. As I say, there was no allegation of domestic abuse in that case, so it is slightly different from that which the noble Lord has put forward today. Nevertheless, it was certainly appropriate for a barring order. I support the amendment as moved by the Government.
My Lords, again, I hope that the House and the noble Lords, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames and Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, will forgive me for being brief. I am conscious of the amount of the work that we have to get through. I am grateful for their comments and support for the purpose and effect of these amendments. As the noble Lord, Lord Marks, put it, we are striking a careful and judicious balance here between access to courts and preventing the court process being used as a vehicle for abuse. As we were reminded by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, it is not only in cases of domestic abuse that Section 91(14) is available, although that is the purpose of the amendments before the House.
Again, with apologies for being brief, because there appears to be broad agreement, I beg to move Amendment 41.
Amendment 41 agreed.
We now come to Amendment 42. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in debate.
42: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Proceedings under the Children Act 1989
(1) Part I of the Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.(2) In section 1 (welfare of the child) after subsection (2B) insert—“(2C) Subsection (2A) shall not apply in relation to a parent where there has been domestic abuse which has affected the child or other parent.(2D) Evidence of domestic abuse may be provided in one or more of the forms accepted as evidence for legal aid, as per guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice.”(3) Part II of the Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.(4) In section 9 (restrictions on making section 8 orders) after subsection (7) insert—“(8) No court shall make a section 8 order for a child to spend unsupervised time with or have unsupervised contact with a parent who is—(a) awaiting trial, or on bail for, a domestic abuse offence;(b) involved in ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic abuse offence;(c) is pending a fact finding hearing or has been found to have committed domestic abuse in a previous fact-finding hearing; or(d) has a criminal conviction for a domestic abuse offence.(8A) In subsection (8)—“unsupervised” means where a court approved third party is not present at all times during contact with the parent to ensure the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of a child;“domestic abuse offence” means an offence which the Crown Prosecution Service alleges to have involved domestic abuse.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to prevent domestic abusers from being granted unsupervised contact with children in family law proceedings.
My Lords, I had to bring this amendment back on Report, because I did not think that the Minister accepted the issues in Committee. They are important: domestic abusers are being granted unsupervised contact with children as a result of an ingrained pro-contact culture. The Ministry of Justice’s own harm review concluded that “the dominance of contact” is seen
“as excluding other welfare considerations, including the child’s need for protection from abuse, or the child’s wishes and feelings.”
Rather than seeing contact as a means to an end and weighing it up against all the harm and damage that an abusive parent has caused, it is seen as the end in itself, almost no matter what the cost. That is deeply harmful.
The debate on parental alienation on Monday showed just how embedded some of these ideas have become. Wanting to exclude an abusive parent can itself be labelled as abusive. Abusive men, in particular, falsely claim that abuse is mutual and reciprocal, and try to label the victim as a fellow perpetrator. As the Minister said on a previous group, an abuser will pursue their victim through the family courts to try to force contact with their child, not because they care, but because it is an extension of their coercive and controlling behaviour and their fury that their victim has managed to escape them. So, the abuse continues through the courts and then into unsupervised contact. More than a dozen children have been murdered by their fathers during unsupervised contact. Can the Minister please tell me what the Government are going to do to stop it?
In my short time in this House, I have been hugely impressed by the fairness, clarity and reasonableness of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb—that might be bad for her reputation—even when we have not agreed. However, in this instance, I am sad to say that I cannot find anything reasonable in this amendment, but it raises some broader issues about the Bill that worry me, so I will make those points.
This amendment effectively argues for denying the right to be a parent to anyone accused of the offence of abuse. In listing those who will be denied unsupervised access to their own children, we have those “awaiting trial”, “on bail” or
“involved in ongoing criminal proceedings”,
all of which—as anyone who knows anything about the criminal justice system knows—can involve months or years of one’s life. That would mean that innocent people, accused, are already treated as guilty.
Of course, we all want to protect children from any risk and, as the noble Baroness has illustrated, those horrifying stories of children being hurt or even killed, sometimes as revenge, are at the forefront of our minds, but I have two points. The amendment refers to ensuring the
“physical safety and emotional wellbeing of a child”.
Those are two distinct threats. The latter, at least, is difficult to pin down. I argue that being deprived of time with one’s parent, free from a court-approved third party, could also be the cause of considerable emotional distress for any child. It could be a recipe for the parental alienation that she mentioned.
Secondly, even the prospect or fear of a threat to physical safety cannot distort our sense of justice or lead to disproportionate or punitive measures in a risk-averse “what if?” scenario. It could too easily lead to the state unjustly alienating children from a parent who is accused but not found guilty. Surely, evidence and facts are key to establishing the level of threat. I note that the amendment would deny unsupervised contact
“pending a fact finding hearing”,
which makes a mockery of establishing facts and tears up any commitment to factual evidence as an important part of judging whether an accused parent can be trusted to care for or parent their children without third-party supervision.
I am even worried that this amendment argues that unsupervised contact would not be allowed for anyone with a “criminal conviction” for abuse. Granted, in this instance the evidence has been weighed and facts established, but consider the implications of this. This amendment would mean that someone found guilty of abuse perhaps when as young as 18 could find themselves, at the age of 38—by now, we hope, a reformed character in a different set of circumstances, maybe no longer drinking, on drugs or mentally ill, as we have heard today, or just shame-faced about their younger self’s abusive behaviour—still denied unsupervised access to their children. To be honest, that seems ungenerous, even barbaric and vengeful. It suggests that we are branding people found guilty as perpetrators with the letter “A” for abuser, for ever.
We also heard earlier that one can gain a criminal conviction for abuse by breaching a domestic abuse order. That breach might be for a relatively minor offence. I worry that aspects of this amendment encourage a lack of perspective and a disavowal from making judgments of different threats. The Government continue to stress that they do not want a hierarchy of abuse or harm—we have just heard the Minister discuss that—but this can lead to a muddle when it comes to parental contact. I want to discourage a lazy, one-size-fits-all approach. When considering risks to children, there is a distinction between, for example, the perpetrator of regular, systematic violence or coercive control and the particular emotional or psychological abuse that one partner might inflict on another in a toxic relationship. The latter may be worse than horrible if you are at the receiving end of it, but it may never be aimed at or even witnessed by children.
To conclude, I urge the Government to maintain the presumption of parental contact. It should be curtailed or removed only with great care. That does not mean putting children at risk, but it means holding justice dear.
My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox. I recognise the good intentions of the amendment, but I am concerned that it is too rigid. As I know from my judicial experience, not all situations are black and white. As I said at some length on a previous occasion on Report, judges and magistrates will get specific training on the Domestic Abuse Act, but the effect of this amendment would deny them important judicial discretion.
I am particularly concerned about that because proposed subsection (2D) in the amendment says:
“Evidence of domestic abuse may be provided in one or more of the forms accepted as evidence for legal aid, as per guidance issued by the Ministry of Justice.”
As the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, pointed out, that means that a decision is taken that generally a father, but sometimes a mother, would be forbidden unsupervised contact based on the information provided by one party and before the fact-finding decision had been made by the judge. Although I understand why the amendment has been put forward, I am not prepared to support it.
My Lords, the presumption of contact cannot be the first indicated assurance by the family court process. As a front-line social worker supporting supervised contact, my experience was that there is an underlying assumption of statutory services that all parents are entitled to access to children, regardless of any fears that the primary carer or parent may have about violence or abuse. Of course, there are exceptional social workers and other professionals who will pay heed to the whole range of issues of safeguarding, particularly where there is a previous history of violence and abuse.
I commend here the long-standing and excellent work of Barnardo’s and the Thomas Coram Foundation contact centre. In my experience, they have always taken these grave matters into consideration, but their services are for the lucky few. This is why I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. As has been detailed, the harm review found a pattern of sexism, racism and class bias against mothers and children in the family court and confirmed the presumption of contact, which has resulted in the minimisation and disbelief of allegations of domestic abuse and child sexual abuse.
The presumption is often based on one parent lying to deprive the other of access to children and somehow persuading their children to turn against the other parent. Such legal presumption often disadvantages women, including those from minority heritage backgrounds and those for whom our legal system is frequently alienating due to a lack of adequate English or knowledge about their rights.
Even in these most serious cases against mothers and children, the presumption of contact has triumphed, dismissing evidence of domestic abuse and negating mothers’ fears of extensive coercive and controlling behaviour or sexual abuse. Some women who have written to me suggest that fathers have been able to recognise the argument of being alienated to argue their entitlement to access, even where there has been evidence of violence or sexual abuse.
As has been suggested by noble and learned Lords and other noble Lords, the court system does not always function as it should. It is not beyond the wit of our courts to make a proper assessment of the impact on children when they have witnessed countless occasions of violent incidents experienced by their mother or why children would be afraid to see their violent father in any unsupervised contact.
Children who do not want to see their fathers are sometimes forced into foster care, separated from siblings, or given to other family members, to force them into contact. The London Victims’ Commissioner has called this “state-sanctioned abuse”. I am not saying that; someone who has a wide range of experience is saying it. We have to respect that view and take it on board.
The figures speak for themselves. Women’s Aid research demonstrates that safeguarding concerns resulting from domestic abuse are still not believed or understood within the child contact system, leading to potentially unsafe contact decisions which, in the most extreme cases, have resulted in children being seriously harmed and murdered. This was highlighted in the Women’s Aid report, which referred to the horrific murder of Claire Throssell’s two sons. This case illustrates the danger of unsupervised contact. We risk further tragedies unless this is addressed now.
As has already been referred to, last year the Ministry of Justice published the final report of its expert panel—Women’s Aid was part of it—on assessing the risk of harm to children and parents in family law children’s cases. It concluded that family courts do not effectively protect many child and adult victims of domestic abuse from further harm. It called for fundamental reform of the child arrangements programme, arguing that the system should be redesigned with a focus on trauma and an assurance to work collectively across all other justice agencies. The presumption should be ended in cases where children are at risk of harm from domestic abuse, with contact arrangements for domestic abuse cases based on an informed judgment of the child’s best interests and safety. The Ministry of Justice panel concluded in June 2020 that the presumption should be urgently reviewed.
I have been overwhelmed with emails and messages from women who have experienced hopelessness with our legal system. No doubt we can deluge this Chamber with countless cases—I am sure that many noble Lords have been contacted and reached out to. All involve years of long-lasting and damaging court cases where children are forced into contact deemed unsafe. Mothers have experienced pressure to prove that their fear was real but that has been denied, so inflicting further injury to the mother and children. One survivor, speaking on behalf of many named survivors, said to me, “I am crying out for help and hope”. This amendment is one small aspect of our response to safeguard them and their children. I speak to give their voices in the Chamber today.
My Lords, I expressed my concern in Committee at the proposal to abandon the presumption in subsection (2A) of the Children Act 1989 where there has been domestic abuse that has affected the child or the other parent. My concern was then, as it is now, that under the Children Act the welfare of the child must be the court’s paramount consideration.
The presumption requires courts, when making orders about arrangements for children, including their living arrangements and arrangements for contacts, to ensure that
“unless the contrary is shown, that involvement of that parent in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare”.
That presumption is supported by a great deal of evidence that for children to maintain a relationship with both their parents following a breakdown of the parents’ relationship is generally in their best interests. The presumption has stood the test of time. It serves to remind custodial and non-custodial parents in entirely non-abusive relationships that have nevertheless broken down that their responsibility is to try to help their children to maintain relationships with the other, non-residential parent.
But the presumption is rebuttable, hence the words
“unless the contrary is shown”.
In many cases involving domestic abuse, judges will not order contact, because the best interests of the child will not be met by their making an order for contact. That covers the cases that I suspect the noble Baronesses, Lady Uddin and Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, are worried about.
However, as I attempted to demonstrate in Committee, there may be cases where acts of abuse should not lead to the conclusion that contact should be cut. In some cases, the child will have not witnessed, known about or been put at risk by an act of abuse, which may have been a completely isolated act, committed against its parent. I am reluctant to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, because I so rarely do, but I do on this occasion. I understand her concern and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, to ensure that children are protected from the harm of unsuitable and often dangerous contacts, but to provide that protection is the job of judges. It is not the task of Parliament to make absolutist rules that treat all cases where allegations of abuse are made in the same way. Judicial discretion in these cases should be left as it is, exactly for the reasons advanced by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss.
I also do not accept that the proposed new subsection (4) should pass into law. It would provide that no court should make an order for unsupervised contact with a parent who is, broadly, facing proceedings for a domestic abuse offence, is involved in a fact-finding hearing for a domestic abuse offence or who has a criminal conviction for such an offence. There are two points that are conclusive against such a clause. First, in the circumstances of paragraphs (a) to (c) in the proposed new subsection (8) of Section 9 of the Children Act, there would have been no finding of guilt of domestic abuse. The presumption of innocence has to apply, a point well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. A judge hearing a contact application should not be barred by a statutory prohibition from making a finding of fact and an order after hearing evidence if they take the view that the welfare of the child would be best served by making such an order for contact, just because there is a statutory prohibition that operates without a finding of fact.
Secondly, this suggested prohibition would not be limited to cases where the alleged offending party is said to have been involved in domestic abuse against either the child or its other parent, so it would forbid a contact order between the prohibited parent and a child from an entirely different relationship. A court would be forbidden from making an order for contact with a child from a father’s relationship with a former partner, with whom a good relationship had been maintained by him and by the child, because of an allegation of domestic abuse lodged by a subsequent partner. Such an absolute prohibition would be wrong, and I cannot support it.
My Lords, the proposed new clause in this amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would disapply the presumption that parental involvement furthers a child’s welfare in cases where there has been domestic abuse. It would also prohibit unsupervised contact for a parent awaiting trial or on bail for domestic abuse offences where there are ongoing criminal proceedings for domestic abuse or where the parent has a criminal offence for domestic abuse. I moved a similar amendment in Committee which did not receive the backing of a number of speakers in the debate or of the Minister.
In his response in Committee, the Minister said:
“I have a great deal of sympathy for the aims of these amendments, and I agree that more needs to be done to ensure that the courts take proper account of the impact that domestic abuse can have on children’s well-being and safety.”
He went on to say that
“following the recommendations from the Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts, the Government launched a review on the presumption of parental involvement”
“will focus on the presumption … and the impact on children’s welfare of the courts’ application of these provisions.”
He argued that it would
“be premature to amend the legislation relating to the presumption … before gaining the in-depth evidence from the review.”—[Official Report, 3/2/21; col. 2222.]
However, we should not forget that Women’s Aid’s Nineteen Child Homicides documents the cases of 19 children in 12 families who were killed in circumstances relating to child contact by a father who was the perpetrator of domestic abuse. The Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts said that it had
“received sufficient evidence to conclude that in the cohort of cases described in submissions the presumption further reinforces the procontact culture and detracts from the court’s focus on the child’s individual welfare and safety.”
The report also states:
“The panel is clear, however, that the presumption should not remain in its present form.”
There is thus some clear and, indeed, tragic evidence that the present arrangements relating to the presumption of parental involvement as opposed to solely what is in the best interests of the child, including its welfare and safety, are just not delivering the protections they should. However, in the light of the concerns expressed by some noble Lords in Committee, which have been repeated today, and the current review of the presumption of parental involvement, we did not put down the amendment for Report. Instead, we will continue to pursue this issue outside the discussions and debates on the Bill.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, has explained, Amendment 42 seeks to disapply the presumption found in the Children Act—that parental involvement furthers the child’s welfare—when there has been domestic abuse that has affected the child or the other parent.
The amendment also seeks to prohibit unsupervised contact by a parent in a number of different circumstances: when they are on bail awaiting trial; when there are ongoing criminal proceedings for a domestic abuse offence; when a fact-finding hearing concerning domestic abuse allegations is pending; and when domestic abuse is proven in such a fact-finding hearing or as a result of a criminal conviction for a domestic abuse offence.
In Committee, many noble Lords spoke passionately about the presumption of parental involvement and gave a number of examples of unsupervised contact leading to tragic results in cases which involved domestic abuse. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, reminded us of some of them this evening. As I said in Committee, I have significant sympathy for the aims of this amendment and agree that more needs to be done to ensure that the courts are taking proper account of the impact domestic abuse can have on children’s well-being and safety. That is why this Government, in November 2020, following the recommendations from the Expert Panel on Harm in the Family Courts, launched a review of the presumption of parental involvement. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, referred to the harm panel’s report, but it is important to acknowledge that the panel did not call for immediate legislative change, despite hearing evidence from more than 1,200 parties. Instead, the panel recommended that a full review be undertaken by the Government, and that is precisely what we are doing.
In my respectful view, the panel was right to do so because, as the debate in Committee demonstrated, this is a complex and nuanced issue, with a significant real-world impact for the thousands of families who go through the family courts every year. That review will focus on the application of the provision and its exceptions, and the impact on children’s welfare of the courts’ application of those provisions. Through the review, we will develop a strong evidence base and ensure that any changes brought about as a result of it are rooted in a solid understanding of the effect of the presumption and the associated evidence on child welfare. I remain of the view that it would be premature to amend the Children Act in the way proposed by the amendment before gaining the in-depth evidence and response from the review.
I will return briefly to the valuable debate we had in Committee about the paramountcy principle and the potential impact of this amendment in that respect. The current legislation regarding the presumption makes it clear that the presumption should be disapplied where there is a risk of harm to the child. That means that risk of harm from a parent perpetrator of domestic abuse should already be taken into account by courts. The Children Act 1989, in placing the child’s welfare as paramount, should also ensure that courts consider the risk of a child suffering harm, or further harm, when deciding any aspect of the child’s upbringing.
As stated by the noble Lord, Lord Marks, during the debate in Committee, Section 1 of the Children Act 1989 provides that,
“the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration.”
This is rightly viewed as a cornerstone of that Act. It is a central cannon of our law relating to children. It is important that any changes to the law in this area do not undermine this fundamental principle. That is my short answer to the question put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Protecting children is at the very heart of the process.
If, however, we legislate to create automatic bans on a particular form of contact, we may not be allowing courts to take account of whether there are risks to the child in the particular circumstances of the case. I can assure the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, that the law in this area is the opposite of one size fits all. This area of law is certainly not off the shelf; it is an area where the law is bespoke. That means that rights and risks must be weighed carefully, on a case-by-case basis, allowing the judiciary to assess each case on its own merits but always putting the welfare of the child at the very heart of the decision. It is also not clear whether such bans, if they prevent unsupervised contact following a conviction or finding of fact, should be capable of being lifted or modified at some later date if the risks in an individual case materially change. That is not something that the amendment appears to envisage.
Furthermore, in referring expressly to domestic abuse, which is only one of many circumstances which may impact on a child’s well-being and safety, the amendment could be seen to give domestic abuse prominence over other valid considerations and risks of harm to a child that judges have to take into account, such as sexual or violent offending, or a history or allegations of child abuse. It is not surprising that I can do no better than respectfully endorse the words of the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, whose experience in this area needs no comment from me. She said that the amendment would deny the important issue of judicial discretion.
I also respectfully endorse the characteristically perceptive point made by the noble Lord, Lord Marks. He pointed out the effect—or the non-effect—of the amendment on a child from a different relationship. The amendment would catch cases that ought not to be caught.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate but, for the reasons that I have explained, the Government’s position remains unchanged on this issue. We believe that we should wait for the outcome of the review on the presumption of parental involvement before any decisions are taken on whether changes are required either to the presumption of parental involvement as a principle or to its application. To that extent, as I understood it, the position that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has arrived at—although he started at a different point to me—is much closer to the Government’s position. I am grateful to hear that from the noble Lord, and I therefore invite the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, to follow that lead and withdraw her amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I listened very carefully but did not hear anyone offer any other solution. Children are dying. Noble Lords said again and again that the current situation was not working, but still no one has come up with a solution. I take the Minister’s comments about waiting for the review, but during my political career, which has only been 20 years long, I have found that repetition works extremely well, so I repeat to him that we have to find a solution because people—children—are dying.
The noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, gave us a “what if” situation; obviously I could also do that, but I will not. Again, I am trying to save children’s lives; I did not hear any other solutions. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said that the amendment is too rigid, which I accept, but judges and magistrates are getting it wrong and children are dying. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, very much for her support from her experience. She described unsafe decisions and she put my case better than I could.
The noble Lord, Lord Marks, was very kind in his comments. Of course the welfare of children is paramount, but they are not always listened to. We have to listen to them when they say that they are not happy. That is not necessarily happening at the moment. I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, tried to do this and is pursuing it in other ways. I am grateful for that and glad. I am very happy to work with him on it.
The Minister said that more needs to be done. He talked about the review and said that the amendment is premature and that we need in-depth evidence, but this situation has been happening for decades and children are still dying. I mentioned a figure because it is easy to count deaths—every death is tragic and we can count them easily. However, we cannot count the damage or the mental and sometimes physical anguish that happens to children. That is absolutely uncountable.
I have listened and I accept some of the limitations of my amendment, but I have heard nothing about a solution to stop children dying. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
We now come to the group consisting of Amendment 43. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
43: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Confidentiality of refuge addresses
(1) In family proceedings, where a person (“P”) is—(a) witness or party to the proceedings; and(b) has been subject to domestic abuse as defined under section 1 of this Act; and(c) is residing at a refuge;the provisions in this section apply.(2) The court must not share the residential address of the refuge with any individual or third party.(3) A court order must not be served on P at the residential address of the refuge.(4) A court order may be served on P at the refuge’s office address or by an alternative method or at an alternative place, in accordance with Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010.(5) The residential address of the refuge must be redacted from any court documentation.”Member’s explanatory statement
This would prevent the residential address of a refuge being shared as part of court proceedings.
My Lords, I laid this amendment in Committee because I was genuinely shocked that a refuge address could ever be revealed to a perpetrator. Victims are not moving to refuges because they fancy a change of scene; they are fleeing for their lives. Since laying that amendment I have heard many more anecdotes from those on the front line, suggesting that disclosure of a refuge address to a perpetrator is not a particularly rare occurrence. I am hugely troubled by this, and it is the reason why I have laid the amendment again.
I am also hugely troubled that we have absolutely no solid data on how frequently this happens. We should not have to rely on anecdotal evidence, important though it is. Surely there should be more formality in central record-keeping to document such serious disclosures.
To reach a refuge, a victim must leave behind their home, job and possessions, and in many cases they must uproot their children. To have reached the conclusion that that is the only way forward is to experience a level of trauma and abuse, and have reached a crisis point, that most of us simply cannot comprehend. We owe it to them to have a cast-iron guarantee that this course of action is not for nothing and that the law will protect them. I believe the amendment would do that.
As I said in Committee, the amendment seeks to provide a legal safety net for the secrecy of refuge addresses. The refuge model, as we know, is predicated on the secrecy and protection of safe addresses. The responsibility for protecting those addresses falls not only on the staff but on each and every resident at a refuge. Many of us in this House will have visited a refuge. I was not even allowed to talk about which part of London I had been in when discussing my visit at a later date.
By way of background, refuges can find themselves the subject of orders from the family court, particularly location orders, generally from fathers trying to locate mothers and children. Refuge providers are forced to disclose their addresses to facilitate the service of a court order on mothers, and although some protections are in place, it is clear that there are serious loopholes. As it stands, the court has discretion as to what information is provided and always has the option not to order refuges to disclose their addresses and locations. It is therefore deeply concerning that some judges either turn a blind eye or do not take enough care or proactive steps to ensure that maximum levels of confidentiality are maintained.
In the interests of time I will not repeat the two examples that I gave in Committee, but I know noble Lords will have enormous empathy for the fear and chaos that ensues when a perpetrator discovers the location of a refuge. This is not just about the safety of the residents; it also concerns the welfare of staff. They too are taking a risk in the job that they do, and should not have to put up with violent and threatening behaviour.
My amendment remains the same as in Committee and it is a simple one: the court order should never be served at the refuge itself, and the refuge address should remain confidential. It provides that the order should be served at the refuge’s office address or by an alternative method or at an alternative place. As such, the amendment would not make any significant change to the protections that already exist; it would strengthen and clarify the cases in which they should be used, so that all judges were crystal clear. In my opinion, any disclosure of the refuge address demonstrates that the existing safeguards are not adequate, and we cannot confidently say that refuge addresses will always be appropriately protected. I believe that the practice on the ground is not necessarily consistent with what is intended by the Family Procedure Rules, and they therefore require strengthening and updating.
In Committee, my noble friend the Minister raised the issue of child safety—as I am sure he will again in his response today—stating that there was some concern that an alternative route to service, such as using the office address of a refuge, would present a delay in proceedings and could have the unintended consequence of endangering the child. I reiterate once again that I respectfully disagree. I suggest that the current situation, where refuges are pressured into revealing their most fiercely guarded information, causes more delay and can of course result in significant harm. I add that refuges are not unregulated hideaways, and safeguarding standards around children will always be paramount. I stress that the amendment is absolutely not about denying contact. Indeed, if the refuge’s office address were formalised as the alternative route to service, providers would understand that they have a duty to locate the mother as soon as possible and would not be faced with a serious conflict in doing so.
In Committee, some noble Lords questioned whether it was reasonable to expect refuges to have an office address. Women’s Aid has reassured me on this point: if they do not have a separate office address, they have a PO box address that the refuge uses to ensure that GPs, police and other agencies are able to contact the women who live there.
I sincerely hope the Minister can find a way to accept the amendment, but, at the very least, I believe the guidance must be strengthened beyond doubt. I also feel strongly that the Ministry of Justice needs to find a way to keep track of the number of cases involving the service of court orders on refuge addresses and the disclosure of those addresses. If it is indeed rare then the amendment should not be too onerous, and it could ensure another check and balance on these proceedings. Furthermore, the lack of transparency in the family courts is surely something that needs looking at. I accept that that is not something for this Bill, but it has come up time and again, and it appears to present a barrier to reform.
I thank the Minister for his time on this issue. We are lucky to have his experience on these Benches, and I am sure he will bring an urgency to issues such as the one being addressed in this amendment. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, for bringing this amendment back. She has explained the position very clearly. I have added my name, because the disclosure of a refuge address is something that should be avoided, can be avoided and usually is avoided—because it can be—but, if not avoided, can have very serious consequences. We spent some time on that at the previous stage of the Bill.
In Committee, the Minister said that he did “not dissent” from confidentiality being described as “of critical importance” and “essential”. If I may say so, that is very much counsel’s phraseology, and I am not sure where on the scale of strength of agreement as expressed by a member of the Bar all this comes, but it certainly means agreement. He also took on board my point about the safety of other occupants of the refuge if a determined abuser tracks down the address—a problem I have come up against.
Sometimes it is enough to say that such and such hardly ever happens and there are ways to ensure that it does not and, anyway, there are rules to cover the point. I do not put this issue in that category with any sense of ease or confidence. I join the noble Baroness in acknowledging that there are relevant rules but asking that their importance is emphasised in guidance, if the Bill is not amended.
My Lords, I support this amendment, eloquently and powerfully detailed by the noble Baronesses, Lady Bertin and Lady Hamwee. I agree that confidentiality must be inherent in safe- guarding women survivors, many of whom may have endured prolonged periods of violence prior to reaching the safety of a refuge.
I have worked with refuges and inside a refuge. I know how hard it is to ensure the safety of not just one individual but of a number of women and their families. There may be instances where refuge addresses are revealed by residents being followed by a perpetrator, or, in fact, survivors may reveal the address if they return to perpetrators for the countless, complex reason debated on many occasions in this Chamber. Regardless, our statutory institutions, including the courts, must uphold the essential principle of safeguarding, not just for the sake of one survivor but for all those who reside in refuges and for the staff responsible for protecting all survivors in such refuges.
It is critical that we acknowledge this, and I look forward to the Minister being persuaded, much more eloquently than I could ever do, by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I thank the noble Baroness for moving this amendment and I wholeheartedly support her.
My Lords, I supported this amendment in principle in Committee. I expressed one or two drafting reservations, one of which was about the point that not all refuges may have office addresses, but that has been amply answered by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. This amendment is extremely difficult to resist with any sense of logic or safeguarding at all. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has argued the case for it and I shall be extremely brief.
The point is that everybody has stressed the importance and value of confidentiality for refuge addresses. That flows from the very nature of a refuge: it is where women go—it is generally women—to avoid the consequences and a repetition of domestic abuse. Breach of that confidence leads to perpetrators discovering where their victims have gone. Discovering the whereabouts of their victims offers them a chance of harassing those victims further—of committing further abuse—so revealing a refuge address destroys the very concept that it is a refuge. It raises the risk of changing a refuge into a target. That is what this amendment is designed to avoid and I support it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, powerfully moved this amendment and went into the detail of the problems that arise when refuge addresses are revealed. I fail to understand why judges, in her words, are turning a blind eye to the requirement to keep the secrecy of a refuge; I fail to imagine why that might be the case. Nevertheless, either mistakes happen or some judges—very few—have an alternative view. What I understand from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, is that she wants the Minister to put on record that guidance will be updated and to make it absolutely clear that this should not happen again. I do not know whether she is going to move her amendment or what will happen, but I would have thought that, at the very least, the Minister should be able to do that and say that guidance will be updated.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee and Lady Uddin, both have experience of working in refuges and they know the importance of keeping these addresses secret. I hope we will hear from the Minister something that sufficiently reassures his noble friend Lady Bertin that this issue can be properly addressed once and for all.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her continued engagement on the issue of the confidentiality of refuge addresses. I take this opportunity to thank refuge providers and others in the sector who took time out of their very busy diaries to meet me on this issue: we had a very useful discussion.
As with many issues with the Bill, it seems to me that we all agree on the issues of principle. Refuges are places of safety. They play a vital role in effectively responding to domestic abuse, and in supporting victims and their children. Therefore, I am in complete agreement with the principle underlying my noble friend’s amendment, that those in refuges must be protected. As such, it is right that the Government and those involved in family proceedings carefully consider both whether existing measures offer enough protection and whether there are further steps that could be taken better to protect domestic abuse victims living in refuge accommodation.
In Committee, I outlined that those engaged in family proceedings are not required to disclose their address, or that of their children, unless specifically directed to do so by the court. Where such a disclosure direction is made, addresses are disclosed to the court only, and it is for the court to determine whether information it holds should be disclosed further. Where there are known allegations of domestic abuse, the court should hold this information as confidential. I reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the formulation I used in Committee was certainly intended to indicate agreement.
Turning to the service of orders at refuge addresses, I again thank those from the refuge sector with whom I discussed this issue and their experience of it. They gave some valuable evidence, and we heard some more this evening from the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. As I indicated in Committee, existing measures, particularly Part 6 of the Family Procedure Rules, enable the court to direct bespoke service arrangements, and orders can be served at alternative addresses, such as the refuge office address. This approach should be taken wherever possible.
I noted the way that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, put it: service on a refuge should be avoided. However, as I said on the last group, the real question is the welfare of the child, which is of paramount consideration in family proceedings. I remain of the view that there can be limited circumstances where the court may need to serve an order on a party at the refuge they are staying in because not doing so would pose risks to the safety of children involved in family proceedings.
One can envisage such cases, and I would not wish to limit the court’s ability to act quickly in those circumstances to safeguard a child, which might occur were we to place a blanket or inflexible restriction on addresses at which an order can be served. However, I would expect family proceedings where an order needs to be served at a residential refuge address to be very few and far between. Although the question must ultimately be a matter for the judiciary and not for the Government Front Bench, one would expect that a refuge address would be used only when there is no other viable alternative in the circumstances.
I have indicated that existing measures enable protection for victims in refuges. However, I am persuaded that there is a legitimate question of whether those measures could be strengthened to ensure that victims are better protected, that addresses are not disclosed to perpetrators, and that service of orders at refuge addresses is directed only when absolutely necessary. While I am clear that primary legislation, and therefore this amendment, is not the appropriate response here, there are other routes to explore, as I have discussed with my noble friend since Committee.
This issue has been discussed between Ministers and the President of the Family Division in recent bilateral meetings. I assure my noble friend that the judiciary is taking seriously the concerns raised. I appreciate, in this context, that the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, wanted some reassurance from the Government; I hope I am giving it to him. The Whips may not agree, but one of the benefits of making slightly slower progress on Monday than we intended is that I can now say that this matter was discussed at the meeting of the Family Procedure Rule Committee on Monday, which was a couple of days ago. The committee agreed to work on this issue and will be giving it detailed consideration in the coming weeks and months.
The Government are committed to protecting vulnerable victims of domestic abuse from further harm by their abuser. I am confident that this issue is being properly and carefully considered by members of the senior judiciary and by the Family Procedure Rule Committee. I have full sympathy with the motivation behind this amendment. I understand why my noble friend has maintained this, and why the noble Lord, Lord Marks, had considerable sympathy with it on the confidentiality point, although I note that he did not engage with the lack of any exception to the proposition set out in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause—that is, service on a refuge address.
I have used my response to set out what the Government are doing and the steps being taken. I hope that, having provided that assurance to my noble friend, she will now be content to withdraw her amendment.
I thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions to this short but very important debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for her support and for putting her name to the amendment, and likewise to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, for her kind words. It was powerful to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Marks, with all his deep knowledge of the law on these issues, and the noble Lord Ponsonby, agreed with the amendment. I felt it was important to hear them say that, and I thank them for it.
I am of course disappointed that my noble friend the Minister does not see that there is a need to put this into the Bill. I will never accept that there is justification for revealing the location of a refuge, but I have really appreciated the time that he has given to this issue. I can tell that he cares; he obviously has a concern about this issue and is committed to trying to deal with it. I absolutely accept that his response has gone further than that in Committee, so I will bank that progress and am grateful for it. We have indeed spoken at length about other routes to explore, and I will certainly be keeping in touch with him on this. I also want to pursue greater transparency.
I was very reassured—as my noble friend said, the timing has been fortunate—that the issue has already been discussed with the President of the Family Division on the back of the amendment. I do not doubt the judiciary’s willingness to tackle this and to take these accounts seriously. We will certainly keep a close eye on this and the progress that it makes. With that in mind, I will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 43 withdrawn.
Amendment 44 was previously debated on Monday. Does the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, wish to move Amendment 44?
44: After Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State shall within six months of the passing of this Act publish—(a) a strategy for providing specialist training for all magistrates and judges hearing cases in family proceedings in the Family Courts concerning rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control; and(b) a timetable for the delivery of the training mentioned in subsection (1)(a),to include the training of all judges and magistrates, who are already hearing or who are to be appointed to hear Family cases and to include continuing professional development training for all such judges and magistrates.(2) The training mentioned in subsection (1)(a) must include but is not limited to training concerning—(a) the impact upon victims and witnesses, both adults and children, of the trauma of rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control;(b) the risks and difficulties for victims and witnesses in giving evidence and taking part in proceedings concerning rape, sexual, domestic abuse and coercive control; and(c) the risks and difficulties for victims and witnesses of being involved in proceedings where one or more other parties may be the perpetrators of rape, sexual and domestic abuse and coercive control or persons connected to such perpetrators.(3) Before publishing the strategy and timetable mentioned in subsection (1) the Secretary of State must consult— (a) the Chairman of the Board of the Judicial College;(b) the President of the Family Division;(c) the Chief Executive of the Magistrates Association; and(d) the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.(4) After commencement of this subsection, which shall not be more than two years after the passage of this Act, the Secretary of State shall ensure that no Family cases are heard by judges or magistrates who have not successfully completed the training mentioned in subsection (1).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State, in consultation with training bodies, to publish a strategy for providing specialist training on matters relating to domestic abuse for magistrates and judges hearing cases in family proceedings.
My Lords, I shall now put the question. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, taking part remotely, that she wishes to divide the House in support of this amendment and I will take that into account. The question is that Amendment 44 be agreed to.
My Lords, we now come to the group beginning with Amendment 45. Anyone wishing to press this or anything else in the group to a Division must make that clear in the debate.
45: Before Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Controlling or coercive behaviourControlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship
(1) Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 (offence of controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship) is amended as follows.(2) In subsection (1)(b), after “personally connected” insert “(see subsection (6))”.(3) Omit subsection (2).(4) For subsection (6) substitute—“(6) A and B are “personally connected” if any of the following applies—(a) they are, or have been, married to each other;(b) they are, or have been, civil partners of each other;(c) they have agreed to marry one another (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);(d) they have entered into a civil partnership agreement (whether or not the agreement has been terminated);(e) they are, or have been, in an intimate personal relationship with each other;(f) they each have, or there has been a time when they each have had, a parental relationship in relation to the same child (see subsection (6A));(g) they are relatives.(6A) For the purposes of subsection (6)(f) a person has a parental relationship in relation to a child if—(a) the person is a parent of the child, or(b) the person has parental responsibility for the child.”(5) In subsection (7), for “subsection (6)” substitute “subsections (6) and (6A)”.”Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would align the definition of “personally connected” in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 with that in Clause 2 of the Bill. The result is that the offence under that section of engaging in controlling or coercive behaviour would apply in relation to members of the same family, or people who have been in an intimate relationship, whether or not they live together.
My Lords, it is with great pleasure that I introduce Amendment 45 and consequential amendments, with the support of the noble Baronesses, Lady Williams of Trafford—it is not often I say that—Lady Bertin and Lady Sanderson of Welton. Aligning the definition of “personally connected” in the Serious Crime Act 2015 with that in the Bill would mean that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour would apply whether or not the abuser and abused actually live together. It would therefore cover situations of non-domiciliary family abuse, which my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath raised in Committee, and post-separation abuse, which was the focus of my own original amendment.
Noble Lords will recall that, in Committee, there was unanimous support for that amendment. The situations we heard about were described using words such as “heart-breaking”, “tragic” and “unacceptable”, and the particular implications for older and black and minority ethnic women were brought out. Victims of post-separation abuse, and in particular economic abuse, told us of its “crippling” effects and of the “invisible chain” that it forges with an abuser they thought they had escaped. A number of noble Lords called on the Government to bring forward their own amendment if they had problems with the one I tabled. I am happy to say that that is exactly what they have done, to the credit of the Minister, who also generously suggested that the government amendment should be tabled in my name.
During the Bill’s earlier stages, Ministers said that they had to await the findings of the delayed research report that reviewed the controlling or coercive behaviour offence. In fact, this report rather sat on the fence when it came to recommending legislative change, which suggests that the Government genuinely listened to the strength of opinion expressed by your Lordships in coming to a decision. I am therefore really grateful to all the noble Lords who supported my amendment in Committee. I am particularly grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, whom I have thought of as a noble friend because of the support that she has given me and whose commitment on these issues is second to none.
Together with a number of other noble Lords, we attended a round table the other week hosted by the domestic abuse commissioner designate, whose support has also been a significant factor, I am sure. At it, a number of participants raised the important issue of training, which we discussed more generally in relation to earlier amendments and, of course, on which we have just voted. This was one of the key findings of the official review:
“When attending domestic abuse incidents, it is vital that the police (including domestic abuse specialists) have the training and specialist resources needed to establish whether there are patterns of controlling or coercive behaviours underlying the incident that led to a police callout.”
This reflected the view across stakeholder groups that, despite improvements in the understanding and awareness of CCB, there is a need for better training of prosecutors and judges, as well as of front-line police officers in particular.
Surviving Economic Abuse—of which more in a moment—states:
“Currently, just under half of police forces in England and Wales have not received training in coercive and controlling or coercive behaviour. Government must provide funding to correct this deficit”.
I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what plans there are to improve training and raise awareness generally of CCB and of how economic abuse fits into this pattern of behaviour, particularly in light of the amendment we just voted for. SEA also states that, at present,
“the majority of coercive controlling behaviour is not reported to the police, and many victims do not immediately recognise what is happening to them.”
Can the Minister tell us the Government’s response to the review’s recommendation that the operation of this legislative change
“should be monitored and reviewed to assess the impact”?
Before concluding, I want to voice my support for Amendments 46 and 47 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. She made a powerful case on Monday and, following the vote on Amendment 4, it would be good if the Government were willing to concede on these related amendments and treat them as consequential.
The Government’s decision to accept an amendment on post-separation abuse has been widely welcomed by organisations on the ground, and by survivors themselves. I pay special tribute to Surviving Economic Abuse, which has campaigned on the issue of post-separation economic abuse with such determination and skill, in response to concerns raised by victims and survivors. It has shared with me, anonymised, some of the responses that it has received from these women. They are truly heartwarming. I will quote just two: “Thank you for sharing this amazing piece of news. I am crying with happiness.” “I woke up this morning and saw the news and I was practically jumping up and down with joy. Yes, joy. These milestones that SEA achieves or helps achieve ... are like magic healing for my soul, this one in particular.”
Many of these women have shown such courage in speaking out and have undergone such an ordeal just at the point at which they believed that they had broken free of their abusers. I dedicate this new clause to them. I beg to move.
Amendment 46 (to Amendment 45)
46: Before Clause 65, in subsection (4), after inserted subsection (6)(g), insert—
“(h) A is a carer for B who is a disabled person.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and the other in the name of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton to Amendment 45 would amend the new Clause in the name of Baroness Lister of Burtersett to ensure that the definition of “personally connected” in section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 includes the relationship between a disabled person and their carer in line with the amendments to the definition in Clause 2 of this Bill in the name of Baroness Campbell of Surbiton.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 46, I will speak also to my Amendment 47 and to Amendment 45 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which my amendments are attached and which I strongly support.
My amendments bring controlling or coercive behaviour within the scope of Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Amendment 46 mirrors Amendment 4, which was considered and overwhelmingly agreed to by the House on Monday.
I had intended to divide the House on Amendment 46 if the Minister could not accept it. I will not do so for one reason, and one reason alone. Just this morning, I learned that it could jeopardise Amendment 45, which is supported by the Government. I have no wish to risk another important amendment and potentially lose both it and my amendment. I have great admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and support her amendment overwhelmingly. Noble Lords will undoubtedly understand my reasons. I had not expected that kind of unwelcome surprise today.
Controlling or coercive behaviour, which is part of the definition of domestic abuse under Clause 1 of the Bill, is an offence under Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act. Such behaviour is unfortunately a common form of abuse by carers. Amendment 45 amends the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 to align it with Clause 2. The importance of including disabled people applies equally to the offence under Section 76. I set this out extensively on Monday and will not rehearse those arguments. It is worth noting that the draft guidance on Clause 2 relies on the guidance on Section 76 to explain controlling or coercive behaviour. They are complementary.
The two sets of provisions are totally interrelated. These amendments would ensure they remain consistent and ensure the coherence of the statutory abuse regime. It is very disappointing to not be able to follow that through for the protection and safety of disabled people if these amendments do not go through today. I await the response of the Minister in the sincere hope that she will accept these amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I speak to Amendments 46 and 47, which are in the name of my noble friend Lady Campbell of Surbiton and to which my name is also added. Because Amendments 46 and 47 are an amendment to 45—and I do not wish to quote sections of the Companion to the Standing Orders to your Lordships’ House—I would like to make clear that those listed as signatories have been put in the unenviable position of making the heartbreaking decision of whether to divide the House and risk preventing the valuable amendment put by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, from being passed.
In speaking after my noble friend, I do not wish to reiterate what has already been well articulated. I would like to thank the staff of your Lordships’ House, the disabled peoples’ organisations and many disabled women for the considerable amount of work they have put into this Bill. If there is one thing I ask of the Minister and the Bill team, it is that, when legislation that has such an impact on disabled people is being considered, disabled peoples’ organisations are expressly and extensively consulted. The added issues disabled people face should always be included.
On Monday it felt that, while we might not have convinced Her Majesty’s Government of the need to include disabled people in this Bill, the Chamber strongly supported my noble friend’s amendments. I would like to thank the 318 Peers who voted to support and include disabled people this week. I am expecting that there will be much support as we debate this group, but there will be push-back from Her Majesty’s Government.
Having re-read Hansard several times this week, I fear that we still have to convince Her Majesty’s Government of the need to protect disabled people. It is important and welcome that controlling or coercive behaviour is more widely understood across society, but that same protection does not appear to be afforded to disabled people. For that, I am extremely disappointed.
I wholly, but with a sad heart, support my noble friend’s decision tonight. As I mentioned at the beginning of my speech, my noble friend has been put in the unenviable position of having to explain to disabled people who experience abuse in a domestic setting—whom she has spent a considerable part of her working life supporting and protecting—that the politics and procedures we are operating under have excluded their place in the Bill.
I know from extensive discussions with those involved in these amendments that, in accepting and supporting the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which I absolutely do, if the House were divided we might put Amendment 45 at risk. There is always a price to pay by some in bringing legislation. Tonight, and in this instance, the price is being heavily paid by disabled people.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 45, but I do want to reference the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson. Their words have been very powerful, and we should never forget about the rights of disabled people. We should always try and give them a voice and make sure they are heard, because they are not heard enough in my view.
I will also begin my speech on Amendment 45 with some thanks. We definitely would not be here welcoming this amendment without Nicola Sharp-Jeffs and her team at Surviving Economic Abuse. Cassandra Wiener also deserves enormous praise and was the first person to make me aware of this problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, is the living embodiment of a hard-working Peer, and her persistence definitely got this over the line. These people and others made the case so clearly for a change in the law.
Over the past few weeks, we have heard many stories from victims of domestic abuse. They have changed my understanding of the scale of the problem: they are stories of abuse that last for years, even decades, and, very often, well beyond the end of a relationship. Coercive control only applying to those still in their abusive relationships was a dark gap in our current legislation, and I am so delighted that the Government have agreed to right that wrong. They send a powerful message to victims that the law is on their side.
In the weeks, months and years ahead, it will be crucial to raise awareness of this crime and to make victims and society more widely mindful that controlling behaviour, either in a relationship or after it has ended, is not okay. We all need to play our part in this; if we have friends with whom we suspect something is not quite right, we should not turn a blind eye. This is not about snooping or gossiping but about being there for each other.
The Government and their statutory agencies must also ensure that they do not make good law only to fall short in executing it. As we have heard a lot during the course of the Bill, training is paramount, whether it is for the police, judiciary, GPs or anyone else who could be the first point of contact. They must know how to spot the signs and have the right pathways to the next steps.
The media also has a big role to play. My noble friend Lady Sanderson made a brilliant speech in Committee, where she made the point that story lines in popular soaps are crucial to getting the message out there. She is quite right: let us face it, more people are watching “Coronation Street” than listening to us. I know that my noble friend is very sorry not to be speaking in today’s debate. She also deserves a lot of credit for the work that she has done in this area.
Businesses must also step up and make sure that their employees are supported and that they do what they can to raise awareness among their managers, and they must put in place strategies for people to seek support. Consumer-facing companies can also add their shoulder to the wheel: schemes like “Ask for ANI”, in over 3,000 pharmacies—as the Minister has mentioned many times—are hugely important, as is the work that companies like Lloyds Bank have done to offer support and advice to victims going through financial abuse. All of this can play a crucial role.
I also plead with the headline writers of some of our nation’s favourite news outlets not to belittle or include the defence of a killer over and above the reality of a brutal murder. All too often, we read that a nagging wife has been killed or that the victim was drunk when she died—so what? Coercive control, both in and outside relationships, can be complex and hard to understand, even for those experiencing it. Many victims may not even be aware that what is happening to them is abuse.
Part of the battle will now be to ensure that they understand the legal protections that they have and ensure that we give them all the help that they need to use them. I thank the Government again: this amendment really matters.
My Lords, Amendments 46 and 47, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, would amend the new clause in Amendment 45, proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, to ensure that the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 includes the relationship between a disabled person and their carer, in line with the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, to the definition in Clause 2 of the Bill.
Amendments 45, 46 and 47 sit together, and I hope that the Minister can be persuaded to add her name to Amendments 46 and 47. The new clause proposed in Amendment 45 would align the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 with that in Clause 2 of the Bill. The result is that the offence under that section of engaging in “controlling or coercive behaviour” would apply in relation to members of the same family or people who have been in an intimate relationship, whether or not they live together.
Amendment 46 seeks to ensure that the relationship between a disabled person and their carer is included. This amendment and Amendment 47 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, would amend the new clause proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, in Amendment 45 to ensure that the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 of the Serious Crimes Act 2015 includes the relationship between a disabled person and their carer, in line with the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, to the definition in Clause 2.
I also highlight that the term “disability” includes learning disabilities, which is important in this context. Many parents choose to look after their children with a learning disability rather than entrust their care to an organisation. When the child becomes an adult and the parents are older and frail, what had been a loving relationship often becomes tense and fraught, and can lead to violence and abuse. This can apply equally when a person with a learning disability has a carer rather than parents. What started as a positive relationship can turn sour, and the abuse of one party by the other and violence are often the outcome. In this case, with no parents, it is the local authority that has the responsibility to sort the problem out.
This is a good suite of amendments and I am happy to support them.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendment 45, but before I do so, perhaps I may record my concern at the situation described by the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell, Lady Grey-Thompson and Lady Jolly, in relation to people with disabilities. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some comfort from the Front Bench on what is obviously a very unsatisfactory situation.
On Amendment 45, I want simply to add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and the supporters of her amendment, both inside the House and those who have campaigned outside it, for this change to the provisions regarding post-separation coercive control. I also express my gratitude to the Minister for listening and, more than that, acting by adding her name to the amendment. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, I have had a tremendously positive response to the news that the change was to be made. I can do no better than to quote from a note I have received from the director of the Daisy Programme in Norfolk, of which I am a patron. She has said, “We continue to witness at first hand the insidious nature of continued domestic abuse post separation and the controlling nature of perpetrators. Retraumatising of survivors is common as they continue to tell, retell and tell once again their stories, leaving little time to begin the process of rebuilding their lives.”
These amendments will support survivors and children who have been deeply impacted. As others have said, these are important amendments that will change people’s lives, and I welcome them.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in this debate. Before I speak to Amendment 45, I want to echo other noble Lords’ sentiments and say how heroic my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, has been in her undeniable and outstanding leadership. I am delighted to call her a friend. Another incredible champion of people with disabilities is the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, who is also a friend. Her words are etched and lie heavily on my heart as someone who has cared for a disabled adult for 42 years. I hope that we can get to a place where we can find some solutions.
I thank and salute my noble friend Lady Lister and her long list of supporters and welcome Amendment 45, which seeks to strengthen the legislation on post-separation controlling or coercive behaviour, making it no longer a requirement that abusers and victims must live together for it to apply. This is an important amendment that will lead to post-separation abuse becoming a criminal offence. I am grateful to the Minister for her personal persistence and advocacy. Many survivors will today express small relief and quiet prayers for the protections to come.
There are many ways in which perpetrators can control the lives of survivors, to devastating effect, whether they live together or not. These include using financial dependency, and the survivor’s desire to protect their children from poverty; societal and cultural pressures; and a lack of belief on a survivor’s part that it is not her fault, that she has not contributed to her partner’s, husband’s, lover’s or family member’s violence or coercive behaviour. Ex-partners may also use cultural references, faith or social norms to continue to torment survivors, whose self-belief and confidence may have been substantially depleted with questions: why did she not leave? Was the decision to divorce or separate right? Was it in the best interests of the children?
I speak from considerable experience, having for years supported women who suffer from controlling behaviour, even after separation and divorce. I wish to single out one incident I witnessed earlier today outside my door of an ex-partner turning up at the survivor’s parents’ home, demanding to see her and her child. They have been divorced for nearly four years. The woman in question was so traumatised and frightened that I had to grab her, get her inside the house and calm her down. Her ex-partner was so obsessed with having the children and seeing the woman that he left only when I threatened him with reporting the matter to the police. Anyway, I do not want to go into any further details.
All survivors will understand the intense fear of the extents to which an angry perpetrator may go, in addition to external means of control: intimidation, threats of violence, and denigration of the mind through the instrument of internalised fear. The perpetrators do not even have to be present; survivors can easily be reached by modern methods. Constant voice, text and video messages can create psychological and emotional havoc by inducing imminent and ever-present danger while the survivor is silenced. This is often destructive to their long-term well-being.
As Surviving Economic Abuse outlines, economic abuse does not require physical proximity. It can escalate, or even start, after separation, creating significant barriers for victims seeking to rebuild their lives. This amendment is needed because abusers often continue to use coercive control after separation, and victims are at a heightened risk of homicide in this period. We all know that lack of access to economic resources can result in a victim staying with an abusive partner for longer and experiencing more harm as a result. Noble Lords will be familiar with the experiences of survivors who face additional forms of discrimination, including black and other minority women, women with disabilities, migrant women and women from LGBT communities, who continue to face serious barriers to protection, safety and support.
While the Bill crucially ratifies the Istanbul convention, the legislation does not meet the key commitments in this landmark treaty on violence against women and girls, including, most urgently, equal protection and support for migrant women. No survivors should be left without access to a safety net. It is essential that the Bill delivers reforms to “no recourse to public funds” and to safe reporting for migrant women.
While improvements to the criminal justice response to domestic abuse are needed, the Government are moving on non-fatal strangulation, threats to share intimate images and post-separation coercive control. However, survivors are calling for change to housing and welfare provision, well-informed family courts, protection and support for children and critical access to community-based services which may provide them with legal advice as well as therapeutic services, for them to be safe as they begin their journey to recovery.
No matter how far back I look—I have lived for 61 years—I can recall the suffering only of women in these contexts and circumstances. I agree that men suffer too and may have once been the sons of women who endured violence. I hope the Bill will ensure and enshrine that women receive a seamless service which is well co-ordinated, financially backed and underpinned by guaranteed services and law so that the next survivors can receive justice.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the National Housing Federation, the trade body for housing associations.
I do not need to repeat the statistics so vividly described by my noble friend Lady Lister and others on the use of coercive control after separation. Suffice it to say that they are clear and troubling enough for the Government to acknowledge both that economic abuse is linked to physical safety and that something must be done swiftly to protect these women. I support all the points raised by my noble friend so powerfully in introducing this amendment; I also pay tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson, whom I would have supported. I hope the Minister can respond positively to the dilemma in which they have so troublingly found themselves.
In my brief contribution I will highlight just three things, focusing on what further action is needed once the amendment is incorporated into the Bill and implemented. First, there has been in the past a missed opportunity to see patterns of behaviour which should have led to greater awareness of coercive control behaviours, so it is vital to create greater awareness and understanding of these patterns of behaviour and how economic abuse fits into them. That can be done only through training of professionals right across the police and criminal justice system. This has come up on other parts of the Bill, including very recently, and I hope the Minister will address it in her response.
Secondly, when legal aid is sought, survivors could be unfairly assessed as failing the means test due to money or assets they appear to own but which they are unable to access or control due to economic abuse. Will the Minister acknowledge this and undertake to refer it to her MoJ colleagues to ensure it is taken into account in the legal aid inquiry? In that context, I very much support Amendment 71 in the name of my noble friend Lord Kennedy.
Thirdly, the SEA charity, whose briefings on this—as every contributor to this debate has said—have been invaluable, highlights the inadequacy of data collection on controlling or coercive behaviours in both the Crime Survey of England and Wales and ONS reports. Can the Minister, in taking forward this legislation, undertake to ensure that this is brought to the attention of the relevant government department so as not to undermine the effectiveness of this excellent piece of legislation, which she has so ably steered through this House?
My Lords, Amendment 45 is crucial and unreservedly welcome. It is awful to see someone subject to coercive control; to see how the woman—I have seen only women subject to it—is made mentally and physically ill by such passive-aggressive behaviour. Sometimes it is more active than passive. By adding her name to this amendment, the Minister has shown her understanding of this.
Amendments 46 and 47 are similarly essential. Coercive control can be very difficult to pick up under safeguarding. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, stated, disability applies to those with profound learning difficulties as well as serious physical difficulties, but their communication difficulties can make it very hard to detect what is going on. As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, described, the terrible fear induced in the victim is something that feeds the controlling coercive behaviour from the abuser.
None of us wants to delay the Bill. I hope the Minister will take to heart and address the difficulties that my noble friends Lady Campbell of Surbiton and Lady Grey-Thompson have been put in, and will seek to ensure that the statutory guidance relating to the Bill recognises that there is true domestic violence occurring from personally connected intimate care providers.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to speak. I was delighted to see the Minister’s name on Amendment 45 and the consequential Amendments 88, 89 and 96. That is three times that I have been delighted today so I do not quite know what is going on. I welcome the extension of “personally connected” in the context of coercive control to family members or people who have been in an intimate relationship, whether living together or not.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, talked about how important training for police and professionals is in the implementation phase. As several noble Lords have said, a lot of individuals who are being coercively controlled do not know or appreciate that fact. It is a bit like the story of the frog in the beaker where the water gets heated more and more, very gently, and the frog does not realise that it is trapped until it is too late. It really makes a difference if other people can recognise what is going on, perhaps even before the victim themselves.
Post-separation abuse is a terrible thing. Having thought that you had escaped the abuse but then realising that you are being dragged back and dragged down financially and emotionally takes a toll. We have heard a number of examples of just how awful that is, so I cannot say just how happy I am.
We have been pushing the boundaries somewhat regarding the definition of “personally connected” in several contexts. I will talk about disabled people in a second but, with regard to family members or people who have been in an intimate relationship, whether or not they are living together, I am glad that the Minister has listened. I am sure that is right, and the Bill will be stronger for it.
Amendments 46 and 47 extend the definition to the relationship between a disabled person and their carer. We had this discussion on Monday, so I will not repeat the arguments that were used then, but I was disappointed by the Minister’s response. The House showed its concerns and feelings, and I hope that the Minister takes them into account in her remarks, but also takes the opportunity to have another think before Third Reading and the Bill goes back to the House of Commons.
We strongly need disabled people to be heard. We heard strong arguments for this on Monday and tonight, not least from the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. I hope that the Minister listens to them. I very much welcome Amendment 45.
Amendment 45 ensures that the existing offence of coercive or controlling behaviour applies to abuse that happens post-separation by extending the offence to cover those who no longer live together. It aligns the definition of “personally connected” in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 with Clause 2 of the Bill, and the result is that the offence of controlling or coercive behaviour will apply to members of the same family or people who have been in an intimate relationship, whether or not they live together.
Amendments 46 and 47 amend Amendment 45 to include the relationship between a disabled person and their carer in the definition of “personally connected” in the Serious Crime Act 2015 to reflect the changes made to the Bill when the earlier amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, were agreed on Monday. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett for the determination that she has shown in pursuing Amendment 45 and the strength of the case that she has marshalled in support. This is a key amendment for us and, most importantly, a key change for survivors living with abuse after separation. I hope that, after today, they feel that their voices have been heard. We also appreciate the Government’s willingness to support the amendment and the role that the Minister has played. We trust that the House now does likewise.
I also pay tribute to the work of the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. We strongly support Amendments 46 and 47 in her name, but understand why she now feels that she cannot divide the House, in the light of the Government’s apparent stance on those amendments and the impact that could have on Amendment 45 if they were carried.
The House has already shown its support for the inclusion of carers in the definition of “personally connected”, through the vote on Monday in support of earlier amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. We regard Amendments 46 and 47 as consequential parts of the package. As I have already stated, part of what Amendment 45, in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, achieves is to align the definition of “personally connected” in the Bill with the Serious Crime Act 2015. On Monday, this House added carers to the definition of “personally connected” in the Bill. That is why we believe that the Government should recognise the outcome of the vote on Monday and accept Amendments 46 and 47 as effectively consequential, as the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, asked. They should give a clear assurance that they accept them, as government support for Amendment 45 means that they will make sure that that amendment, in the name of my noble friend Lady Lister of Burtersett, is still enshrined in the Bill when it becomes an Act.
I hope that the Government think hard about their response to these amendments, particularly to Amendments 46 and 47. If they do not feel that they can give a positive response tonight, along the lines asked for by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, perhaps they could reflect further and come back on Third Reading.
My Lords, as noble Lords have pointed out, Amendment 45 removes the cohabitation requirement contained within the controlling or coercive behaviour offence in Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. This would extend the reach of the offence, meaning that it may apply to post-separation abuse, or to any family member regardless of whether they lived with the victim.
As noble Lords will be aware, the current offence applies only to those who are “personally connected” as defined in Section 76 of the 2015 Act. This definition applies to those in an intimate personal relationship—whether or not they live together—or to those who live together and have either been in an intimate relationship or are members of the same family. The definition in the 2015 Act is therefore out of sync with the definition in Clause 2 of this Bill.
The Government have listened carefully to the debate in Committee, where the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, and many others argued for the controlling or coercive behaviour offence to be extended to cover post-separation abuse between intimate partners and interfamilial abuse regardless of whether the family members were living together. In Committee, I asked noble Lords to await the outcome of the review into the controlling or coercive behaviour offence—I really meant it—and I am pleased to say that this review has now been published.
The review found that police-recorded controlling or coercive behaviour offences, as well as prosecutions, have increased year on year since the introduction of the offence. However, the review also found there is still room for improvement in responding to this abhorrent crime. The review considered views from a number of stakeholders, who expressed concern that the cohabitation requirement in the offence is preventing some victims of this abuse from seeking justice, and that it poses challenges for police and prosecutors in evidencing and charging abusive behaviours under other applicable legislation.
Calls from domestic abuse services echo concerns around the cohabitation requirement of the offence, given that we know that victims who leave their perpetrators are often subjected to sustained or increased coercive or controlling behaviour after separation, and are statistically at the highest risk of homicide within the period immediately after they have left.
Controlling or coercive behaviour is an insidious form of domestic abuse and this Government are committed to ensuring that all victims are protected. We have heard the experts and considered the evidence on this issue and I am very pleased to support the amendments brought forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister. She has campaigned on it. She owns it. I am very happy that she is the sponsor. I commend the resolute campaigning on this issue by Surviving Economic Abuse and other organisations. I acknowledge the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and I will draw her comments to the attention of my colleagues in the MoJ.
Amendment 45 will bring the definition of “personally connected” as used in the controlling or coercive behaviour offence into line with that in Clause 2 of the Bill and send a clear message to both victims and perpetrators that controlling or coercive behaviours, irrespective of the living arrangements, are forms of domestic abuse.
This Government are committed to doing all we can support victims and to tackle offenders. I am delighted that, in removing the cohabitation requirement in the controlling or coercive behaviour offence, we can take another step towards ensuring that every victim has access to the protection they need.
Amendments 46 and 47 seek to expand the definition of “personally connected” within the revised offence of controlling or coercive behaviour to include both paid and unpaid carers. I made it very clear during the debate on Monday on earlier amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, that the Government absolutely recognise that abuse can be perpetrated by carers. The other point that I made on Monday was that many carers will be captured by the “personally connected” definition, being family members or partners. However, I reiterate that extending that definition in the context of what is a domestic abuse offence would have detrimental effects on the overall understanding of domestic abuse and the complexities of the familial and intimate partner relationships that domestic abuse is understood to encompass, where the affectionate emotional bond between the victim and the perpetrator plays an important role in the power dynamics. By extending the definition to include carers we would be broadening the definition of “personally connected” to include a much wider range of connections within health and social care settings, which are of course covered by other legislation, and would confuse the meaning of “domestic abuse”.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Lister and Lady Burt, talked about the important issue of ongoing training. I acknowledge that there is more to do to ensure that the offence is understood, and we will update the statutory guidance, in consultation with police and others.
In answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, about what next, we will be strengthening the legislation around controlling or coercive behaviour to ensure that all victims of domestic abuse are able to receive protection, regardless of their living arrangements with their abusers. This summer we will be publishing a domestic abuse strategy, which will build on the work to date to help to transform the response to domestic abuse and to tackle perpetrators. We will consider the wider policy and data recommendations made in the review throughout the development and implementation of the strategy, and we will of course continue to engage with domestic abuse organisations throughout the process.
The noble Baroness mentioned monitoring. At the moment, all legislation is subject to ongoing review and monitoring, and we have the very important benefit of the domestic abuse commissioner, who I know will be keeping a very careful eye on how the legislation is working in practice.
I will not repeat the other points that I made on Monday, but I hope that, in the light of the debate then and my response today, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, will be content not to move her amendment. To be clear, the Government’s position on Amendment 45, should Amendments 46 and 47 be moved, is that we will not support Amendments 46 and 47. There is cross-party support for Amendment 45 as currently drafted, and I urge the House not to detract from that should it come to a vote on Amendment 46. The House must of course first reach a decision on that amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have supported my amendments. I am grateful for the very kind words about my own personal commitment to these issues and that of my noble friend Lady Grey-Thompson, who has wheeled with me through this amendment rollercoaster today. Disabled people, who face so many barriers in their fight for equal dignity and safety from those who may abuse their vulnerability, need this support; it gives them all strength to carry on.
I am of course deeply saddened by the Minister’s response. As I said earlier, I am not able now to divide the House; my hands are tied. I have no alternative than, very sadly, to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 46 (to Amendment 45) withdrawn.
Amendment 47 (to Amendment 45) not moved.
My Lords, before the Question is put on Amendment 45, I first pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton, who is my noble friend, and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. They have made a tremendous sacrifice, and we should acknowledge that. It saddens me, because this is a time when I feel so happy that Amendment 45 is going to go through. I am just really sorry that it has been at the expense of what they have been campaigning for. I ask the Minister to reflect on the number of noble Lords who have asked her to think again about this before Third Reading.
On a happier note, I thank the Minister for her response on Amendment 45, of which she is of course a co-sponsor; I am particularly grateful that she has taken on board and answered in detail the question of “Where now?” This is really just the first step. There is a lot that needs to be done with the development of the domestic abuse strategy to make sure that we raise awareness and implement training, monitoring and so forth.
I want to take this opportunity to thank again all those who have made Amendment 45 possible. Those who have survived economic abuse must take such pride in what has been achieved this evening. I thank colleagues across the House, both those who have spoken this evening and those who spoke in Committee. I thank the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, who has, I am sure, been pivotal to the Government listening and then agreeing that this particular formulation of the amendment be put forward. I also thank the many women who have spoken out in recent years.
It seems fitting to give the last word to one of these women who has been in touch with me. This is what she said—I have reduced it down, because it was a longer email:
“The Government’s announcement … is such positive news. I just wanted to stay a huge thank you and let you know how grateful I am … and also to your colleagues for all their tremendous care and commitment. Thank goodness the Government has listened.”
Amendment 45 agreed.
48: Before Clause 65, insert the following new Clause—
“Disclosure of private sexual photographs and filmsThreats to disclose private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress
(1) Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 (disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress) is amended as follows. (2) In the heading, after “Disclosing” insert “, or threatening to disclose,”.(3) For subsection (1) substitute—“(1) A person commits an offence if—(a) the person discloses, or threatens to disclose, a private sexual photograph or film in which another individual (“the relevant individual”) appears,(b) by so doing, the person intends to cause distress to that individual, and(c) the disclosure is, or would be, made without the consent of that individual.”(4) In subsection (2)—(a) after “disclose” insert “, or threaten to disclose,”;(b) for “the individual mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b)” substitute “the relevant individual”.(5) After subsection (2) insert—“(2A) Where a person is charged with an offence under this section of threatening to disclose a private sexual photograph or film, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove—(a) that the photograph or film referred to in the threat exists, or(b) if it does exist, that it is in fact a private sexual photograph or film.”(6) In subsection (4)(a), after “disclosure” insert “, or threat to disclose,”.(7) In subsection (5)—(a) in paragraph (a), for “the individual mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b)” substitute “the relevant individual”;(b) in paragraph (b), for “the individual mentioned in subsection (1)(a) and (b)” substitute “the relevant individual”.(8) For subsection (8) substitute—“(8) A person charged with an offence under this section is not to be taken to have intended to cause distress by disclosing, or threatening to disclose, a photograph or film merely because that was a natural and probable consequence of the disclosure or threat.”(9) In section 35 of that Act (meaning of “private” and “sexual”), in subsection (5)(c), for “the person mentioned in section 33(1)(a) and (b)” substitute “the relevant individual (within the meaning of section 33)”.(10) In Schedule 8 to that Act (disclosing private sexual photographs or films: providers of information society services)—(a) in the heading, after “Disclosing” insert “, or threatening to disclose,”;(b) in paragraph 5 (exception for hosting)—(i) in sub-paragraph (1), after “sub-paragraph (2)” insert “, (2A)”;(ii) in sub-paragraph (2), in the words before paragraph (a), after “if” insert “, in the case of information which consists of or includes a private sexual photograph or film,”;(iii) after sub-paragraph (2) insert—“(2A) This sub-paragraph is satisfied if, in the case of information which consists of or includes a threat to disclose a private sexual photograph or film, the service provider had no actual knowledge when the information was provided—(a) that it consisted of or included a threat to disclose a private sexual photograph or film in which another individual appears, (b) that the threat was made with the intention of causing distress to that individual, or(c) that the disclosure would be made without the consent of that individual.””Member’s explanatory statement
This new Clause would amend the offence under section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, of disclosing a private sexual photograph or film with intent to cause distress to an individual who appears in the photograph or film, so as to include threats to disclose private sexual photographs and films.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in the later stage of debates on this important Bill, and to move Amendment 48. I thank my noble friend Lady Hodgson and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for their support, and particularly my noble friend the Minister for adding his name to this amendment. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley and Lady Grey-Thompson, who supported the amendment that I tabled in Committee, and I thank all the Ministers involved in the Bill, in this House and in the House of Commons, for their engagement on the issue of criminalising the threat of sharing intimate images.
I pay tribute to Refuge, particularly its tech abuse team, who first identified this as an issue, and to those brave survivors who have spoken out about the toll that the sharing of images and the threat of sharing images has taken on them. They have been very clear about the devastating long-term impact on their lives. If any noble Lord or anyone watching this debate has any doubt about that, I recommend that they watch the very powerful film that the survivor Zara McDermott has made about this, which was released within the last month.
I suspect that I am not alone in this House in often being asked what the House of Lords actually does. This amendment and the debate around it provide a very good example of how this House makes a real difference to the lives of our fellow citizens. An issue of harm was identified; a suitable legislative opportunity was spotted; an amendment was tabled and debated, and the Government have listened and accepted the arguments that were made. I very much welcome the Government’s support for Amendment 48 and the consequential amendments, which will extend the offence of disclosing intimate images with the intent to cause distress to cover threats to share those intimate images. It will make a significant difference to the 4.4 million people in England and Wales, including the one in seven young women, who have experienced this form of abuse.
These women have lived with the impact of the threat to share, often for many years, with little, if any, police support. The impacts include panic attacks for a fifth of women, suicidal ideation for 10% of women, and an increased risk of physical harm for one in seven women. Women are also changing their behaviours, as I said in my speech in Committee, often including going back to their abusers, granting them access to children or changing their evidence.
It was discussed in Committee that the Law Commission would be publishing proposals for further reform of image-based abuse offences. That report has now been published, and it highlights a number of further issues to be explored. I very much look forward to working to improve the law more broadly on image-based abuse and increasing protections for survivors. The report looks at the motivation element of both disclosure of and, now, threats to disclose intimate images. Currently, in order to be a crime, the intent to cause distress must be proved, and the commission has rightly pointed out that that is often difficult. It provisionally recommends amending the intent element of the offence because abusers often have motivations additional to the intent to cause distress, such as causing humiliation, taking revenge or smearing the reputation of survivors, which ought to be captured in the criminal law.
The Law Commission report also examines culturally specific elements of what might constitute an intimate image, which are not captured in various abuse laws. This requires careful investigation to ensure that no woman can be abused by the exposure or threatened exposure of what she and her community might judge to be intimate and to ensure that all women are protected.
Then, of course, we need to address the creation of deepfakes or photoshopped images, where images are altered to make it look like the survivors are the subject of the photo or video. They are commonly in pornographic materials, and not yet adequately covered in law. However, let us make no mistake: Amendment 48 and the creation of a new offence of threatening to disclose a private sexual image with the intent to cause distress is a significant step forward for the millions of women who have experienced this deeply distressing form of domestic abuse.
As I said in Committee, at the moment the police and others, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, are often not clear about which offence the threat to share could be prosecuted under. That is why I and many other noble Lords were keen that this amendment be accepted. Amendment 48 could give the police, the CPS and the wider criminal justice system the legal tools they need to investigate and prosecute a significant proportion of these threats, and offer women the protection and peace of mind they need to move on. That is especially true if the proposed remedy includes the deletion of the images from the perpetrator’s devices, so I strongly encourage the Government to look into that and adopt that proposal. I also encourage the Government to ensure that the police and the CPS have the training they need to thoroughly investigate and prosecute these crimes, and to ensure that these agencies and the specialist services that support survivors have the resources they need to ensure that survivors can achieve justice.
Although there is clearly more to follow, given the Law Commission’s recently published consultation on taking action against intimate image-based abuse, I am very pleased that the Government have not waited but have taken heed of the arguments that I and other noble Lords have made. The tech is not waiting, and the abusers are not waiting to cause these devastating impacts. I am very pleased to commend these amendments, which I hope will secure the support of the House.
My Lords, I will be brief, but as my name was on the original amendment I wanted to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for her passion and persistence in ensuring that the Bill will now be the vehicle for finally making threats to share intimate images a criminal offence. Thanks also must go to the Government and to the Minister for really listening—not only to the campaigners and those of us who spoke in Committee but, far more importantly, to those many millions of women who have been subjected, and continue to be subjected, to this invidious behaviour.
We have heard today of how an entire town has been sent intimate images of young women from that town. This is a growing crime, as online sites grow and more young people are betrayed and humiliated. As the chair of Refuge put it, changing the law to criminalise threats to share could not come soon enough for those one in seven young women who experience this form of abuse in the UK. This will finally provide them with the recourse to justice that they deserve.
My Lords, I too acknowledge with enthusiasm and, if I may say so, admiration the dedicated energy of the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, to resolving this issue and achieving this reform. This is a simple amendment, or will be a series of simple amendments. The clause in question addresses what everybody who has spoken in the past, whether in Committee or at Second Reading, knows is pernicious and malevolent behaviour. It should be criminalised and now it will be; good.
Importantly, if I may just digress, the achievement of this objective by recasting Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 means that every potential victim will fall within the new protected ambit of the offence, whether or not she—it is, of course, nearly always she but sometimes may be he—forms part of any domestic arrangement or personal relationship, or none. They may be a total stranger. Behaviour like this causes distress, anxiety and offence by whomsoever and in whatever circumstances it occurs.
In the context of the debate we have just had on Amendments 46 and 47, it would apply to someone in the position of a carer. I wonder why that is strange in the context of the debate that has just happened; for the purposes of this amendment, it is not strange at all. I thank the Minister for reflecting, for accepting that there is no time to waste and for an approach which will be welcomed on all sides of the House.
I will add a footnote: like the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, I shall hope to continue to examine the ingredients of this offence, and in particular the state of mind currently required on the basis of the new clause inserted by Amendment 48—old Section 33 of the 2015 Act—just to make sure that it satisfactorily addresses how strong an intent is required. I feel that having a positive, specific intent to cause distress is not appropriate. It certainly would not be appropriate for someone who had acquired the intimate photographs, perhaps without paying for them if they were sent through modern technology, and just decided to publish them. I think “intent to cause distress” is too strong, but that is a detail for today. We will come back to it and trouble the Minister about it, no doubt, in discussions.
My Lords, I was rather surprised to discover that the Government have accepted this amendment. The disclosure of sexual photographs and films is egregious and abusive, but I am not convinced that primary legislation is the place to criminalise threats to disclose in this way. I seek clarification and reassurance from the Minister.
I am concerned about the elision between speech and action. Angry words exchanged in the height of relationship break-ups, for example, might now be taken as literal and on a par with action. Domestic abuse is not the same as domestic arguments. These arguments can be verbally vicious and intemperate on both sides. When intimate interpersonal relationships turn sour, there can be a huge amount of bitterness. Things are said and threats made in the heat of the moment. I do not understand why primary legislation should be used to criminalise these things.
Of course I understand that a threat, or a continued threat, to expose intimate images of the most personal nature can be abusive—it may not be, but it can be. However, if it is abusive, I do not understand why it is not covered by the ever-broadening definition of abuse in this Bill. If the threat was used as part of coercive control—for example, “I will publish these photos unless you do whatever”—would that not be captured by the coercive control provisions of the Bill?
The amendment notes that, for a person to be,
“charged with an offence...of threatening to disclose a private sexual photograph or film, it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove … that the photograph or film referred to in the threat exists, or … if it does exist, that it is in fact a private sexual photograph or film.”
This feels like a dystopian, post-modern removal of actual abuse into the absurd world of virtual threats, relating to non-existent artefacts and images. I do not understand why this specific form of threat needs to be in the legislation.
I will give a couple of examples of similar threats, even though they are not of images, which were definitely intended to cause distress. One person I know years ago threatened her partner that she would reveal details of some of his more dodgy tax goings-on about which she, as his wife, knew. If she had done as she had promised, and posted them on Facebook, it would have been very embarrassing. It would undoubtedly have been an incredibly distressing breach of privacy. It was being used as leverage in an alimony and custody battle, but it was just a threat.
In another instance, a husband threatened that he would show his estranged wife’s mother and her friends private letters to her then lover, and expose her secret affair. Those threats were horrible, but should they be illegal? I am just worried that such grim threats can sadly be used but then never acted on and, as such, should surely have no place in the law courts. In both examples, the threats were never acted on. One couple separated amicably in the end. The other couple reconciled and are happy to this day.
I understand the modern world, online tech issues and the images we have been discussing. But I am worried about the threats point. Should threats be elided with action in this way, or will we potentially criminalise speech? This is a dangerous, slippery slope.
Finally, I am concerned that this could give a green light to more and more offences being considered in need of official intervention, investigation and prosecution. The police could potentially become overly preoccupied and drowned out with complaints of threats, rather than focusing on pursuing the properly egregious examples of abusive actions, such as publishing the said images.
My Lords, Amendment 48 is in my name and those of my noble friends Lady Morgan and Lord Wolfson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I will also speak to the other amendments in this group. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Morgan on moving Amendment 48 so ably.
The strength of feeling on revenge porn and threats to share images was clear from our debates during the earlier stages of the Bill, with support coming from all sides of the House. Individual case studies referenced have demonstrated the sheer scale and devastating impact of how threats to share sexual images or videos without consent are being used as a tool of coercive control. Once again, I commend Refuge’s The Naked Threat report and the support organisations working in this space. Previously, the law did not appear clear about this, so these provisions make it possible to hold perpetrators to account.
I will be brief because others have already made the arguments, but I thank all the Ministers and their teams for being willing to listen and move on this important point. I hugely welcome the Government’s support of these new provisions and their willingness to use the Domestic Abuse Bill to make these changes.
My Lords, like everybody else who has spoken, I say that this is extremely welcome. We thank the Minister for listening to so many voices. It is great that the Government have listened, although, if I were being uncharitable, I would say they have listened somewhat belatedly. I am very pleased that the Law Commission review is now under way. I reflect that it took the influence of a very influential and effective recent Cabinet Minister to persuade her own party to listen, when so many voices have been trying to get the Government to listen over quite a long period. However, thanks are due, and thanks are given.
I am concerned that we often seem to be behind the curve when it comes to so many aspects of online harm and harassment-type behaviour in general. In today’s newspaper there was mention of a YouGov survey which has just been done. Of 1,000 women, 96% of them do not and would not report incidents of harassment to the authorities. One of them pointed out that the police can act if somebody drops litter on the street but are unable to act if somebody is harassed on the street, and that does seem wrong. I think 46% of the 1,000 ladies said, when asked why they did not report harassment, that it was because they had no belief whatever that it would change anything. That is a reflection on the various authorities and organisations that are meant to help victims of harassment. If they feel like that, there is clearly something wrong.
The noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, mentioned the extraordinary small market town somewhere in the United Kingdom where no fewer than 70 women have had intimate images shared on an online forum where somebody commented that they are “traded like Pokémon cards”. What must it feel like, as a woman or a man— as a human being—to have intimate images of yourself traded like Pokémon cards? On this online forum if you have an interest in a particular town you can message people on the forum who circulate these images and ask: “Do you have anybody from this particular town or who went to this particular school?” That is really shameful; the fact it is going on shames us all.
I am pleased that we are, belatedly, in catch-up mode. But I find it excruciatingly embarrassing and unacceptable that victims are suffering in many different ways, while Her Majesty’s Government and Parliament occasionally appear to be dithering over regulation and legislating. In doing that we are letting ourselves down, but far more importantly, we are letting the victims down.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lords who have spoken, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, and, of course, the Government, for accepting these necessary amendments.
At the outset, I also record my thanks to Dr Ann Olivarius of McAllister Olivarius, a very eminent lawyer who, about a decade ago, began her campaign against so-called revenge porn. Her outstanding work, both here and in the US, has definitely made a very significant contribution to the fact that we have had legislation for the last five years and it is a criminal offence to share sexual images without consent.
I welcome this amendment to extend the offence of disclosing
“private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress”
to an individual who appears in the photograph or film— known as a “revenge porn” offence—so as to include “threats to disclose”. One in 14 adults has experienced threats to share intimate images or films of themselves. Young women aged 18-34 are disproportionately impacted by this form of abuse, with one in seven reporting that she has experienced such threats.
Like other noble Lords, I commend Refuge’s The Naked Threat research, which found that the vast majority—72%—of threats experienced by women were made by partners or ex-partners, making it a clear domestic abuse or domestic violence issue. Therefore, the Domestic Abuse Bill is not only the right legislative vehicle for what is clearly a crime related to domestic violence or abuse but a piece of legislation that would allow the Government to make these required changes imminently. As such, I am very grateful for that.
Some 83% of women threatened by their current or former partners experience other forms of abuse alongside these threats. One in 10 women threatened by a current or former partner felt suicidal as a result of the threats, and 83% said that the threats damaged their mental health or emotional well-being. More than one in seven of these women felt a continuous risk of physical violence because of these threats. Only one in three women felt empowered to report this behaviour to the police, and, of those women, less than 14% said that they had received a good response. I am also deeply concerned about the lack of reports coming from black and other minority women.
As I have said previously in this Chamber, perpetrators of domestic abuse are increasingly using technology and the internet to control and abuse their partners and ex-partners. Threats to share images are used to control, coerce and abuse when they are in a relationship, and, after they have separated, this form of abuse is disproportionately perpetrated against younger women. Survivors of this form of abuse lack the vital legal protection that they need, with the police often telling survivors—or making them believe—that they cannot take any action until the abuser has shared the images, leaving survivors in fear and enabling perpetrators to use these threats to control them.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, I thank Refuge, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Barnardo’s, among others, which recommend making threats to share intimate images a crime, and extending the offence of controlling and coercive behaviour in an intimate family relationship to remove the cohabitation requirement. This is most welcome; it would therefore cover post-separation abuse, which would protect 4.4 million adults who have experienced this form of abuse.
Young people are the group most likely to be in an abusive relationship. A survey of 13 to 17 year-olds found that 25% of girls and 18% of boys reported having experienced some form of physical violence from an intimate partner. However, the Children’s Society found that 77%—a majority—of local authorities that responded to its FoI request do not have a policy or protocol in place for responding to under-16s who experience teenage relationship abuse, with just 39% of local authorities providing specialist support services for under-16s and 26% of local authorities providing no specialist support for this age group. Tragically, 500 children—mostly teenagers, but some as young as eight years old—were victims of image-based abuse.
The UK Safer Internet Centre is a partnership of three leading charities, including the Internet Watch Foundation. It reported an increase in the number of young people trying to view sexual abuse materials online, and that in just one month of lockdown its analysts blocked 8.8 million attempts by UK users to access such images and videos. We continue to see a rise in the number of children being groomed online into producing self-generated indecent images. I shudder to think of the underreporting, particularly among young people from black and minority-ethnic communities.
Can the noble Lord say what action the Government are considering to influence, inform and educate children and, more widely, the general population? What research, if any, have the Government undertaken into the impact of online abuse of women and intersectional online abuse of women from black and minority communities?
My Lords, this is such a sensible addition to Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015. It is excellent news that the Government have now accepted it.
I was interested to hear the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about whether threats of any sort should be criminalised. That may be an argument for another time, looking at other threats, but I have no doubt that threats in the context of Section 33 are entirely appropriate and should be criminalised.
However, I share the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, about the phrase “with intent to cause distress”. Before this particular clause becomes law, it would be helpful to look at whether that should, in fact, be adjusted.
My Lords, I will be brief. I would like to congratulate everybody who brought us to this successful outcome, including the Government. It is staggering to count how many times we have all congratulated the Government this evening. It is a rare event and one to be enjoyed while it lasts.
I would just like to say that the law alone is never enough to protect victims and achieve justice. As the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, pointed out, we need training for everybody, but in particular for police officers, and to some extent lawyers, to make sure they are able to sensitively and effectively bring perpetrators to justice. I have argued strongly for anti-domestic violence training for police officers, and this is part of it. Threatening to leak nude photos can be a crime, and I am happy that this amendment will be put into the Bill.
My Lords, I start by addressing directly the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley. I have spoken before about the abusive relationship that I was in 20 years ago. What I have not talked about is the intimate video that my then partner recorded and subsequently kept in his father’s safe in France. People may question why anyone would allow such a video to be recorded, but in a coercive and controlling relationship, compliance is rewarded and defiance is punished. When what you most want is the love of your partner, and you know that not doing what he wants could result in alienation, abuse or physical violence, you acquiesce to things that you would not normally participate in.
I lost count of the number of times he threatened that, if he I left him, he would make the video public. It was not until I went on a residential training course beyond his immediate control and started talking to a female colleague that I realised how unhealthy the relationship was and how unacceptable his behaviour was. I resolved to end it. When I told him the relationship was over, after the initial fear from his threats to kill me, followed by the relief I felt when he finally removed his belongings from my home, the dread that he would deliver on his promise to release the intimate video became even more intense. That is why this amendment is needed.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, have said, revenge may also be a motivation and further reform may be necessary. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, for raising the issue of threatening to disclose private sexual photographs and films with an intent to cause distress, and to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, for accepting her amendments. Threatening to disclose such material can be used as a means of coercive control both during a relationship and after it has ended, so we on these Benches support these important changes.
My Lords, I must begin by applauding the frankness and honesty of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his speech. It is truly humbling to hear him speak so bravely about his own former coercive partner.
In bringing this much-needed amendment to the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan, has recognised the changes that have occurred in society since the widespread introduction of mobile phone technologies and social media coverage. It has changed irreversibly the way in which we communicate, and the inherent dangers of the misuse of that communication have become increasingly prevalent. I warmly support her tenacity in getting the amendment through the process. Clearly, her colleagues and former colleagues in Government have listened and acted on her arguments. It will make a difference.
As a former teacher of media studies, I had no idea, just five years ago, when I was last in the classroom, how exploitative or dangerous the medium would become. The threat to share intimate or sexual images and films is an increasingly common tool of coercive control, which can have enormous negative impacts on survivors of abuse. While the sharing of intimate and sexual images without consent is a crime, threats to share are not, leaving survivors of this form of abuse without the protection of the criminal law.
During my reading for this topic, I was powerfully moved by a key report, Shattering Lives and Myths, written by Professor Clare McGlynn and others at Durham Law School, which was launched in 2019 at the Supreme Court. It sets out the appalling consequences for victims of intimate images being posted on the internet without consent.
Threats to share these images play on fear and shame and can be particularly dangerous where there may be multiple perpetrators or where so-called honour-based abuse is a factor. The advent of new technologies enables perpetrators to make these threats even where such images do not exist. But there is no clear criminal sanction for this behaviour. Lack of support leaves victims and survivors isolated, often attempting to navigate alone an unfamiliar, complex and shifting terrain of legal provisions and online regulation. The Domestic Abuse Bill is the most appropriate vehicle to make this change. Victims and survivors would benefit almost immediately and it would help them prevent further abuse and get away from their perpetrator. This amendment will close that gap in the law.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Morgan is to be congratulated on bringing forward these amendments. As she has explained, the amendments seek to extend the scope of the offence at Section 33 of the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015, commonly known as the revenge porn offence, additionally to criminalise threats to disclose such images. Importantly, in any prosecution there is no need to prove the images exist at the time of the threat.
I reiterate that the Government consider that the revenge porn offence has worked well to date. There have been over 900 convictions for the offence since its commencement in April 2015. I am pleased to see that the creation of this offence has offered victims protection under the criminal law from the deeply distressing behaviour of sharing private intimate images.
I am very grateful for the discussions that I have had with the sponsors of the amendment in addition to my friend Lady Morgan: my noble friend Lady Hodgson of Abinger and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. I have been happy to add my name on behalf of the Government to the amendment.
However, we cannot rest on our laurels. We must be alert, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, said, to changes in technology, including the misuse of social media and the opportunities to abuse and distress others that such developments can bring. While we have a range of criminal offences that in many instances can deal with those who threaten to share intimate material with others, it is vital that we ensure that the criminal law remains fully equipped to deal with any new problems in this constantly developing area.
It was with this in mind that the Government asked the Law Commission to review the law in this area. That review has considered the existing offences relating to the non-consensual taking and sharing of intimate images to identify whether there are any gaps in the scope of protection already offered to victims. Noble Lords will be pleased to note that on 27 February the Law Commission published the consultation paper on the review. The consultation ends on 27 May and I encourage noble Lords to consider contributing