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Victims and Prisoners Bill

Volume 835: debated on Wednesday 24 January 2024

Committee (1st Day)

Welsh Legislative Consent sought. Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee.

Clause 1: Meaning of “victim”

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—

“(aa) witnessing criminal conduct,(ab) having subsequent responsibility for care because of criminal conduct,(ac) experiencing vicarious harm due to criminal conduct”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment aims to extend the definition of a victim under Part 1 to include people who support and provide care for victims of serious sexual and violent crimes.

My Lords, as we start this Bill, from these Benches we are pleased to see that the first part of it relates to victims. Even though we want to improve the Bill, I thank the Minister for the meetings and dialogue we have had so far and look forward to more as the Bill progresses.

Amendment 1, in my name, starts this group on the definition of a victim. I thank Restitute, the lived-experience CIC, which supports third-party victims of crime—whether they are the parents, carers, partners, siblings or loved ones of people who have survived sexual abuse, sexual violence or other serious crimes including domestic violence and stalking. It specialises in building the service that its members wish they had received, and which professional service providers often do not spot, nor have the resources to be able to provide: namely, crisis support in the short term and, above all, someone to help them and their loved one, who is the direct victim, to navigate the new world of professionals they encounter during their case.

Why is this important? Unless you have been the victim of such a crime, you cannot understand how it affects those who care for you. Most professionals would not recognise that your loved ones may also be victims of vicarious harm due to the crime. More than that, parents may have to give up work, partners need time off and children have poor educational outcomes. Families that have previously had two incomes often see that cut in half at a stroke. Carers are not entitled to any therapeutic or emotional support. The impact on their health and well-being is devastating. That is before we even face the problems related to family breakdown.

Most of Part 1 of the Bill focuses on the rights of the direct victim of the crime, and the services that they will encounter afterwards. One of the worst examples is the impact of child sexual abuse on victims/survivors, including on non-perpetrator family members. The impacts on mothers, for example, can mirror the experience of their child. Social services can also force them to make rapid and difficult decisions at the exact moment they are coming to terms with the abuse that their child has suffered. Healthcare and the criminal justice system often do not recognise that the impact goes beyond the direct victim.

This can include siblings who are children themselves but who, under the Bill, would not be able to access any support under the victims’ code. The siblings of abused children may have feelings that they have let down their sibling because they could not prevent the incident, or may be fearful that in the future it may happen to them. These children also see distressed adult carers struggling to navigate the system, which currently does not recognise them as victims either. Without support these families struggle, and it becomes harder for all of them to recover from the incident.

Amendment 1 extends the definition of a victim of crime to include someone who is

“witnessing criminal conduct … having subsequent responsibility for care because of criminal conduct … experiencing vicarious harm due to criminal conduct”.

I have also added my name to Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, which would ensure that bereaved victims of homicide abroad are given the same support as victims of homicide within the UK. These victims not only face the extreme distress of losing their loved one in a horrible way but have to deal with the criminal justice systems of foreign jurisdictions.

Many years ago, my sister worked for Thomson Holidays. Her role was to deal with the immediate aftermath of death—including homicide—of her holiday- makers. Once the families had returned home, for many, having to deal with an overseas criminal justice system was even more bemusing, and they felt very isolated. We know that just being the family survivor of a homicide is hard enough.

I also support the other amendments in this group, all of which raise key questions about the definition of a victim of crime or try to establish how victims can get parity of treatment at their review—as in Amendment 8—whether they are victims of a perpetrator serving a custodial sentence or a perpetrator being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. Amendment 3 adds in a person being killed by a family member such as a dangerous driver. Amendment 4 adds serious anti-social behaviour. Amendment 12 takes us into the debate on the content and context of the victims’ code, and states which services must be involved in decisions regarding leave or discharge for the perpetrator. Currently, the victim is far too often the last person to hear that the perpetrator has been released. That is unforgivable. Amendment 19 would ensure that victims have information to understand the justice system and relevant state agencies.

The Government will have gathered that noble Lords across your Lordships’ House believe that the definitions in Clauses 1 and 2 are too narrow and will exclude certain people who are seriously affected but not defined as a victim. I look forward to the Minister’s response. In the meantime, I beg to move Amendment 1.

My Lords, Amendment 3 acknowledges that the definition of victim in the Bill is quite broad, and that will mean, I hope, that as many victims as possible are supported by the victims’ code and related services. However, I want to probe the Government as to whether they intended the definition of victim to be so broad as to include the close family of a person who died as a direct result of their own criminal conduct; for example, by dangerous driving or possessing and consuming illegal drugs.

Clause 1(2) defines a victim as including

“where the death of a close family member of the person was the direct result of criminal conduct”.

This appears to include where the deceased caused their own death by their own criminal conduct. This broadness is underlined by Clause 1(5), which makes it “immaterial” whether anyone has reported the criminal conduct, or if anyone has been charged with, or convicted of, an offence.

The family of someone who dies as a result of consuming illegal drugs are victims of the Government’s ideological war on drugs. The Government refuse to treat drug use as a health issue and to implement a safe, regulated market of drugs that would take the multi-billion pound drugs trade out of the hands of criminal gangs.

Can the Minister please clarify whether it is the Government’s intention that family members of people who die as a result of their own criminal conduct will be supported by the victims’ code and the associated support services provided to victims?

My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests as outlined in the register. I support Amendments 8, 12 and 19, which seek to ensure that people who have suffered as a result of a crime committed by a patient with a mental health disorder who is detained in hospital under a restriction order are afforded the same rights under the victims’ code as victims of offenders who are held in the prison estate. This is not the case presently.

The amendments seek to extend the principle that all victims have a right to be heard in the justice process and to include the NHS and His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service in the list of responsible agencies. This would bring mental health tribunal processes in line with the rest of the criminal justice system and remove a long-standing and unfair disparity in treatment for people who have experienced these crimes. The principle that everyone who experiences a crime should have the opportunity to make their voice heard in the criminal justice process is at the heart of why these amendments are necessary. Those who have experienced crimes committed by patients with a diagnosed mental health illness deserve parity of treatment with all other people who have experienced crimes.

Under the victims’ code, people have the right to make a victim personal statement before the Parole Board when the person who has offended is being considered for release. Anyone who is directly affected by violent crime should have the right to be heard, but, as the victims’ code does not extend to mental health tribunals, victims of an offence caused by somebody held under a mental health restriction order cannot make any personal statement in writing, or in person, to the mental health tribunal panel.

The VPS is the single key entitlement which allows people to explain the impact of the crime committed against them, and there is a widespread consensus that the opportunity to submit a VPS is beneficial for all victims. It can offer some catharsis, which is essential in assisting the recovery from the trauma of a crime. In addition to this being beneficial to people who have experienced crime, this process may offer the opportunity for patients with a mental health disorder to gain further understanding of the impact of their actions on other people. This is particularly important when these people return to the community and sometimes feel that it would be better not to take their medication. Understanding the risk of not doing so might be beneficial for the proportion who are able to leave hospital.

The anticipated number of victims wishing to speak directly to the mental health tribunal is likely to be small. I understand that in cases of people wishing to address the Parole Board in person, it is currently fewer than one in 10. The majority are likely to submit a written statement to the panel that explains the impact that the actions of the patient has made on their lives.

The practice of allowing statements to be made to the tribunal is established in other jurisdictions, such as Scotland and Australia. In research undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner in 2019, a family in Scotland discussed their experience addressing a mental health panel. They attended a separate hearing where the patient was not present but a legal representative attended on their behalf instead. The family did not get the outcome from the hearing they had hoped for but, crucially, they felt acknowledged and a party to the process despite that. They said:

“We … did feel given a voice, and one of the few occasions in the whole process we felt we had a voice and able to articulate our position”.

Clearly, it should be possible to balance the rights of patients.

Of course, as a nurse, I cannot overemphasise the need to maintain the confidentiality of medical records in tribunals. None of this needs to be shared with the victim making the representation and those impacted by crimes, so why is there such a different process in England and Wales, even just north of the border? As victims of crime are not currently able to address mental health panels in writing, by video link or in person, we are left with a two-tier system in which a distinction is made based on whether somebody is detained in a prison or in a mental health hospital. It is those who have suffered from the crime who lose out in terms of being heard.

I have worked closely with the Victims’ Commissioner, who has long called for this change. I hope that the Government will look favourably on these amendments and identify any changes to mental health tribunals that may be necessary.

My Lords, the Minister kindly came to today’s Cross-Bench meeting and talked us through the Bill from his point of view. He started by saying that we will have quite a problem defining a victim because, as evidenced by this group of amendments, there are an awful lot of groups of people who clearly identify as victims and for whom there is evidence that they are victims. Although I understand the Government’s wish to try to contain this to some extent, it is important that we have a proper discussion about all these different groups and work out whether there is an intelligent, sensible and pragmatic way for us to be cleverer about the definition than we are at the moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who put his name to my Amendment 4, apologises for being unable to be here to speak because of another appointment. Amendment 4 seeks to ensure that victims of persistent anti-social behaviour—we all love acronyms, and I will mostly refer to it as “ASB” from now on—are recognised as victims and provided with their own code rights. Persistent anti-social behaviour can be defined as behaviour that meets the level required to trigger an anti- social behaviour case review; this means three reported incidents of ASB over a six-month period.

Currently, many victims of ASB are not recognised under the code because the criminal threshold has not been met. The police may treat and regard some of these incidents simply as misdemeanours or disputes between neighbours. The police’s failure to recognise the reality of what these victims undergo can make it worse, so it is important that we and the police are able to look at the whole picture.

The cumulative impact of ASB can be, and is, devastating. It affects victims’ sleep, work, relationships, health and feeling of safety, even in their own home. Left unpoliced, the consequences can be absolutely devastating. In this instance, an example would be the deaths of Suzanne Dow, Fiona Pilkington, Bijan Ebrahimi, Matthew Boorman, Stephen and Jennifer Chapple, David Askew, Louise Lotz and—last but by no means least—Garry Newlove, the ex-husband of the former Victims’ Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. In the case of David Askew, he collapsed and died on his own doorstep after years of torment.

Every day, victims of ASB in England and Wales are failed by the system and are unable to access the support they need and deserve. Every year, the charity ASB Help receives tens of thousands of pleas from victims trying to work out how they can find help. This is made worse because no single agency holds responsibility for tackling ASB, resulting in a not untypical diffusion of responsibility across the police, local authorities, housing associations and private landlords.

Many victims of ASB are simply not recognised as victims of crime and, because police and crime commissioners’ funding for victim services is ring-fenced for victims of crime, such victims are often not eligible for locally commissioned victim services. Some PCCs provide limited support to ASB victims by using their discretionary funding, but others typically do not, so, I am afraid that it is a postcode lottery. By giving victims of persistent ASB the same rights as other victims of crime, we could ensure that they at least get an adequate and consistent level of support. This amendment would ensure that victims who meet the ASB case review threshold are referred to victim support services and receive the help they need.

At the moment, these victims feel like second-class citizens. The longer the anti-social behaviour inflicted on them continues, the worse their mental state and that of those around them gets, and the harder they will be to help. I therefore strongly commend this amendment, which has the complete and utter backing of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I appeal to the Minister and the Bill team to look into this carefully. I am sure that the noble Baroness, the former Victims’ Commissioner, will speak to this amendment in a minute. She of all people knows directly the devastating consequences of anti-social behaviour, not just to her but to her immediate and extended family.

I hope that the Government will look favourably on this amendment. In particular, I ask the Minister to meet some of us between now and Report in order to look at this issue in more detail and see whether we can find a way through.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the way in which she introduced this important group of amendments. I am also grateful to her and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for their support for my Amendment 2, which seeks to ensure that victims of homicide outside of the United Kingdom receive adequate support and are provided for in the victims’ code. The distress they experience can be exacerbated by having to deal with the criminal justice systems of foreign jurisdictions and other difficulties that re-traumatise.

There are approximately 80 homicides of British nationals overseas each year. In addition, there are suspicious deaths, accidents and unexplained deaths. Families bereaved by a homicide in the UK are recognised as victims in their own right and are able to access rights under the victims’ code. Yet these same rights are not extended to those bereaved by homicide abroad, for no reason other than that the homicide occurred overseas. To lose a person you love to murder is a devastating and traumatic event wherever the crime occurs, but there are many additional problems and hurdles for British families bereaved by a murder overseas. As has already been explained clearly, these difficulties include repatriation, travel, accommodation, language barriers, lawyers, foreign judicial processes and many more.

These issues are exacerbated by the fact that these families have no right to access support to help them deal with these problems, putting them distinctly at odds with their compatriots. Bereaved families frequently have great difficulty accessing financial support for advocates and witnesses to travel abroad to attend trials. They cannot claim criminal injuries compensation because the crime occurred in another jurisdiction. Yet we know that it does not have to be this way. If the victim is killed by a terrorist, the family have a legal right to claim compensation. This clear distinction between these two cohorts of victims has no apparent rationale. It appears discriminatory because, for the victim’s family, murder is murder.

When it comes to supporting bereaved victims of homicide abroad, the responsibilities of the UK seem unclear. Of course each case is different, but it is unclear which UK agency has an overarching view of the end-to-end experience of the victims. Families frequently feel unsupported, describing falling through gaps between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—FCDO, the Ministry of Justice, the jurisdiction of the crime and our own police. The FCDO is the key body that the victims will interface with when homicide occurs abroad, but this department is not included within the remit of the victims’ code. The only document that exists to help provide a minimum standard of assistance to victims is a memorandum of understanding between the FCDO, the association for chief police officers and the Coroners’ Society of England and Wales. This memorandum is not legally enforceable, and the Homicide Service, which is contracted by the FCDO to support victims of homicide abroad, is not a signatory to it.

There is therefore a complete lack of accountability and oversight when it comes to support for victims of homicide abroad. The damage that this absence of support causes is immeasurable and often has a long-term and wide-reaching impact. There are numerous case studies of victims who have been let down by UK agencies. In one shocking example, the FCDO gave a family a list of local lawyers based in the location where the murder occurred. The family was not told whether any of the 12 names supplied had been vetted or whether they spoke English, and the FCDO refused to give advice or a steer about which lawyer to use. As a result, the family ended up with an unreputable lawyer, costing £3,000, further compounding their enormous family pain.

A harrowing example of a family having to deal with the criminal justice system of a foreign jurisdiction is illustrated by the case of Halford and Florence Anderson, a British married couple. The 74 and 71 year- olds were both murdered in 2018 near their home in Jamaica, after reporting being victims of fraud. A senior coroner in Manchester, where the couple was from, concluded that they were both unlawfully killed. However, no one has been charged with their killings. Their son, Mark, has expressed the devastation that the family is going through, with still no sign of justice and no official updates on the case. This contrasts starkly with the positive experiences of victims who receive support from the charity, Murdered Abroad, which provides valuable support, both practical and emotional, as well as putting victims in touch with reliable lawyers and providing peer support for victims through group meetings.

But the burden of support should not be solely on charities. UK agencies have a duty to British citizens and should provide support to families impacted by homicide, regardless of the geographical location of the crime. That is what this amendment seeks to achieve. I have worked with, and have the support of, the Victims’ Commissioner, which is reassuring. I know that she has been calling for this change since her last time in that office. I hope the Government will look favourably on this amendment and be prepared to discuss it further before Report.

My Lords, my name is on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, although it was not meant to be—there was some confusion between “Sally” and “Sal”—but I am glad that it has remained there. I also commend the noble Baroness for that neat handover of the chair.

The noble Baroness introduced the amendment thoroughly, but, reading the briefing from the Victims’ Commissioner, I remembered one experience of a friend. It was nothing as extreme as a homicide, but her husband died unexpectedly on a business visit to the United States. It was hugely emotionally difficult for her, as well as practically difficult: different language is experienced even in the United States, and certainly there are different procedures and cultures. One needs signposting to the right people, who can deal with the procedures as well as support. I remember her talking about the difficulty in bringing him home.

My Lords, I welcome this discussion and having a sense of clarification about who a “victim” is in a Bill at least half of which is about victims. I especially support Amendments 2 and 8, but I have some questions for those who tabled the other amendments. Although having too narrow a definition can be a problem, it strikes me that we could cause real problems for victims if we had too broad a definition. I am obviously thinking about resources and overstretching support. So many people can be victims of crime if you start broadening it so much.

As hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her interesting Amendment 3, it is a tragedy for the families of perpetrators too. They can also be victims, and whole ranges of people—friends, acquaintances and other people who have genuinely suffered—could say that they are victims, but are we seriously trying to put them all in scope? I want to know how we can ensure that, even if we are acting in generosity to try to broaden the definition, we do not water down a focus on the actual victims of crime that the Bill is designed to help. In other words: where do we draw the line?

In that context, I am slightly concerned about a broadening of what now constitute victims of crime. In Amendment 4, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, explained, it then becomes anti-social behaviour. He gave a moving account of what it feels like to be a victim of anti-social behaviour, but we could probably all stand up and give moving accounts of being victims of something—bullying and all sorts of other behaviour that makes people suffer. I am slightly concerned that we might end up relativising the experience of victims of crime in an attempt at broadening this too much. Whether we like it or not, culturally, we live in a society in which victimhood is valorised. I do not want the Bill to contribute to that relativising experience, because there is a danger that, if we make it too broad, we could trivialise the real victims of crime. But then you could rightly ask me: who do I mean by “real victims”? I do not want it to go so far so that we lose all sense of its meaning.

My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this Committee, both as Helen Newlove and as Victims’ Commissioner. I thank all the victims I have spoken to over the years. We are bringing their voices to this Committee, right through to the end, because we cannot be grateful enough for their bravery and their having come forward.

I have a list, but I will try to get through it. Amendment 2 is welcome and rightly looks to put bereaved victims of homicide abroad into the code. As has been said, to lose a loved one to murder is horrific and devastating—I can personally say that—no matter where the crime takes place. However, the families I have met whose loved ones have been murdered abroad have to get through significant additional financial, legal and logistical burdens in a different language and a different system—it is not as simple as we put on this script for Hansard today, believe you me.

To have to repatriate the body of a loved one is not simple, because families have to look to the coroner so that they do not harm evidence. That has to be co-ordinated with a foreign criminal justice system, where some families have sat in police stations with photographs of their loved ones, waiting for someone to pick up on that in their language. That image has never left me to this day. To feel alien in a country, knowing how you have lost a loved one, must be horrendous. It is bad enough in the system in this country, but to have that in a foreign country is very demeaning to a hurt family.

As has been said, there are only 60 to 80 such families a year, but that is enough. It is important that this small group of families has the same entitlements as those of bereaved families in this country. There really needs to be change. They are not entitled to criminal injuries compensation unless the death occurred as a result of a terror attack, as we have heard. This is particularly unjust when you bear in mind that they will have the same additional financial burdens as a victim of terrorism abroad. We all live on mobile phones; to have to pay a mobile phone bill just to get family help, when you do not have the finances, must be horrendous. We need to look at how we can balance this.

Over the years, I have met many victims and families; I have seen their frustration and hurt but, more importantly, their dignity, which is amazing. To have to translate documents, find the correct interpreters and, as we have heard, the correct legal people is unbelievable. I want these families to have the same access to interpreters and translation services as is on offer to victims and defendants in the UK for whom English is not their first language. I also want to be sure that agencies, including the Foreign Office, with which I have had many meetings, the national homicide service and the police are working together holistically to provide timely information and help more sensitively. We must support these families. The entitlements for these victims need to be in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime so that they can have the same legal force as entitlements for bereaved victims of murders in the UK, and so that agencies can be held to account. The time has come to put these families into the victims’ code, which is where they deserve to be.

I also support Amendment 4. As many noble Lords will be aware, anti-social behaviour is my subject, most personally because my girls and I witnessed the most horrific case of anti-social behaviour when we lost my late husband, Garry, to 14 kicks to the head and 40 internal injuries. Having had to turn his life support machine off after these horrendous acts, it beggars belief that we are still discussing anti-social behaviour as we do today.

Persistent anti-social behaviour targeted at an individual or group of individuals has a devastating impact on the victims’ lives, health and relationships and on their ability to hold down paid employment and to feel valued and that their life has worth. I have met hundreds of such people over the years, and I still have an inbox full of anti-social behaviour incidents. The acts that are happening are horrendous. It is not just young people, but an older generation who have the utmost disrespect for other people and their homes. I have met young victims who were sofa surfing while paying rent on a flat they were too afraid to live in, and elderly victims too frightened to leave their homes. All too often, victims have been compelled to move home because it is the only way they feel safe. That is not the way to stop anti-social behaviour.

Depressingly, the stories are all the same. Their plight was not recognised by the authorities, particularly the police, with each incident being treated in isolation and no one attempting to understand the wider pattern of behaviour and the extremely high level of harm being caused. All too often, the police declined to treat the behaviour as criminal but instead as a neighbour dispute or a misdemeanour. Yet in many cases it was very apparent that the criminal threshold had been met.

Why do the police not record it as a crime? I believe that it is because there is a prevailing culture that all anti-social behaviour is, as the police put it, “low level”. I have said to every police force for 14 years that they must stop calling it that—it is their phrase, nobody else’s. In terms of its seriousness and harm, it is certainly not low level. As a result, victims are not referred to local victim support services, where they might be able to get the support they so often need, and, sadly, are simply left to struggle alone.

Police and crime commissioners provide funding to local victim services, but it applies only to those victims who fall within the victims’ code. The group of people I am talking about are all too often victims of crime, albeit not officially recognised as such. Some PCCs use discretionary funding to support these victims. I thank them for recognising that there is a strong need—sadly, many others do not. This amendment would make it explicit that victims who meet the statutory threshold for anti-social behaviour case review come within the ambit of the code and, as such, qualify for much-needed help and support.

I also support Amendments 8, 12 and 19, and thank everyone who has come forward. I feel passionately about this issue. We have to recognise these families, because the criminal justice system does not. Six years ago, I launched the report Entitlements and Experiences of Victims of Mentally Disordered Offenders, in which I highlighted the poor treatment of victims of perpetrators detained under the Mental Health Act.

I met a family whose children had been burned in a car, but they could still not get recognition for the harm and trauma. The child was hiding under her bed because her parent, who was in a mental health institution, had every right to see the daughter whom she had tried to burn alive, along with her son, who could not be recognised and, sadly, lost his life. Their being put to one side by professionals who said, “We’re not telling you anything”, has never left me to this day. They are a small group, and when I decided to speak up for them, they could not thank me enough. I am just like them. That shows you how badly this system needs to change in order to include them. Many have been subjected to the most horrific violent crimes and lost so many loved ones.

The law rightly distinguishes between offenders who were of sound mind when committing their crimes and those whose judgment was impaired by mental illness. That is not disputed, but the trauma and distress inflicted on the victim by these crimes nevertheless remains the same, regardless of whether the perpetrator is in prison or a hospital facility. Despite this, victims of those detained under the Mental Health Act do not have the same entitlements under the victims’ code. In 2018, several such victims told me that they feel isolated in a system that pays little regard to their needs or support.

Six years later, there have been improvements and progress. In particular, victims of unrestricted patients have the same entitlement to a victim liaison officer as any other victim. Yet, while there has been real progress in recent years in involving victims in the parole process, this has not been extended to the victims of mentally disordered offenders. They have been overlooked and left behind again. It pains me that these victims are still not entitled to submit a victim personal statement when the offender’s ongoing detention is reviewed by the tribunal, nor do they have an entitlement to attend the tribunal hearing and present their statement in person. A victim can submit a victim personal statement to a magistrates’ court, the Crown Court, the Court of Appeal or the Parole Board. The tribunals in England and Wales are the only bodies not to invite or accept a statement.

As we have heard, in Scotland the mental health tribunals allow representations from victims. The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 provides a statutory right for any party that has any interest to make representations to the tribunal either orally or in writing. The victim makes representations to that panel considering the case. It takes place at a separate oral hearing where the patient is not present, although it is attended by their legal representative. The Scottish tribunal says that

“this has not proved to be in any way problematic. Having heard the victim’s representations, the Tribunal has been able to have regard to them in deciding, for example, whether to attach any condition to a patient’s conditional discharge”.

If listening to a victim is lawful in Scotland, there is no reason why it cannot be lawful in England and Wales. These victims and families have suffered the most appalling crimes. The father I met, whose child had been burned and who had lost a son the same way, felt so guilty that he could not protect his daughter. They have waited far too long to be heard. I ask the Minister to look again; the time has come to act.

My Lords, it is an honour to be participating in the discussions on this important Bill. We have got off to a great start today—albeit a little later than we were expecting. I say from the outset that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and I are very keen to work with colleagues from all parts of the House, and the Minister and the Bill team, to ensure that we end up with the best possible Bill and the best possible future of support and attention for victims in our criminal justice system, as eloquently expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove.

The amendments already show that commitment. I am thankful for the briefing that we have received from many directions, including from the victims’ commissioners of both the UK and London, the Children’s Commissioner and many other organisations, whose help and support will be important for our deliberations over the days and possibly weeks to come.

I will speak to all the amendments in this group, with particular reference to Amendment 4, to which I have added my name, and Amendments 12 and 19, to which my noble friend has added his name. These amendments address what should be included in the definition of “victim” in the Bill in Clause 1. In this debate, we are testing whether that definition is inclusive enough to cover the range of people who find themselves victims.

In Amendment 1, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, seeks to include people who support witnesses or victims of the most serious crimes. She explained—with great clarity—what that would mean and how that would work. Amendment 2 recognises that being a victim abroad means you are a victim and recognises the distress that that experience brings. It was movingly described by the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Finlay.

Amendment 3 very interestingly probes the width of the definition, as exposed by the discussion and the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Amendment 4 addresses the issue of anti-social behaviour victims, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I thank both him and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for the way that they have talked about this. I added my name to this amendment because, although the Bill seeks to introduce measures to help victims, we have to have confidence that the right support is available and that, if they report a crime, the criminal justice system will treat them in the way they should rightly expect.

However, this Bill misses the opportunity to extend the right to access support to victims of persistent and anti-social behaviour in cases where the police choose not to take action. We can have a discussion about why the police may or may not choose to take action, but it seems to me that our duty to put into the Bill a way in which to recognise that these people are victims and that they need support in the victims’ code. This Bill presents us with the opportunity to recognise the victims of persistent anti-social behaviour and to set out their entitlement in the victims’ code.

This is an important matter. While it is possible that this amendment may not be the right way to do it, we need to do what the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has suggested, and work out with the Bill team and the Minister how we can do that in a way that recognises the very serious issues. I was very struck by both the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and by the comprehensive brief that her office provided for us about this matter. For example, in one case study, 280 incidents of anti-social behaviour were reported over 10 months, including noise, nuisance, anonymous harassment, threats and intimidation—incidents that culminated in a firebomb attack on victims’ property. The continued impact of anti-social behaviour resulted in one victim attempting suicide on two occasions, and victims eventually having to move house due to the trauma that they were experiencing. These are victims and we need to work out how we can best recognise and support them in that.

Amendments 8, 12 and 19, to which my noble friend has added his name, seek to address the issues of mental health, being heard and access to information. I do not think that I can better the very full description and explanation that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, gave of these amendments, which I found compelling and convincing.

When I read the other two amendments, about having a voice and being heard, I wondered why after all this time we were still having to discuss victims having to have a voice. It is obvious that that should be happening, and it is a shame that we are having to put this on to the statute book to ensure that it happens—but that is indeed what we have to do.

This presents the Minister with challenges; I do not doubt that. He will not be surprised that we are challenging him. But we are also offering to help to work out how to do this. I look forward to his remarks and I hope that he will recognise that this is the beginning of a process.

My Lords, I apologise for my lateness—I got slightly confused about the Northern Ireland Bill and when it was coming.

I will speak to Amendment 4 in the name of my noble friend Lord Russell. I follow my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, so there is very little more to be said. The only thing I can say is that ASB is so important. ASB is far more common than we know and far more common than the police will say. It must be taken seriously. I have a friend whose father was the victim of ASB over many years and actually snapped. He attacked the person who was causing it and ended up with a custodial sentence himself. So you can turn victims into perpetrators with this and it needs to be defined in this Bill.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very sincerely for their most moving and constructive speeches. I will first respond to the invitation of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to conduct these proceedings in as open and consensual way as possible. In the other place, my right honourable friend Minister Argar did precisely that, and I propose to follow exactly the same approach, and to discuss as widely as we can the various difficult issues that are in front of us. That is an essential function of this Chamber.

To a great extent—I think my noble friend Lady Newlove accepted this, up to a point—we have made very considerable progress in support of victims generally over the last few years. But the problems that remain are, in particular, that victims are still often unaware of their rights, that the required services are not provided, or that the relevant authorities are not accountable. So the questions in front of us are not so much points of principle as questions as to how we change the culture of a system to make sure that victims are properly supported, as they should be.

I suggest, in shorthand, that essentially we should seek four things. First, victims should be aware of their rights and entitlements under the code. Secondly, those services should be accessible. Thirdly, those responsible for providing them should be accountable. Finally, the system should be affordable; speaking on behalf of the Government, I am bound to make that point. Essentially, we have four As: awareness, accessibility, accountability and affordability. It is within that framework that I will respond to the various points that have been made, with great conviction and sincerity, about the definition of “victim” in the current draft of the Bill.

We are dealing with five questions all together. One is about carers and those who suffer vicarious harm, which is raised in Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The second is about people who have been victims of a defendant who has subsequently been made the subject of a hospital order as distinct from another criminal sanction. Thirdly, there is the question of anti-social behaviour. Fourthly, there is the question of homicide abroad. Finally, where the criminal conduct has been caused by another family member, there is the question of whether they are still a victim; that is raised in the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I will take those points, and probably in that order.

As regards Amendment 1, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, as I read it, the definition of “victim” is not confined in its present form to victims of serious sexual or violent behaviour; it is very broad, extending to all crimes. It refers first to persons who have been subject to witnessing a crime. The Government’s position is that those who have witnessed a crime are already covered fairly explicitly in the definition in Clause 1.

That takes us on to the difficult question of how far you go on the carers of victims and others who have suffered indirectly rather than directly. On that point, the Government’s present thinking is that we should have a system that serves the direct victims primarily, and that we cannot, at this stage at least, extend the definition of a victim too far. If I may say so, there is force in the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox: if one makes the concept of a victim too wide, one may well finish up with a system that is not as workable as it otherwise would be. There are all kinds of people who are, in one sense, victims but who are not necessarily the direct victims to whom we must give priority. The job of a Government is to make decisions as to how to prioritise services. We are very pressed on resources on all fronts, so I urge your Lordships to take that point into account and to consider that the definition of victim in Clause 1 is already very wide. I will come to certain points made in that connection in a moment. It would not be the right approach, by statute, to extend that already broad definition any further than it is. Broadly speaking, that is the Government’s position on Amendment 1.

On the point about hospital orders in relation to Amendments 8, 12 and 19, the question is whether the victim is a person who has been subject to criminal conduct. A person may well be the perpetrator of criminal conduct but still finish up being ordered by the court to be detained in a secure hospital, rather than serve a criminal sentence. The Government’s position is that many of the victims whose perpetrator has finished up in front of a mental health tribunal are already victims under the Bill. They are covered so long as the conduct is criminal. Your Lordships may have seen the tragic case in Nottingham this week, where the defendant, who was clearly schizophrenic and should never have been on the streets, was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of dismissed responsibility. It was criminal conduct, so those unfortunate families are victims. The point that is rightly made—

If the Minister would not mind giving way, I will clarify—I am sure that this is what he meant—that there are many people who are successfully treated for schizophrenia who live in the community. I think that he is referring to an individual who was very ill and who sought the charge of manslaughter yesterday because of diminished responsibility. I would not want the impression to be given in Hansard that people cannot live their lives—quite challenging lives—with schizophrenia in the community.

I entirely accept that point. I have in my own family direct experience of a similar situation. That particular individual had already committed a number of crimes and there was a warrant out for his arrest. That is a very specific case and that is the context in which I made my comment.

On the assumption that, in many of these cases, we have someone who is already a victim under the meaning in the Bill, the problem rightly identified is that the procedures of the mental health tribunal do not, at the moment, quite correspond to the procedures in the main courts, particularly on the right to give a victim statement. The Government’s position is that that is not a satisfactory state of affairs; they are working with the authorities in the mental health tribunal and others to operationalise how we have the same system for mental health tribunals as for the main courts system. I hope to be able to give your Lordships further information that will enable your Lordships to say that this point—which is rightly being made—is being addressed by the Government. As soon as I am in a position to give further information about that, I will. The point of principle that a number of noble Lords have made is accepted; there is no dispute about that.

We then come to the equally difficult question of anti-social behaviour. Again, the first question is whether the victim has been subject to criminal conduct. Strictly speaking, whether or not the police have taken any action is not decisive of the question of whether the conduct is criminal. It may well have crossed the criminal threshold and, if it has, the victim should be entitled to relevant circumstances.

If the conduct has not crossed the criminal threshold, that is a more difficult situation because the scope of the Bill is victims of criminal conduct, and it is quite difficult for the Government, at least at this stage, to contemplate bringing within the scope of this Bill conduct that is not criminal. But a lot of anti-social behaviour is criminal, so how are we going to tackle this? Again, I am not in a position to give your Lordships as much detail as I would wish, but there will shortly be before your Lordships the Criminal Justice Bill currently making its passage through the other place, which will tackle and address a number of legitimate concerns about anti-social behaviour by enhancing the powers available to the police and other local agencies under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

Together with the action plan on anti-social behaviour introduced last March to address the more general problem of anti-social behaviour, I hope we shall have, as it were, a twin-track approach. Again, I am very open to suggestions about how the code is drafted in terms of anti-social behaviour so it is clear that it falls within the code when the criminal threshold is passed. That is certainly one way, then there is upcoming legislation that I hope will deal with other matters.

I am grateful for any further meetings about anti-social behaviour. I get that we have three Bills coming—it is like buses; we do not have anything, then we have them all at once—so I am keeping track of those as well. On the Criminal Justice Bill, I think we are looking at Clause 71 on the ASB case review, which used to be called the community trigger. I have my eye on that, and I gave evidence about that. Again, it is about the victim being involved, but that is for another day.

I am conscious that when we talk about anti-social behaviour and the threshold, if you have it constantly it is harassment, so there are already laws for the police. We do not have to have a criminal threshold. I would welcome further conversations because you can shift the boxes around for the police to look at, but there are laws in place that will protect the victim that would automatically go under the victims’ code. When you focus on just anti-social behaviour and the police look at that as low level, they are never going to protect the victim. They have never learned from Fiona Pilkington. The victim is having to log this. I think we need to run this in parallel so that the police follow this from day one and do not leave the victim feeling that their life is worthless. Anti-social behaviour is not litter. We have heard about the level of violence—firebombs and everything else. It is quite serious.

I heard what the Minister said, and I would like to take this forward when we have a meeting with other Peers. We really need to look at the police knowing what laws they already have to help these victims instead of just focusing on the words “anti-social behaviour” because they see it as low level. We need to get that first and foremost to protect victims.

My Lords, I entirely accept the points that my noble friend is making, and I am very happy to have a further meeting to discuss this, the interrelationship between the bits of legislation that we are dealing with, the interrelationship between the various authorities and who exactly is responsible for what.

My Lords, to further emphasise that, I think it would be helpful to the Committee to recognise the sheer scale of anti-social behaviour. Some freedom of information requests looking at the period between 2019 and 2021 identified that, believe it or not, there were 3.5 million reports of anti-social behaviour, so it is on a similar scale to stalking on an annualised basis. Those are probably the largest two areas of cases involving victims across England and Wales.

Those statistics were done across 34 out of the 43 police forces. They demonstrate the huge variability across the country, police and crime commissioner by PCC, and police force by police force. That is the problem. Some areas are doing really well with existing resources, without needing extra money. With proper leadership, organisation and training, they are doing a really good job. Kudos to the Government and the Minister for achieving good results in some areas. The challenge for the Government is: what is the problem with taking action to ensure that is replicated efficiently and systematically right across England and Wales? The evidence is clearly that it is not. If the authorities can do it within existing resources, we are not talking about huge amounts of extra money. That is not the issue; the issue is the way they go about what they do.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention and entirely accept the point he makes about the variability across the country. Although this evening we are not on Clause 6 and supplementary Clause 11, for example, or Clause 10, about code awareness and reviewing compliance by criminal justice bodies, one of the main drivers of the Bill is to raise the standard of victim support equally across the country; to publish league tables; to have the data; to put pressure, if you like, by almost shame and stigma on those that are not performing as well as they should so that it is publicly known; and, in extreme cases, to give directions that they need to improve and so forth.

The steps we need to think about are how we make the various parts of the legislation consistent and operational, what role the code plays in anti-social behaviour when it is criminal conduct, as it often will be, and how we operationalise the way in which particular police forces and other agencies offer consistent services across the country. That is my thought on this point.

On this particular point about anti-social behaviour, Louise Lotz was a friend of mine. The problem was that her local police force did nothing about the earlier stages of anti-social behaviour. One of the things that this amendment is trying to achieve is that police forces just watch the pattern of anti-social behaviour; if they see it going up, their response should also start to change. I wonder whether the Minister will take that into account. I look forward to joining any meeting about that as well.

I certainly take that into account. I again think that we collectively need to understand a little more about what the Criminal Justice Bill progressing through the other place is doing about this, because the problem of anti-social behaviour is that it exists and is not being controlled. That Bill is trying to address that problem. Here we are dealing with the victims, which in some ways is the end result, rather than the fact that it is happening in the first place, so tackling it and what is happening in the first place is probably a very important aspect that we need to understand further. I take all these points, and I think we should take it further collectively as soon as we can.

Then we come to the difficult issue of homicide abroad. I hope that nobody infers that the Government do not have enormous sympathy for those who suffer these very difficult situations, but I respectfully suggest that a crime of homicide committed abroad is in a slightly different category, as far as the victims’ code is concerned, from a crime of homicide committed in this country. Clearly, the various rights under the code —for example, the right to make a victim statement—as well as the nature of the offence, what the criminal processes are and so forth are rather different if we are talking about a crime that has been committed in South America or somewhere outside this country. The responsibility for looking after victims of homicide abroad falls primarily on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which offers support through the homicide service. Noble Lords may well say that it is not adequate support or enough support.

I have worked with the Foreign Office on this as well, and every time I have gone there, its first point of call is “We don’t have many resources; there’s not much money; we make the money from passports; it is only a small number of families that come through”. If we keep putting it to the Foreign Office, it will keep batting it the other way. Not only are we talking about families dealing with countries with different languages which are trying to get financial gain and who also have jobs to hold down but we have a Foreign Office that really does not do much for them and they feel lost. I appreciate what the is Minister saying, but I think it is about resource. I am not asking for lots of resources, but I want them to work collaboratively to help those families resolve the issues.

My Lords, I of course understand the point that the Minister is making—procedures in other countries and what is available in other countries by way of support are different—but should that stop us requiring part of the Government, the organisation in this country which has immediate, close responsibility, to take on a role of proper signposting, which may be to equivalent services? Partly, it is interpreting, but it is obvious that there is a lacuna here.

If there has been a homicide abroad and those families are living here, there is a real danger that the message will be that the Government think that that homicide does not matter as much as a homicide that happened here. The Government might say that they do not have the resources. I pointed out that it is about 80 homicides per year—the numbers are not huge—but those people who are so severely traumatised, retraumatised and carry on being further damaged by the experience often become enormous consumers of resources because of mental health services, because they are unable to work and so on, and eventually they may need benefits. There are all kinds of things that they may need. It is a false economy to look at it in terms of resources to the FCDO. I hope that the Minister will meet me and others to discuss ways that the victims’ code could be asterisked where there are things that may not be as appropriate if the homicide occurred here, but it would say that the lives of British citizens are of equal value wherever they are in the world and that whether it was a terrorist attack, a homicide here or a homicide overseas, those lives are of equal value.

My Lords, of course I am prepared to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and any other noble Lords on this point to discuss it further. There is certainly a point about the signposting in the code, what the code should say about all this, whether we should give further additional priority to homicides abroad, and exactly what the role of the Homicide Service is and other related resource issues, as well as where the earlier point I raised about priorities comes in: we cannot do everything. This is an important topic for further discussion, and I do not rule out examining further how far we can go in response to the very legitimate concerns raised.

I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will forgive me for coming to her last, but I think her point was about the definition of a victim where the person is a victim as a result of the criminal conduct of a close family member. The obvious example would be a road incident where somebody who had been driving over the limit or driving dangerously had killed themselves, leaving behind bereaved children. On the wording of the code, those children would be victims. The Government do not think that even in those circumstances should we reduce or limit the concept of a victim. It is conceivable that somebody could be a perpetrator and a victim at the same time, because if you have driven dangerously, had a crash and killed your child, you may both be guilty of criminal conduct and a victim of your own conduct, as it were. That may be a highly theoretical and hypothetical example, but the Government are not proposing any change to Clause 1 in relation to those very tragic kinds of case.

I hope I have dealt with the main amendments proposed in this first group, and I respectfully invite your Lordships not to pursue them at this point.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his detailed responses to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate on a range of different issues, even though they are all part of the concern about some of the holes in the system. I thank him for offering some meetings, which I think is extremely useful, because as I think he will have heard from the debate, we all have a reasonable amount of knowledge and not necessarily the same knowledge.

On his comments on my Amendment 1, I absolutely accept that my proposed new paragraph (aa), inserting “witnessing criminal conduct”, might already be covered earlier in Clause 1. Proposed new paragraphs (ab) and (ac) are not covered at all. They are the direct consequences for a family member or person close to somebody who has had a very traumatic experience. They would have their life changed in all the ways that I described. I would also welcome a meeting on that to discuss how the Minister believes that it is already covered, because as far as I can see, it is not.

I want to make a more general point about the Bill. The Minister, uniquely, has his four As for what we should seek to achieve—the victims being aware, access, accountability by those providing services, and it being affordable. One of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made is that costs may not actually be so great, providing that the first, second and third categories are completely fulfilled. That is an area where—as we have said to him in private meetings already—there will be cost savings. Not all of them will be to the Home Office or the justice system, but there will be substantial savings in healthcare and in social services, particularly where children are involved, if the victims’ code is on a statutory footing and applied across the board. He is right that changing the culture is vital. The problem is that if you do not give public organisations targets, they do not work to them, and the real problem we have here is that there is no onus on the services to make sure that those are provided for. With that, I beg to leave withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 to 4 not moved.

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—

“(e) where the person is a child who is a victim of abuse and exploitation which constitutes criminal conduct.”

My Lords, I open by reiterating my noble friend’s point about acknowledging the way in which the noble and learned Lord wound up the previous group of amendments and about working consensually across the Committee as we progress through the Bill. My second point is simple, but I think it worth making. As noble Lords will know, I sit as a magistrate in London in family, youth and adult jurisdictions, and I rarely see victims. I see victims only in trials—they sometimes turn up to trials to give evidence—and I hear from victims only when I sentence and the victim’s impact statement is read out. Through all the rest of the processes which I routinely go through sitting in a magistrates’ court, I do not hear from victims, and I do not see them. It is a simple point, but I thought it was worth making.

The Minister also had his four As, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has just referred to—awareness, accessibility, accountability and affordability. We agree with those as far as they go, of course, but of course many of the elements in Committee will concern whether accountability should be enforceability. That will be the crux of a number of our debates in Committee.

This group deals with child victims. Amendment 5 in my name clarifies that the definition of “victim” should include a child who is a victim of abuse and exploitation that constitutes criminal conduct. I will go through the amendments in the group and then comment more widely. Amendment 6, and Amendment 10 in my name, extend the definition of “victim” to a child who is

“a victim of child criminal exploitation”.

Other noble Lords will speak to that as well. Amendments 7 and 11 seek to ensure that the explicit definition of a victim includes those who are subject to modern slavery—another aspect that we will debate within this group. Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord Hunt, is specifically about verbal abuse of children.

While the Bill makes important reference to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and to children as victims of domestic abuse, the same organisations that fought for that Act are now asking for the same ambition to be applied to children who have experienced abuse and exploitation. Last week, I and other noble Lords now present in the Chamber went to a survivors’ presentation organised by a coalition of charities led by the NSPCC, where we heard first-hand about survivors’ experiences and how the support organisations and criminal justice system responded to their trauma.

What was particularly telling about those survivor experiences was that, although the abuse itself was, of course, wholly negative, we did hear from one or two survivors who had had a relatively good experience of the criminal justice system—although there were other experiences that were much more negative. That contrast made those testimonies even more powerful. This morning, I, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, visited the Lighthouse project in Camden. This provides a one-stop shop for child victims of sexual abuse. It is a model of how these services should be provided.

It is in that context that this group is being debated. I want to set out the scale of abuse and exploitation of children. Children—that means people under 18—make up about 20% of the population. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has found that children are the victims of about 40% of all sexual offences. One in 10 children in England and Wales is sexually abused before the age of 16 and that number means that there are an estimated half a million child victims every year.

Children abused by parents or carers are almost three times more likely to experience other forms of domestic abuse as well, and it was found that 42% of childhood abuse survivors suffered more than one type of abuse. The Bill explicitly recognises children as victims only of domestic abuse and as a result fails to acknowledge the multiple forms of abuse and exploitation that children can experience. They can be subjected to multiple forms of abuse and exploitation during their lifetime. To avoid failing these children, the definition of a victim must cover all forms of abuse and exploitation, in addition to domestic abuse.

The victims’ code of practice recognises that those under 18 are vulnerable and affords them enhanced rights. The children’s coalition, a coalition of charities that are informing what I am saying now—and has no doubt briefed all noble Lords here in Committee as well—has argued that there should be consistency across all legislation, recognising as distinct victims all children, not just those who are affected by domestic abuse. The coalition urges government to ensure that the Bill reflects the code by ensuring that children who experience abuse and exploitation, in addition to those who experience domestic abuse, are in the Bill so that the entirety of the harm they experience is explicit within primary legislation.

If the definition is not amended, the children’s coalition foresees that this will have unintended consequences for the relevant authorities and those in charge of delivering victim support services. Resources will be directed to focus on the needs of children who are victims of domestic abuse above other forms of harm. The coalition is concerned that there is the potential for a hierarchy of abuse that would leave thousands of children affected by other forms of abuse and exploitation without recognition and, ultimately, without support. By not explicitly recognising children as victims in their own right, the Bill could have significant implications for the level and quality of support available.

I am told that evidence already shows that a lack of support for children following abuse and exploitation exists and that ensuring that children and the full scale of the harm they experience are explicitly in scope will act as a cornerstone for responsible agencies commissioning services to make sure that they reflect the needs of children in full. So this is a specific example where legislation will make a difference.

It is impossible to design an effective justice system response to childhood victims without understanding the scale of what we are talking about, which I set out earlier. This cannot be done without recognising all forms of abuse, but this is a specific example where the black letter of the law will have an impact on the services that are delivered to childhood victims of abuse that falls outside the scope of domestic abuse. It is in that spirit that I beg to move Amendment 5.

My Lords, I have Amendments 7 and 11 in this group and I want to be clear that I agree very much with the views that are behind all these amendments.

I hope that my first question—a technical question—will not be regarded as negative. Is a child a person within Clause 1(1)? That will affect amendments and how they are framed. My second question is probably a bit indelicate. It has only occurred to me this evening, while listening to the examples that your Lordships have given. It is a direct question to the Minister. Is the MoJ aware of examples of possible candidates—that is probably not a very happy term—who have been exploited or subjected to criminal or marginally criminal behaviour, which have not made their way to us? It may be possible. I possibly should not put the Minister on the spot now, but maybe we can talk about what the MoJ has considered and discarded. Amendments 7 and 11 have been brought to us by Hestia, which supports victims of modern slavery. It is concerned with ensuring that those who are born to victims of modern slavery are covered.

I know that we have Clause 1(2)(b), which refers to circumstances

“where the person’s birth was the direct result of criminal conduct”,

but it would be very unfortunate if we were to run into the weeds of whether someone is a victim of rape—in other words, what is the relationship between the mother and the offender?—or if there is a doubt as to who is the father because the woman has been subjected to forced prostitution and the object of multiple rapes, because that kind of issue detracts from the support that is needed by the children of victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, whose experience in itself requires support.

A significant number of children are born as a result of slavery and trafficking situations, and sometimes that is a result of rape. Hestia has highlighted the need to identify this group of children, with specific vulnerabilities and support needs differentiated from those of other vulnerable children. Its research shows that such children experience particular challenges, such as the transmission of trauma, developmental delays and unmet support needs, and that, like the children of victims of domestic abuse, they have support needs that we should be recognising.

I hope that the Minister can help us on this. I have found some of the drafting quite difficult to follow through, so I am not pretending that this is in any way a happy amendment in that respect, but there is a subject here that I think is very important for us to pursue.

My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on Amendment 5. The Bill offers a landmark opportunity to make a difference to victims’ and survivors’ lives and has the potential to restore confidence in our criminal justice system.

As noble Lords know, alongside organisations focused on supporting women and children, and together with many other noble Lords from across the House, we fought hard for children experiencing domestic abuse to be recognised as victims in their own right, and I am proud that that is included in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. However, I am saddened—I think that is the word I am looking for—that we are having to make this very same case again.

Sadly, children experience multiple forms of abuse and exploitation, sometimes including domestic abuse. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has found that it is common that victims and survivors experience multiple forms of victimisation in childhood. Over half of adults in England and Wales who reported being sexually abused before the age of 16 also experienced another type of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or witnessing domestic abuse. As has been said, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found that 52% of victims and survivors who gave evidence spoke about experiencing at least one other form.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggested, we were reminded of these facts just last week at a meeting here in Parliament. We were given the privilege, I would say, of hearing directly from the survivors of child abuse about what this opportunity means to them. At this event hosted by the Children’s Charities Coalition, they all shared the same vision: that the Bill offers an opportunity to transform our response to children affected by abuse and exploitation. Often, it is not until you speak directly to victims and survivors of crime that you truly understand the magnitude and impact of what we are discussing today. Yet their ask is very simple: recognition and support for all children who experience abuse and exploitation.

At the event, we heard harrowing experiences from survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation. In sharing their experiences, they also shared their bravery and resolve to improve support for children today and for generations to come—which, in some cases, was so lacking when they truly needed it. We heard from David Tait, who shared his experience about the horrific abuse he faced as a child. He challenged the room and asked whether any of us felt it was appropriate that children were not specifically recognised within the Bill. The room was silent, in realisation that it is almost unthinkable that children are not specifically recognised. I offer my deepest gratitude to all those who bravely spoke out. It sharpened my own focus on how the Bill can truly make a difference for them.

The final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse gives a glimpse into what it is like for these children and why it is so important for all children who have experienced, and, sadly, will experience, abuse and exploitation to be recognised. Many victims and survivors said they were traumatised by child sexual abuse. Olivar, a survivor, described the “traumatic long-term effect” of sexual abuse:

“I’ve thought about it for over 50 years”.

Another survivor, Laurie, said that

“hardly a day goes by where I do not think about the events from 58 years ago”.

Another survivor described feeling “misery” and “bewilderment” after being sexually abused as a child. Finally, a survivor shared:

“I was never able to be nurtured … I have to grieve for the childhood I never had”.

I support this key amendment in ensuring that these children and all children are recognised. This Bill must recognise all children as victims in their own right and we must get that definition and recognition put at the heart of the Bill. Children have distinct needs and require a child-centred approach and specialist support. Let us not go through the pain that we had last time with domestic abuse, let us get children into the Bill now.

My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, this is a good Bill for victims. It contains many provisions that I strongly support. I hope and believe that we can make it an even better Bill by working across the House, which is the mood tonight, as it was then.

I put my name to Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I also support other amendments in this group, including those that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol, who is unable to be in her place today, has signed. Amendments in this group seek to clarify how the Bill properly addresses the needs of children.

Amendment 10 places on the face of the Bill a short but clear definition of “child criminal exploitation”. This would include any child under 18 who is

“encouraged, expected or required to take part in any activity that constitutes a criminal offence”.

This is not widening the definition of a victim, merely giving it clarity. I learned in my teens that if I was on the receiving end of some wrongdoing, I was a child. By contrast, if I was deemed the perpetrator, I suddenly became a youth.

We have also heard too often in your Lordships’ House of the adultification of children. It is an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon, where a child is treated as a grown-up when they are caught up in wrongdoing. Moreover, we know that in the absence of a strong countervailing pressure, this is disproportionately applied to black children. This has been a long-standing concern of many civil society organisations focused on countering the exploitation of children. I hope we can begin to respond to it today.

In my own diocese of Manchester, we are still reeling from the discovery of the extent of grooming gangs exploiting children for sexual crimes, most notably—but I doubt exclusively—in Rochdale. If the children caught up in these crimes had been seen by the authorities primarily as victims, and treated as such, I believe that the gangs would have been brought to justice far sooner.

Getting a clear definition of child criminal exploitation into the Bill will, I hope and pray, not only improve this legislation but set a precedent for how we treat child victims better, both in future legislation and in practice at every stage of the criminal justice system. I hope that the Minister will either accept our words as on the Marshalled List or come back to us on Report with a suitable government amendment to that effect.

My Lords, I have Amendment 9 in this group. It concerns verbal abuse to children and, in terms of the challenges the Minister set us with the four As, it is concerned with raising awareness.

I share the view of other noble Lords that it is important to get children into the Bill, particularly in relation to this clause. My amendment seeks to make it clear that when it comes to the definition of “harm” in Clause 1(4)(a), it should include a definition that embraces children and includes verbal harm.

My amendment has been inspired by the work of an inspirational, newish charity called Words Matter, which I believe to be the first charity in the world focused solely on verbal harm to children. It aims to eradicate this damaging and underestimated form of abuse, and I pay tribute to its inspirational founder, Jessica Bondy.

We all understand verbal abuse. It can mean negative words, and language that causes harm to children. It can take the form of blaming, insulting, belittling, intimidating, demeaning, disrespecting, scolding, frightening, ridiculing, criticising, name-calling or threatening a child. It does not constitute only shouting. In fact, abuse can be quiet, insidious and subtle in tone, where volume and facial expression play a part. We have probably all personally experienced verbal abuse, certainly in the profession we are in. It can be extraordinarily damaging, particularly to young people.

We know that children’s brains are responsive to relationships as they grow up with words, tones and sounds around them. The noble Lord, Lord Polak, has just talked about the long-lasting impact on people who were sexually abused many years ago, and destructive language can have some of the same impact. If one looks at what comprises child maltreatment—physical, sexual and emotional abuse, and neglect—verbal abuse is a key attribute of many of those aspects. It can also be individually damaging to a child’s development, perhaps as damaging as other currently recognised and forensically established subtypes of maltreatment.

We believe that emotional abuse, including verbal abuse, is on the rise, and is perhaps the most prevalent form of child maltreatment. A systematic review of childhood abuse undertaken by UCL and Wingate University in the US found that verbal abuse does profound damage to a child over their lifetime, affecting their self-esteem, confidence, future potential and ability to function at home, school and the workplace, really affecting life outcomes for them.

The study commissioned by Words Matter found that this kind of abuse is pervasive in society. That study, which it recently undertook, revealed that two in five children aged 11 to 17 experience adults regularly using hurtful and upsetting words to blame, insult or criticise them—that is, around 2 million children in this country.

The real problem here is a lack of awareness, because without awareness you cannot have strategies and policies to try to deal with it or engage in the educational programmes that are needed, particularly to help teachers, parents and other adults who are in a situation to try to change their behaviour. I do not pretend that an amendment tonight would magically deal with this issue, but in the spirit of the Minister’s wind-up on previous groups, I hope that by drawing attention to it he will be able to say something constructive about how we might tackle verbal abuse and protect children in the future.

My Lords, my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol, as has been said, regrets that she cannot be in the Chamber today but along with her, I support Amendments 7 and 11. The children of victims of modern slavery are currently underserved by support services, despite that lasting and intergenerational trauma which witnessing the crime of modern slavery can cause. We have already heard about the organisation Hestia. In 2021, it estimated that as many as 5,000 vulnerable children could be identified within the NRM as children of victims of modern slavery. I want to add that there is an urgent need to extend victims’ rights to this group, and I am glad to see these amendments.

My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 6 and 10, which are designed to ensure that children who have been criminally exploited are seen and treated as victims rather than perpetrators. As has already been discussed, I understand the Government’s desire to keep definitions broad and to resist requests for too much specific detail in the Bill, but there is a case to be made about child criminal exploitation.

First, there is a need for clarity. The Government’s own Serious Violence Strategy says:

“In order to support different agencies and sectors working together it is important we have common definitions of the issues we are tackling”.

Yet on the issue of criminal exploitation, there is no common definition. The definition used in that strategy is the same as that in Working Together to Safeguard Children but differs from the definition in Keeping Children Safe in Education. As a result, different parts of the system are working to different understandings of what constitutes criminal exploitation. They have found the current definitions to be not only different but overly complicated.

As one police officer said in the very helpful briefing from the Children’s Coalition, which has already been mentioned:

“What is applying in Newcastle is totally different to Surrey”

and current definitions

“are too open to interpretation and this breeds an inconsistent approach”,

so we need consistency. We also need a statutory definition for criminal law purposes for, as that police officer also explains:

“We definitely need the definition to do our job. It’s a 21st-century crime we are prosecuting with outdated legislation”.

The Government should be given credit for their focus on the growing threat of serious violence, which often gives rise to criminal exploitation but, if I am honest, it feels a bit odd that they would not see that this might be a useful step. It would not only help those victims having to live with a criminal conviction, making life even harder for them in the long run through no fault of their own; it would also send an important message to the real perpetrators in all of this—the people who take away these children’s lives, forcing them to live constantly on edge and in fear. It is a fear of the people exploiting them but also a fear of the authorities, if their situation is not properly recognised or understood.

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I am interested in verbal harm because it is true that, as politicians, we get a lot of that. I have had verbal abuse from that Front Bench, in fact, but I am old enough that it has not affected my behaviour.

Amendments 5 and 6 are quite crucial here, as is Amendment 10 on child criminal exploitation. On top of all the important points made by noble Lords here about child victims, I want to ask the Minister about the Government’s role in re-victimising children and young people by deploying them as covert human intelligence sources or child spies. I have raised this issue a few times over the past few years. It is still a practice that absolutely horrifies me—that the Government would actually encourage the further criminalisation of children. In recent years, the Government have actually expanded the use of child spies, including authorising them to commit criminal offences. I do not expect the Minister to answer this this evening, but I would like a full answer, because this is an issue that fills me with horror.

The Government’s actions obviously meet the definition of child criminal exploitation in Amendment 10, as these children are being

“encouraged, expected or required to take part”

in criminal offences by the police. Can the Minister therefore outline what victim support and other help is provided to these child spies when they are being sent back into dangerous criminal situations? Will they be eligible as victims under the victims’ code—I assume they will—and can the Minister give up-to-date figures on how many child spies are currently being used by police forces? I have been consistently told that it is a very small number. In my view, any number is wrong, but if I could have that information, I would be very grateful.

My Lords, I was quite surprised to see the amendments, and also the way they have been motivated—by the need to get children in the Bill, as though there were a lack of sympathy with children as victims, particularly of sexual abuse. That is not something that I am aware of in society, which seems to me to be more than preoccupied with that issue, and rightly so.

If anything, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester made clear, it depends which children you are talking about, because one of the shocking aspects of the Rochdale grooming scandal was that a particular group of children were seen to be the wrong kind of children—in the words of the perpetrators, “white trash”. If you read the many reports on this, as I have done, even the officialdom—the police, local authorities, social workers and all sorts of things—saw these children as perpetrators who could be ignored. In general, society is horrified, it seems to me, at child abuse, but it depends which children. I did not know that we needed to get the idea of children as victims on the face of this kind of Bill in order to be sympathetic to children as victims, so I am a bit confused about the necessity of that. However, I am open to being convinced.

As it happens, I completely agree with the horror of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, at child spies, and I share that point of view as well. But she does raise a problem that I have with Amendment 10, inasmuch as I think it is unclear what the definition of “child criminal exploitation” would be. Where it says that

“a child under the age of 18 is encouraged, expected or required to take part in any activity that constitutes a criminal offence”,

first, there would be an argument about those child spies. Other people would presumably say that that was not what was happening there.

But there is a danger, particularly when we use that wording: “encouraged, expected or required” is very loose in terms of problems we might well have with agency of young people. We have already heard about anti-social behaviour; often that is committed by under-18s. Knife crime is often committed by under-18s. There is a danger that, in our attempt at fighting genuine exploitation of children to force them into criminal activity, we end up in a situation whereby young people, who I am afraid can on occasion be responsible for crimes, are able to say that they did not do it because they were encouraged or put under pressure and so on. I am just worried about the wording there.

Finally in this group—and this is not something I like doing, because I have enormous respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt—I absolutely disagree with his Amendment 9 on verbal harm. One thing that is quite interesting is this idea that we have to make young people—or everybody—aware of the dangers of verbal harm. The one group of people who are very aware of the dangers of verbal harm are young people and children because they are reared in a society that tells them that words are harmful. They are so embroiled in that notion that, as we know, they will say that they are victims because of words that have been said to them. We see this played out in schools, sixth forms and universities all the time, to the detriment of free speech.

People might think that is glib, but I am constantly involved in arguing the point with young people who say that words are as harmful as fists, knives and anything else and that they should not be exposed to individuals saying certain words because they are just as harmful as criminal activity. I do not want the Bill to give even more succour to this idea that words, which are often opinions that people do not like, are harmful. Even though words can make you feel uncomfortable, we must distinguish between words and actions, in my opinion, and not encourage young people to always think that they are victims of some crime if they hear words that they find unpleasant, even though I understand that some words are unpleasant to be on the receiving end of.

My Lords, I support Amendments 6 and 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I was pleased to hear that verbal abuse is being highlighted and I commend the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for that.

Children who are criminally exploited suffer unimaginable abuse and harm, which have long-lasting impacts and can cause physical and mental harm and trauma which can impact their development. As we know, childhood lasts a lifetime so this will go on to affect society in the long term, directly and indirectly.

The Covid-19 pandemic increased the risk of children being exploited and this has been made even worse by the cost of living crisis. Despite this, all too often children who are victims of exploitation are blamed and criminalised for their own abuse. Black and minority ethnic children and children in care are more likely to be criminalised than other children, which can be a double jeopardy for them.

There is no statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, which means that those working with children lack a shared understanding and can miss key intervention points and fail to identify victims. For child victims, this means that they are falling through the cracks of statutory support and perpetrators of this vile abuse are going unpunished.

At Second Reading, the Minister set out that a definition of child criminal exploitation already exists in statutory guidance, which is a good step in recognising the issue. However, confusion remains among those on the front line, and it is clear that a statutory definition would be welcomed by them. The Government need to use the Bill to give child criminal exploitation a statutory definition in its own right.

In 2021, Barnardo’s—I declare an interest as its vice-president—made a freedom of information request to police forces across the UK. Some 30 police forces responded, but only one force was able to provide any data about child criminal exploitation. Interestingly, many forces asked Barnardo’s about how child criminal exploitation is defined, which shows just how misunderstood it is by those working in this area. A police officer who spoke to the Children’s Society said:

“What is applying in Newcastle is totally different to Surrey, and current definitions are too open to interpretation and this breeds an inconsistent approach”.

Other police officers working on the front line have said that they would definitely value a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, and that the definitions that already exist in statutory guidance are weaker and can be harder to prove.

Child criminal exploitation is a national issue that needs a national response. Putting a definition of child criminal exploitation on the statute book is a simple step but it would have a long-standing impact on the thousands of children who are exploited each year. That is why I support the amendments, which are also supported by a wide range of children’s charities, including the NSPCC, the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s, as well as the Children’s Commissioner.

The Victims and Prisoners Bill offers a key opportunity to ensure protection and support for child victims, but we cannot pick and choose which victims are able to access that support. It is essential that a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation is put into the Bill so that all those children are supported. We owe that to them. I hope the Minister will accept these amendments and I look forward to his response.

My Lords, I support the amendments in this group, which seek to ensure better focus on the position and needs of children and thereby provide a better framework of support for children who are victims or potential victims.

I assume that the word “person” in Clause 1 includes a child but nevertheless I think that should be emphasised in the Bill, as so many noble Lords have said. The priority to be given to children should rest on at least three obvious points. First, children are much more vulnerable than adults. Secondly, children are less able to speak for themselves; exploited and abused children notoriously lose self-esteem. Thirdly, clearly children have much longer than adults to put up with the consequences of abuse and of inadequate decisions made when the abuse comes to light.

The Government may say that it is not necessary to highlight particular types of criminal conduct, as attempted in Amendments 5 to 7, and that they are already covered by Clause 1. I am not entirely convinced of that, and if there is any doubt about it, I hope the Government will look again to ensure that the particular categories of abuse highlighted in those amendments are indeed covered.

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 7 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, to which I have added my name digitally. We start on the thorny subject, to which I think we will return, of children. I declare my interest as a secondary school teacher in Hackney.

I am delighted to have my noble friend Lord Meston with me, because he can say it far better than I can when we are trying to persuade the Government that children should be defined separately as victims. I will speak more about that in the sixth group of amendments.

I join the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, in saying that we need a definition of victim, which is not contained in Keeping Children Safe in Education—there seem to be variations on that—and we need to deal with the children of victims of modern slavery. I support all the amendments in this group.

My Lords, on these Benches we add our thanks to the Children’s Commissioner for her very helpful round table and briefing notes. We also thank Hestia. I thank other noble Lords for their amendments, which specify children in the definition of a victim. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Benjamin made strong arguments to include who victims of abuse and criminal exploitation are, as well as those who are victims of modern slavery or human trafficking.

The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is a salutary reminder that children can be damaged by verbal harm. Intense and repeated verbal abuse is damaging. That is somewhat different from the point the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was trying to make, which was about young people having arguments about matters of principle and offence; that is not what we are talking about.

Some years ago, I lived next door to a family who used the most extraordinary bad language to their toddler, time after time. The example I can just about repeat in your Lordships’ House was his name, which was “Paul, you little bleeder”. It went on, from worse to worse. As he grew up, we heard his own language mirroring that of his parents. One of the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, is right to propose this is that a child like that needs help and support from other agencies, as do his parents. It can be within a house, or it can be separate, but it is very different from the argument the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, was trying to make, and I hope she would accept that.

In a later group, probably next week, we will come to a group with much more detail about the protection required for child victims. All these amendments would ensure that definitions at the start of the Bill recognise that child victims have as many needs as adults. Agencies need to remind themselves that child victims may not always present in the same way as an adult and may not always need the same services as an adult. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester said, the lessons of Rochdale show that too many agencies do not always see children as victims. There, I am afraid that the police and some other agencies saw them as perpetrators. That is absolutely unacceptable.

I apologise again to the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, but I am picking up on the arguments she made about the lack of sympathy from officialdom and police. She went on to argue that it is important that people recognise that these children are victims. But this is not about sympathy; it is about getting help and support for these children. Sympathy may be part of it, but these amendments are not put forward to get sympathy for children; it is to change their lives, and to recognise that they are victims and will need specific services thereafter.

I am mindful of Nicky Campbell and others who were abused at the schools he attended and how their experience of not getting support early in their lives has affected them for their entire lives. This is not just an issue about children; it is about how those children grow up and manage their own lives. As I said at the end of the previous group, one can save money in the longer run on services by ensuring that victims—in this case child victims—get support as early as possible.

Finally, I echo the points made by my noble friend Lady Hamwee in Amendment 7 on the child victims of modern slavery or human trafficking. Hestia’s briefing was very helpful in reminding us that everyone in a family unit, especially the children, is affected by modern slavery and human trafficking, the consequences of which have long-standing impacts. So it is becoming clear from all parts of the House again that we need a separate definition of child victims. Their experiences, needs and the services they seek are all different.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this very important debate on how we assist, support, improve, validate and value children who have suffered various kinds of abuse. The question—I respectfully suggest it is a somewhat technical question—is whether we need to amend this Bill, whether we should do it through further sections of the code, and how we should approach the problem.

The Government’s position at the moment is that a child who is a victim of abuse and exploitation which constitutes criminal conduct is already a victim under the Bill. So the large numbers of children, rightly referred to, who have apparently suffered domestic abuse in the past—children who have been through the recent domestic abuse inquiry and so forth—would, in the ordinary meaning of words, I think, have been subject to criminal conduct under Clause 1(1)(a). As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, pointed out, a child is undoubtedly a person, and the Government’s position is that this is very largely covered.

The phrase “child criminal exploitation” in itself implies someone who has been exploited by criminal conduct—which is already covered. So I hesitate to recommend to your Lordships that we need to further complicate the Bill itself, or the Act as it will eventually become, one hopes, by having further definitions. I accept the point made by my noble friend Lady Sanderson that there probably is some confusion at the moment in some of the guidance out there, and there is probably a great deal of inconsistency in how it is applied by different authorities in different parts of the country. As I said earlier, one of the purposes of the Bill is to ensure a much more even and consistent approach across the country by all relevant agencies.

It is important to clarify two things—and I respectfully suggest we should do this in the code rather than the Bill. The first is that we need, perhaps, to clarify that the phrase “criminal conduct” in the Bill does not imply that there has been a prosecution, let alone a conviction. It is whether, on the facts, this is a person who has suffered from the relevant conduct. Secondly, I suggest to your Lordships—and I cannot officially commit the Government tonight because I do not have the authority to do so—that we need when revising the code to have a detailed section on children, and special reference to the particular problems that have been rightly raised tonight, so that everybody has full guidance on what they are supposed to do with child victims of various kinds. That is probably a more apt way of proceeding than trying to redefine what we are talking about in the Bill. With the greatest respect, I suggest that “child criminal exploitation” is a somewhat difficult concept to define.

I could add that the act of manipulating, deceiving, encouraging, coercing or controlling a child almost certainly amounts to a criminal offence in itself—it does under Part 1 of the Modern Slavery Act, and we have been talking about modern slavery. We also have the wide terms under the Serious Crime Act 2007, in which encouraging or assisting an offence is also an offence. So I respectfully suggest that almost all the examples one can think of are already covered by the definition of “victim” in other Acts. At the moment the Government are not persuaded that we should be tinkering further with this particular definition, but I see the force of the argument that we need to have special mention and explanation as regards children when we come to revise the code and the guidance that accompanies it, and the duties of the various agencies to provide their services.

I suggest that the same broad analysis covers the important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in relation to verbal abuse. It is already in Clause (1)(4)(a) that “harm” includes physical, mental, emotional or economic harm. I think that most kinds of verbal abuse are covered—but, again, this is a matter that is more for the way one drafts the code than it is for the Bill itself. That would be, I think, the Government’s position at the moment.

Similarly, Amendments 7 and 11 talk about children as victims of modern slavery—or the children of persons who are themselves victims of modern slavery. Again, in broad terms, that seems to be a situation in which there is almost certainly relevant criminal conduct anyway. This already applies

“where the person has seen, heard, or otherwise directly experienced the effects of, criminal conduct at the time the conduct occurred”.

I fully agree that there may be a question if one is talking about much later on in the cycle of the victim, as it were, but the Government’s general position is that this is a matter for the code and not for changing the Bill’s definition.

On the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, the consequences of rape and other matters may be covered by Clause 1(2)(b), which concerns

“where the person’s birth was the direct result of criminal conduct”.

That probably deals with many of the circumstances that the noble Baroness had in mind.

I regret to say that I cannot comment this evening on the question about child spies from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I will revert to her in due course, if I may. I hope that I have set out, at least in outline, the Government’s position.

My Lords, I did not quite catch what the Minister said when referring to Clause 1(2)(a). Was he saying that a child who is the child of a victim of modern slavery will fall within

“seen, heard, or otherwise directly experienced”?

I am not sure what “directly experienced” extends to. Is his argument that the child of a victim of this particular crime would fall under Clause 1(2)(a)? I am sorry; the Minister talked about it but I did not quite hear.

My Lords, I think that is the Government’s position. In most cases the child will experience the effect of criminal conduct, that being the effect on the mother. That is a sufficiently direct nexus, as it were, to bring it within the scope of the clause.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. The gist of the Minister’s summing up is that he believes that all the examples given in this short debate are already covered in the Bill. I think he said that there may be a detailed section in the code covering children; I understand that that was not a firm commitment but, nevertheless, it is a step forward.

The Minister gave a number of examples of why the Government want a more explicit recognition, but I gave a specific example where I argued that the black-letter law on the recognition of children could—and does—affect the accessibility of victims’ services. When local authorities look at how to allocate services, there is potentially a hierarchy there. We think that children should be at the top of that hierarchy, equal to domestic abuse victims; that was the specific example that I gave to the Minister.

Nevertheless, this has been an interesting debate on which I and others will reflect. I agreed with every word of what the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said about my noble friend Lord Hunt’s amendment. He clearly tabled it to raise awareness—one of the Minister’s four As—and he has effectively achieved that goal. I will be interested to see whether he wishes to take it further. For now, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendments 6 to 11 not moved.

Clause 1 agreed.

Clause 2: The victims’ code

Amendment 12 not moved.

Amendment 13

Moved by

13: Clause 2, page 2, line 27, at end insert “, including where there are or were multiple perpetrators”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to ensure that all victims can request a review of a police or Crown Prosecution Service decision not to charge a suspect including when there are multiple perpetrators.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests as set out in the register, particularly as CEO of the Muslim Women’s Network UK, which operates a national helpline. I will speak to Amendment 13 in my name; I also support the other amendments in this group, which I will address at the end.

The purpose of my amendment is to ensure that all victims have an equal right to have the police or CPS decision reviewed when suspects are not charged. Not all victims will exercise this right, but it must be available to all victims if their voices are truly to be heard in the criminal justice system. At present, some victims do not have the same right to review a decision. For example, when there is one suspect and they are not charged, there is a right to review the decision. When there are multiple suspects and none of them is charged, there is a right to review the decision. However, if there is more than one suspect and some of them are not charged while others are, the victim cannot ask for a review into why the other suspects were not charged. This creates a hierarchy of victims.

I will explain how I stumbled on this gap in the law. The Muslim Women’s Network helpline supported a south Asian Muslim teenager who had been groomed and sexually exploited. She was raped by a gang of men. With the support of the helpline and her family, she reported the crime to the police, which was very difficult for her as she came from a south Asian background. The culture of shame and honour could have been a huge barrier to reporting, but she did it. The police then arrested several men, but ended up charging only one of the suspects. This was a huge shock to the victim, her family and the helpline. She then decided to try to get the decision reviewed but was told that she could not, for the reasons I have stated. She lost trust and confidence in the process, which led to her eventually dropping the case against the one perpetrator, so she got no justice at all.

I do not believe that this is an isolated case. We already know that rape convictions are extremely low, even in simpler cases where there is just one suspect, so one can imagine the conviction rates in more complex cases where there are multiple perpetrators. It is very plausible that this current loophole is contributing to victims dropping cases. Although I am using rape cases as an example to highlight the gap for reviewing decisions, this can also apply to many other scenarios in which more than one perpetrator is involved in the crime, such as anti-social behaviour.

I thank the Minister for listening to my concerns. We have exchanged letters and he has committed to explore this issue further with the CPS and the police. However, I believe they will continue to follow the current legislation, which has been adopted from the EU. Unless this is changed, it is in their interests to continue with the status quo rather than to follow non-binding policies.

Bringing multiple perpetrators requires more work because there needs to be more evidence gathering. It can be easier for the police and the CPS to say, “Well, we are only charging one person and not the others”, knowing that the victim cannot appeal this decision. That will mean less work for the police.

Police forces have already been heavily criticised for the way that they treat and investigate sex abuse crimes. The loophole therefore works in favour of the police and against the victim. One explanation that has been provided for not reviewing decisions is that if some suspects are not charged, and this is then reviewed, it could delay prosecution, which, in turn, can result in witnesses and victims withdrawing from the case. However, this theory has not and cannot be tested, because victims cannot review the decisions. In fact, this very mechanism has resulted in the withdrawal of cases, such as the case study that I provided today.

Earlier, on the first group of amendments, the Minister talked about thresholds being crossed and victims having a right to certain processes. This speaks to one of the As, of accountability. Therefore, how will the victim know? That is why the victim’s right to review exists. Some victims have had their decision reviewed, the decision has then been overturned and suspects have been charged, which means perhaps that the police have not charged suspects despite thresholds being crossed.

I understand that the Minister is exploring other potential routes outside the Bill; for example, challenging decisions by going through some kind of complaints process where a senior manager can review cases, thereby allowing reviews in certain exceptional circumstances. While I appreciate that the Minister is actively considering other options, I believe that this measure would not work for the following reasons. It would be a subjective process which would vary widely across the regions. It would add another separate process and yet another barrier for the victims. The message then being sent to the victims would be, “Well, the decision would only be reviewed in exceptional circumstances, so don’t bother”. Also, we would then have to have a definition of what we mean by “exceptional circumstances”. Alternatively, we could just simplify the process with this amendment, so that all victims followed the same process. I therefore urge the Minister to reconsider his options.

I end by stating my support for the other amendments in this group. I support them because from my experience of operating a national helpline I have found that victims need more support—to be referred and signposted to specialist services that meet their needs and to restorative justice services. There is also a particular information gap when it comes to minority-ethnic victims, because service users have informed the Muslim Women’s Network helpline—when they have eventually found us—that they were not informed about the service. They were not informed or made aware of the victims’ code, nor of the restorative justice service.

I therefore look forward to the comments and response from the Minister. I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to support Amendment 14. This amendment would ensure that all victims knew of and had access to restorative justice services. I am glad that it has the support of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who unfortunately has a long-standing speaking engagement this evening and sends his apologies, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I also add my support to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, whose effect is the same as mine, to ensure that restorative justice services are clearly in the Bill.

I will not repeat what I said at Second Reading in favour of restorative justice; instead, I will make two very brief points. First, research has shown that restorative justice is effective. It has been a benefit in two ways: one is the impact it has on the offender, reducing the likelihood that they will reoffend; the other is the impact on the victim. For example, restorative justice has been shown to bring satisfaction to victims in reducing stress and trauma. Interestingly, victims found that apologies were more important than restoration.

RJ has proven effectiveness; however, awareness of it and its availability are not as they should be. Research commissioned by the APPG on Restorative Justice showed that there is a postcode lottery and a number of factors resulting in RJ not being taken up in the way that it might be. For that reason, there needs to be a statutory duty on authorities in the criminal justice system to ensure that it is available for those who wish to make use of it.

When this amendment was introduced in the other place by the Member for Carshalton and Wallington, the Minister responded by saying:

“First, we must be cautious of a general entitlement to access to restorative justice. That would not always be appropriate because offenders must voluntarily agree to participate”.

There is a fault in logic there. A general entitlement to make use of RJ in no way takes away from the sine qua non of the victim’s agreement. It is entirely up to the victim as to whether they think it might be helpful to them. That said, what matters is that RJ is available, and known to be available, right across the criminal justice system.

The Minister in the other place was sympathetic to RJ and said something about what could be done in the code to make it better known. That is welcome so far as it goes, but it does not go far enough. RJ has proven benefits, especially for victims, and to ensure its availability is known, I believe that it should be part of the Bill. The Minister in the other place also said:

“Specifying different types of support services in primary legislation might, we fear, inadvertently narrow the current broad coverage”.—[Official Report, Commons, Victims and Prisoners Bill Committee, 27/6/23; col. 206.]

I do not see why that follows at all. Different kinds of support service, including RJ, could be mentioned without in the least suggesting that this is a closed list of what is available.

I very much hope that the Government will accept this amendment. They know of the value of RJ; what we need to ensure is that victims know of its availability and accessibility right across the system. The way to ensure that is to make it part of the Bill. Earlier in the debate, the Minister set out his four As: awareness, accessibility, accountability and affordability. I suggest that, if RJ were part of the Bill, people would be more aware it, it would be more accessible and those responsible for administering the system would feel more accountable for it. While it might cost more if more people took it up, it would surely be a good thing if that made victims feel more satisfied, and it would reduce reoffending.

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendment 15 in my name. I also offer my support to the other amendments, not least that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, which seems to be an uncontroversial proposal that simply corrects a lacuna in the Bill.

One of my abiding mantras is that there is no such thing in our society as a hard-to-reach group. What we have—and have all too often—are services that fail to make sufficient effort to ensure they reach all those they are intended to assist. It is not good enough for a service to exist; the people it is meant to support have to know it is there and be able to access it. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, spoke powerfully earlier this evening. I gather that she spoke at a Women and Equalities Committee oral evidence session where she emphasised that many victims are unaware of the support services available to them. I will not go any further, because I think she may want to speak in a moment; I will not steal her thunder.

The intention of the amendment in my name is to make it clear that responsibility for ensuring that victims can access services does not lie with the potential service user. We need it in the Bill because too many victims are simply not aware of what they ought to be able to look for for help—or they cannot access that help in a format that meets their needs.

I gather that in the other place the Minister claimed that the duty on criminal justice agencies to use reasonable steps to make victims aware of the code would suffice. Yet signposting is much more than enabling someone to know that a service exists. It means putting them in a place from where they can access the service. Sometimes that cannot be done by a leaflet, however good, or a few words spoken to a traumatised victim in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy. It requires enduring engagement by service providers until the message can be heard, and that may be some considerable time later.

The Women’s Aid Survivor’s Handbook provides a clear example of what practical support should be included. Such support can be a lifeline to victims of abuse who, for example, may be planning to leave their perpetrator. The ability to access thorough information on a full range of issues, with easy-to-follow guidance, is crucial. It is also imperative that black and minoritised women, deaf and disabled women and LGBT+ victims are able to access support that meets their very specific needs and is sensitive to their experiences of additional inequalities and intersecting forms of discrimination. Victims should also be made aware of the range of helplines and online support, including the Women’s Aid live chat helpline and other appropriate domestic abuse and violence against women and girls support. Simply saying that there is a code will not bridge the gap between the victim and the service they need. I hope the Minister will feel able to offer proposals to strengthen the signposting requirements in the Bill ahead of Report.

I finish by recollecting that exactly one week ago in your Lordships’ House we debated, for a good hour and a half, what makes for good signage and who is responsible for it. Specifically, we discussed changes to the requirements placed on warning signs for level crossings between private or heritage railways and farm tracks—it was more interesting than you might imagine. Surely if we can improve signage to help a farmer get his sheep across a railway track, we can properly sign victims to the services they need.

My Lords, I will not follow the right reverend Prelate down the byways of Manchester, or the sheep farmers and their signposts, but I support him and indeed the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, in the thrust of the amendments that they have introduced. I am part of a catholic gathering which supports the amendments tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord. I do it because I think it is a sensible, practical thing to do, but also because I have seen it work.

Many years ago, when I was the shadow Minister for Prisons in the other place and my noble friend Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton was the leader of the Opposition, I visited a huge number of prisons. I think I visited about 75 of the 145-odd prisons, secure training units and young offender institutions in England and Wales, and in a number of prisons, certainly adult prisons in London, in Wales and in other parts of England, I saw restorative justice in action.

It is a delicate process and one needs to be very careful that it is, as the amendment tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, makes clear, carried out where appropriate and that it is available where appropriate. Not every victim is ready to enter into a conversation with the person who committed a crime against them. I have been in the room when RJ took place between prisoners and the victims of murder, the victims of serious violence and the victims of domestic burglary. It takes a very strong person to go into a room and listen to the explanation, the apology, the regret of a prisoner who has killed your husband or your son or your daughter. You need to be very strong and very brave. Equally—I suppose to some extent it is easier because there is, if you like, an advantage to the prisoner to be seen to be behaving in a humane way—I think it is fair to say that for many of the prisoners, some of whom were not very articulate, who had not been educated and who had many social, economic and other disadvantages, it was quite brave of them to come to terms with the horrific things that they had done. So I think “appropriate” is the most important word in the amendment tabled by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries.

Also, tailoring the scheme, or the particular episode of restorative justice, to the needs of that particular victim is so important. It is not just a blanket answer: putting two people in a room with a presider, if you like, to make sure that it goes well. You need to think about it extremely carefully and treat the individuals concerned extremely carefully; it cannot be forced and it cannot be rushed.

But I believe that restorative justice is a hugely important factor in the reduction of crime and recidivism. It brings together people who have been perpetrators and those who have been victims in what can only be a traumatic experience—namely, the experience of the crime but also the experience of meeting the person who committed the crime against you or a loved one.

I am delighted that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, has tabled his amendment, as I am that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, have tabled theirs. This is a subject which has been discussed many times but has never been properly resolved. It has to some extent been seen as a luxury add-on to the criminal justice system; it is not—it is vital and fundamental in the appropriate cases. I say this as someone who has looked at the practical effects of it not only as a shadow Minister but also as a trustee of the Prison Reform Trust, which has been well-invested in this aspect of the criminal justice system.

Finally, I thank the noble Baroness for tabling her Amendment 13. I thought I knew quite a lot about the criminal justice system, but I had absolutely no idea that the oddity she highlighted this evening existed. It needs correcting.

My Lords, it is perhaps particularly appropriate that I follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, as a way of highlighting the fact that the amendments in this group addressing restorative justice, a number of which are in my name but have already been introduced by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, are not party-political. This is a conviction, understanding and belief that goes right across the political spectrum and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, said, has arisen from practical experience. Speaking to other noble Lords in the Corridor who have seen my amendments, I have had many people who said, “I wasn’t really convinced and then I saw restorative justice in action, and now I am totally a convert to this idea”. The Government are getting a clear message from right across your Lordships’ Committee that, as the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, said, what was said in the other place—the idea that “Oh, we can put something in the code”—really is not going to do it; we need this in the Bill as a step forward.

I went through this at Second Reading, so I will not repeat it all, but if we look at what the Government are offering now, in their wording is a suggestion that restorative justice is nice when we can find the resources, so you might be lucky enough that there might be the resources available in your area or you might not. That is simply not good enough.

Briefly, I agree very much with all the amendments in this group and echo the comments about Amendment 13. The noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, has found something that the Government can surely pick up, because it so obviously needs to be sorted out.

Going through my Amendments 16, 22, 32 and 52, I acknowledge that in preparing for this I had considerable support from the Restorative Justice for All international institute. There are some minor differences between Amendments 14 and 16. I do not necessarily agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, that the words “and, where appropriate” need to be in there. My amendment says that victims

“should be able to access”—

but this is a fine legal point, and I am not particularly attached to one wording or the other in Amendment 14 or 16. What we are saying here may not be entirely fashionable. We are focusing on giving victims the choice and the opportunity to access restorative justice.

This is covered by two international agreements—as I said, possibly not a very fashionable thing to say to the Government, but I will anyway—the EU victims’ directive 2012/29 and the Council of Europe recommendation CM/Rec (2018)8. These two substantial international agreements establish the right to restorative justice as a complement to traditional criminal justice proceedings or as an alternative to them.

My Amendment 22 would introduce something to the Bill and into UK law. I stress that I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that we do not have a substantive definition of restorative justice. I am not going to say that this is the substantive definition, but I put to the Government and your Lordships that we should set out exactly what this means. This is a process that enables those harmed by crime and those responsible for their harm, if they both freely consent, to participate actively in the resolution of matters arising from the offence. Picking up the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, this is something that requires real skill, understanding and wisdom to facilitate, and so should be done through the help of a trained and impartial third party.

Amendment 32, also in my name, picks up a point reflecting what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was saying. It is no use having something there unless people know that it is available to them. That does not mean someone just being handed a leaflet, as the right reverend Prelate said; it means people being genuinely signposted and having this explained to them. Restorative justice may be a term that people are entirely unfamiliar with. The right to be signposted towards it needs to be in the Bill.

Finally, Amendment 52 makes this complete package in terms of restorative justice, and states:

“The Secretary of State must issue guidance about restorative justice service providers”,

their roles, services and standards, and ensure that it is offered. This is creating a responsibility for the Government in the Bill which I think is very clear. Picking up the point from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, we have an enormous problem with our massively overcrowded prisons. We have a problem with crime and recidivism. In the context that we are talking about in this Bill, this is a service for victims that can be of great help and support to them. It can also help all of our society and address some of the pressing issues that we all now face.

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group. I want to say a few words about restorative justice but, before I do, I give my support to the noble Baroness, Lady Gohir, on what she has just said. I am happy to help and assist in whatever way I can.

I acknowledge that this does not apply to all victims, but for some victims, restorative justice can be a transformative tool that can empower victims to move forward. Over the years, I have met many victims who have given me their true thoughts on restorative justice. In my last term as Victims’ Commissioner, I published two reports on restorative justice and was satisfied from my findings that the majority of victims that I spoke to who had participated in it had found it to be a positive experience. However, the ONS crime survey for England and Wales in 2019-20 found that just 5.5% of victims were given the opportunity to meet the offender. Between 2010 and 2020, this percentage has not increased above 8.7%, while 26% said that they would have accepted an offer to meet the offender if it had been made.

Funding for RJ is no longer ring-fenced by the MoJ. Police and crime commissioners make the decisions on how much they spend on RJ from their victims budgets. This has led to a wide variation across England and Wales in the provision of services, as we have heard. In 2023, the Why me? charity published a report showing that the lowest reported spending by a PCC on such services was £6,250, while the highest was £397,412. The type of crime where RJ is available varies, as do the conditions of service provision.

Data collection on the provision of RJ is poor, preventing effective monitoring of what is happening on the ground if national criminal justice agencies are unsure as to what they are required to do. For example, the HMPPS guidance issued last year states:

“When a victim … requests information about restorative justice services, the VLO must provide it within ten working days”.

This is not in line with the victims’ code of practice, which includes the right to receive information about RJ and how to access RJ services. It does not depend on whether the victim has requested it. In short, access to restorative justice has become a postcode lottery.

I hope, therefore, that these amendments and the debates that we have heard across the Chamber will prompt the Minister to give this House reassurance that such concerns about the provision of RJ are, and must be, seriously addressed. Lots of money has been spent, and it would be so sad not to carry on when victims would like to have that option.

My Lords, I also support the importance of providing for restorative justice. I had a look at the current code of practice to see what it has to say. I was a bit surprised that a paragraph referring to RJ, which is obviously deliberately separated from the right to access support services generally, starts:

“If you report a crime to the police, you have the Right to be referred to a service that supports victims, including Restorative Justice services”.

I do not know whether this is a real point or a non-point, since the offender has to be involved by definition and, by definition, the offender would have been reported to the police, but it seems to me to be inconsistent with Clause 1(5) and the whole ethos of the Bill. I was not clear either whether paragraph 4.5 in the code is dependent on being entitled to receive enhanced rights—ER—for victims who are considered vulnerable or intimidated, the victims of most serious crime or persistently targeted.

The debate is, to an extent, that crime has been defined at different levels: it has been for serious crime, but I argue that it is not only the most serious crimes for which RJ is appropriate. I was glad that the noble and right reverend Lord mentioned reducing reoffending because, looking at the whole picture, that is a very serious and important aspect. My name is to his amendment, and the noble Baroness’s amendments appeared without giving me time to do that.

In this group, I have Amendment 17, to provide for a single point of contact—a “victim care hub” was the term used by the London victims’ commissioner, who was particularly keen that we should address this, as you would expect from her own experience.

On the usual issue of timely and effective communication, there are other amendments dealing with another aspect of this, which is that justice agencies are struggling to deliver victim care with awareness and in compliance with the victims’ code, which the London victims’ commissioner said was at seriously low levels.

In the 2019 review into the code, the Victims’ Commissioner for London recommended a victim hub model. We have had reference this evening to the Lighthouse in Camden, and she also refers to the lighthouse model in Avon and Somerset—a single point of contact to help a victim throughout the process. Such a model would secure more effective compliance with the code, which was discussed by many noble Lords at Second Reading.

In June 2022, the office of the Victims’ Commissioner launched a victims’ survey. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is nodding. This dealt with experiences as a victim of crime, ran for eight weeks and gathered 489 responses from self-selecting individuals. All this bears out what we have been referring to: a lot of dissatisfaction, and a lack of confidence in the system. I understand that less than a third of respondents were aware of the victims’ code. In London, a user satisfaction survey for one quarter in 2022-23 showed only 25% of victims being made aware of the code.

What would a hub do? Such a service would provide a single point of contact, key updates on case progression, information and advice; answer questions; refer on to specialist support—signposting by another name, although perhaps referring is more than just signposting—and ensure and monitor that entitlements under the code are being delivered. This would not replace existing support services but would be a navigator; perhaps that is close to signposting. It would also provide information on what to expect and clarity, and simplify the whole thing.

I am conscious of the time, so I will not go through all the case studies in the briefing, other than to make a few quick references. The commissioner refers to good practice in Quebec, where I understand there is a similar model: the support worker—I do not know if that is the right term—is embedded in police stations and courts, which gives them access to computer systems and, hence, to victim records. I found the case studies quite shocking. I should not have, because from what noble Lords have said, we should all be expecting to hear shocking stories, but that is why we have the Bill. To me, to have a victim care hub seems blindingly obvious.

Debate on Amendment 13 adjourned.

House resumed.

House adjourned at 9.59 pm.