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Domestic Violence

Volume 623: debated on Thursday 16 March 2017

3. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in prosecuting cases of domestic violence. (909273)

9. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on the effectiveness of the Crown Prosecution Service in prosecuting cases of domestic violence. (909281)

The Prime Minister has recently restated her personal, and the Government’s collective, commitment to tackling domestic violence and abuse. My colleagues in Cabinet and I will work together to take that forward. That work will include considering how we can support the CPS in bringing prosecutions against perpetrators of domestic violence.

Ashiana, which is a great Sheffield charity working on domestic violence in the black, Asian, minority ethnic and refugee communities, has raised its concerns with me over the appallingly low prosecution rates for female genital mutilation and honour-based violence. The Attorney General will know that there have been no successful prosecutions for FGM. I am sure he shares my concern about that, but what is he going to do about it?

I do share the hon. Gentleman’s concern about that. He may be aware that there are often considerable evidential difficulties in proving these offences in court, but that does not mean that we should not bring appropriate cases before criminal courts and seek to gain convictions. The Crown Prosecution Service will continue to do that. In relation to domestic violence more broadly, he may know that the volume and conviction rate of prosecutions are rising, on the basis of the last year for which we have figures compared with the year before, but he is right to point out specific areas where we need to do better.

Survivors of domestic abuse in my constituency in the excellent Safe Spots group tell me that right out of the gate, they cannot access the criminal justice system because they have to pay a discretionary fee to their doctor for a note to access legal aid, which can cost up to £175. Will the Attorney General consider talking to his Department of Health colleagues about whether we can scrap this fee for those people?

I will certainly explore the issue that the hon. Gentleman raises. I think he is indicating that there are a number of different things that we need to do to support those who are victims of domestic violence. This is not solely a criminal justice issue, but if people are to access the criminal justice system, we need to do as much as we can to make the process as easy it possibly can be for them. If victims of domestic violence are unwilling to give evidence, that should not necessarily be the end of a prosecution. We have seen recently with the use of body-worn video cameras that the police can sometimes give evidence that can secure a conviction, even if the victim is not prepared to give evidence.

Will the Attorney General work with the Justice Secretary to ensure that changes to the law on domestic abusers cross-examining their victims are fit for purpose, and that they adequately protect victims in our family courts?

Yes, I agree with my hon. Friend. He will know that in a criminal context, courts already have the authority to stop alleged domestic violence perpetrators cross-examining their alleged victims directly. Family courts need to have such a power, too. He will know, I am sure, that the Government intend to make sure that they do have that power, and I understand that that will form part of a Bill that will come before the House very shortly.