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Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 (Offensive Weapons Homicide Reviews) Regulations 2022

Volume 825: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2022

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 13 October be approved. 15th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, keeping people safe is the Government’s top priority. We must use every tool at our disposal to stop lives being lost to serious violence. Offensive weapons homicide reviews were introduced by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 to support local agencies in working together to identify lessons that will help prevent future deaths. The Act places a duty on the relevant review partners to conduct an offensive weapons homicide review in certain circumstances where a person aged 18 or over dies and an offensive weapon was used. It is the intention to pilot these new reviews for a period of 18 months, beginning in early 2023, in specified areas in London, the West Midlands and Wales before any national rollout.

The regulations provide that the relevant review partners will be the local authority, police, and integrated care boards in England, or local health boards in Wales, from the area where the death occurs or, where the location of death is not known, where the body of the person is found. The regulations are intended to provide them with the detail they need to establish when a review must be carried out. The regulations clarify that not every homicide involving an offensive weapon will necessarily require a review. It will be necessary for one or more of the review partner agencies to have or reasonably be expected to have relevant information about the circumstances or background of the victim or suspected perpetrator that is likely to be pertinent to the purpose of the review. This will ensure that resources are not directed to cases where little or no relevant learning is likely to be found. It will also capture homicides where the identity of the victim or a suspected perpetrator is known, ensuring that homicides with circumstances that suggest that lessons can be learned to help prevent future homicides should qualify.

The regulations will allow the Secretary of State to direct which partners are the relevant ones to conduct a review, should there be uncertainty in any case. While we do not expect this power to be used often, it is important in ensuring that there are no instances where there is nobody responsible for leading the review. The regulations also make it clear that a review is not required where the death is a

“death or serious injury matter”

within the meaning of Section 12(2A) of the Police Reform Act 2002. This will exclude deaths caused by a police officer who, in the course of their duties, uses an offensive weapon and an individual dies. This will be subject to an investigation by the relevant police force or the Independent Office for Police Conduct. Finally, the regulations allow the review partners to delegate specified functions to one of themselves or to another person, including a third party, to lead or chair the review.

Reducing homicide and serious violence is a top priority for the Government. These draft regulations, in supporting the introduction and piloting of new offensive weapons homicide reviews, will deepen our understanding of serious violence, improve our response to it and, ultimately, save lives. I beg to move.

My Lords, again, I am very grateful to the Minister for explaining these regulations. The Explanatory Notes say that the pilot areas are south Wales, parts of London and the West Midlands. My understanding is that it is Barnet, Brent, Harrow, Lambeth and Southwark in London, and the Birmingham City Council and Coventry City Council areas in the West Midlands. Can the Minister explain why these particular areas were selected? I notice that they are different from the areas for the proposed pilot of serious violence reduction orders, for which the police force areas involved are the West Midlands, Merseyside, Thames Valley and Sussex. While I am here, let me say that I am very grateful to the Minister for agreeing to a deferment of consideration of the regulations in connection with serious violence reduction orders.

So, how were the pilot areas selected? Why are they not coterminous with the responsibilities of local police and crime commissioners or elected mayors, bearing in mind that those individuals have responsibility for crime reduction and that appears to be the primary purpose of conducting these reviews? What proportion of offensive weapon homicides is expected to be contained within the pilot areas, compared with the total number of homicides involving weapons?

The Explanatory Notes say that the Government estimate that 72 offensive weapon homicides will occur in the 18-month pilot period in the pilot areas, costing £12,354 for each review. As I have said in the House before, mathematics is not my strong point, but I make that £889,488, yet the total cost is estimated at £2.1 million. How much does it cost to recruit and train the oversight board and the secretariat that more than doubles the cost of each individual review? How much do the Government estimate that it will take to recruit and train the oversight boards annually, bearing in mind that there is bound to be a turnover of personnel within them? Can I also ask the Minister where the funding for these reviews is going to come from, both for the pilot scheme and if the scheme is rolled out nationally? What is the estimated total annual cost if the reviews are rolled out nationally?

The Explanatory Memorandum states:

“The final condition for a review will aid in ensuring that cases are not required to be reviewed where little or no learning is likely to be found.”

Can the Minister explain who makes that decision? What is to stop the police, for example, deciding that no review should take place in order to cover up mistakes or deficiencies in their handling of the case, or the mistakes or deficiencies of any other agency? What happens if other partners believe a review is necessary, but one partner, say the police, decides not to participate? The Minister talked about not wanting to have reviews where that would be a waste of resources, but surely there could be a very short review in every case to see whether there is any learning, and that review could then be terminated at little cost. If that is the case, why is a review not mandated in every case of a knife crime homicide, as it is in the case of homicides involving the death of a person under 18?

We support the idea of a pilot in a limited geographic area which will examine whether there are benefits to be accrued from these reviews, but I would appreciate either now or in writing answers to the questions I have raised.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in thanking the Minister for the withdrawal of the SI with respect to serious violence prevention orders. He is to be commended for that, and we are very grateful that he has thought again about it.

We supported these provisions to extend homicide reviews to offensive weapons cases during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act and we welcome that the provisions are being piloted before being rolled out. We also welcome the fact that the Act requires the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the operation of the pilot before a further rollout can take place. Again, that is a very sensible way forward for this legislation.

To build on some of what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked, the Explanatory Memorandum states:

“It has been estimated that 72 OWHRs may take place across the pilot areas throughout the 18 month pilot.”

It would be interesting to know how the Government have worked that number out, and again, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked, how the various pilot areas have been identified by the Government.

On funding, the Explanatory Memorandum states that the number of anticipated reviews

“includes a 20% optimism bias to ensure funding for all necessary reviews is available. Costs to the Home Office per review have been estimated as £1,222 to each of the three relevant review partners (totalling £3,666) and £8,688 for an independent chair.”

Again, how have those figures been arrived at? For clarity, can the Minister confirm that the review partners will be fully funded by the Home Office for their work on such reviews, and does that include staffing costs?

One of the issues raised during the Bill’s passage was that recommendations made in existing reviews, such as domestic homicide reviews or indeed the under-18 reviews that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, just referred to, are too often not acted on or shared as they should be to force change and create improvement. That is the whole point of the reviews: to inform practice and for people to learn.

I know that the Government intend to establish and fund the Home Office oversight board to oversee the introduction of the offensive weapon homicide reviews and to monitor and implement recommendations. The Explanatory Memorandum references the funding of the oversight board. However, can the Minister give us any other details about the crucial point? Once the review has happened and various recommendations have been made, how are those recommendations to be followed through so that the learning from the review is implemented by all the various partners? It would also be interesting if the Minister could say a little more about what the membership of that oversight board is likely to be and whether there are any functions that he could share with us. On relevant review partners, they can appoint a lead agency or an independent chair to take forward the review. Will all relevant review partners involved in a particular case be required to agree to this course of action?

I will address just a couple of specifics from the legislation—I know it is unusual in the Chamber, but this is effectively an SI that would normally be in Grand Committee. Part 2 of the legislation deals with the duty to arrange an offensive weapons homicide review. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made a really important point: who triggers the review? It is not clear to me from reading Part 2 of the legislation who does it. It just talks about all the various partners. However, somebody has to say that there should be a review and seek to have one take place. I do not know whether the noble Lord or any other Members of your Lordships’ House noticed that, but I could not see it. Unless I have misread it, not understood it or not seen it somewhere, I cannot see who triggers that review. That is important for the reason that the noble Lord mentioned. If it is a chief police officer, what happens if, bluntly, they do not want to, or it is the local authority and it does not want to, or it is the health body, which is the other statutory partner, and it does not want to because it is not in its interests?

For reasons of transparency, the difficult questions sometimes need to be asked. People would rather they were not asked, and it is not clear to me from reading Part 2 who has the duty to do that and what happens if they do not fulfil that duty when other partners think they should. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain that to us.

As I said, given that this is equivalent to what would normally take place in the Grand Committee room, I want to ask about the conditions that may trigger a review obligation. The conditions are that

“one of the following has been located— … the body of the person who died”;

I understand if the body of the person who died is located, but, for the second trigger, it says,

“or part of the body of a person who died.”

I am not trivialising this, but what do we mean by a part of a body? Without going into detail, fairly obviously, there is a difference between the whole of a top half and a toe. Again, I am not trivialising this, but it would be helpful for our understanding of the legislation to know what a “part” means.

I join the Minister and, no doubt, every Member of your Lordships’ House, in saying that we all want a reduction in the level of homicides, for whatever reason. Hopefully, a review of what has happened with respect to homicide through the use of offensive weapons will inform practice in future which will lead to a reduction in the number of homicides. On that, can the Minister tell us what is the trend at the moment for the number of homicides using offensive weapons, so that we have some understanding of the scale of the problem?

Once again, I thank noble Lords for their thoughtful contributions and questions, and I shall do my very best to answer all the points raised.

Both noble Lords asked about the pilot areas. It will perhaps help if I clarify what the areas are and how they were chosen. In London, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, highlighted, they are the boroughs of Barnet, Brent, Harrow, Lambeth and Southwark. In the West Midlands, they are Birmingham and Coventry, and in Wales it is the South Wales Police force area, which includes Swansea, Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend, Rhondda, Merthyr Tydfil, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. The pilot is being focused on the local authorities within those three areas that, combined and based on historical data over the past five years, it is estimated may expect approximately 50 to 75 homicides of adults involving an offensive weapon during the pilot. I fear I cannot answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about coterminous borders with police and crime commissioner areas, but I will endeavour to find out whether there is an answer and, if there is, I shall write to him.

As for the proportion of homicides, that is a very good question. In 2021-22, there were 709, so it is up to about 10%, notionally, covered by the areas of the pilots. I would say that the homicide levels of recent years have been affected by the pandemic, and the numbers are skewed by mass victim incidents, to some extent. In 2020-21, obviously Covid-affected, there were 568 homicides. In 2019-20, there were 716, but 39 of those involved the lorry in Essex. The numbers are a bit confused in that way. I will endeavour to find out how many involved serious weapons, because, unfortunately, I do not know the answer—I apologise.

Both noble Lords asked about the relevant review partners and how they were identified. As I said, homicide reviews are intended to be an important tool in helping local partners tackle serious violence and homicide. When a death occurs in an area, it is right that the review partners in that area are involved in the review of the death. They will provide the local intelligence and help spot local patterns and trends and identify opportunities to intervene and prevent future deaths. Local partners are most likely to be involved in the lives of those involved in the death, to have information relevant to the question of whether a review is required and to identify opportunities for interventions in future.

We therefore think it important that the responsibility for establishing and conducting these reviews rests with local partners. By reducing ambiguity as to who those partners are, we are ensuring that the reviews begin as soon as possible following the death, while Section 29 of the Act provides the assurance that, if individuals involved in the death live or lived in other areas, an input is required from those other areas; that relevant information can be disclosed to them for the purpose of the review.

In terms of what happens if one of the review partners refuses to conduct a review, again, I am afraid that I will have to write to noble Lords because I am not quite sure of the answer.

That is a really important point, so I thank the Minister for referring to it, but who starts the process? The Minister talked about somebody refusing to take part, but who kicks the process off? Who says, “We should have a review”? Is it any of them? I do not understand the process for that.

I understand the question. I will write to the noble Lord on that, if I may, to make sure that I do not get it wrong; I think I have the answer, but I would not want to give incorrect information.

Both noble Lords asked how the Home Office oversight board will work. It will be a non-statutory committee composed of experts in safeguarding, homicide, serious violence and public protection. They will oversee the local delivery of the offensive weapons homicide reviews, monitor the implementation of any findings and support the dissemination of learning both locally and nationally. We are currently in the process of appointing the chair and first member of the board with the final six members due to be in place for early 2024, ready for when the first OWHR reports are received.

The purpose of the oversight board is to oversee the local delivery of the reviews; to ensure consistency in criteria and approach by reviewing and assessing completed reviews; to draw together the reviews at a national level to assess and disseminate common learnings, themes, issues in service provision and areas of good practice at set intervals; to monitor the regional and national application of learning and the implementation of recommendations in policy, approach and delivery; and to share best practice and wider insight through learning events and opportunities. The membership will include representatives from areas such as local government, public health, the police, education, the voluntary and community sectors, probation services and the Crown Prosecution Service, as well as a representative from one of those areas with experience of working in Wales.

Both noble Lords asked about the funding for the reviews. The Home Office will provide the funding for the relevant review partners and the work they carry out to deliver an offensive weapons homicide review during the pilot. It will also meet the cost of the oversight board that I have just described. If the policy is rolled out nationally, the funding arrangements will be confirmed after the pilot. The costs of a homicide review vary as every homicide has a unique set of circumstances; each review will have to account for these. Based on existing reviews, we estimate that a homicide review will have an average cost of £12,354. We also anticipate that the Home Office oversight board will cost approximately £230,000 over the course of the 18-month pilot. Review partners will receive funding to cover the cost of work that they carry out in establishing and running these homicide reviews during the pilot, and details of how the budget will be allocated will be confirmed as the pilot is designed with local partners.

I think I have answered the questions I am able to—

I am slightly confused about the figures that the Minister gave. I think he referred to the death of a large number of migrants in the back of a lorry skewing the homicide figures. I asked about the proportion of offensive weapon homicides in the pilot areas compared with the number of offensive weapon homicides in total, unless—I think this would be rather unusual—in the case of the deaths in the back of a lorry, the lorry was considered to be an offensive weapon, which I am sure it is not.

No, that is not what I meant to imply. I do not have the numbers on homicides involving offensive weapons; I have committed to write to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on that, so I will of course copy the noble Lord in.

I thank noble Lords for their constructive and helpful questions. These regulations represent an effective, balanced approach for offensive weapons homicide reviews. By improving our understanding of the circumstances, drivers and causes that lead a person to take another person’s life, we can, I hope, improve our ability to tackle homicide and ultimately save lives. On that basis, I commend the regulations to the House.

Motion agreed.