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Domestic Abuse: Victim Withdrawal

Volume 638: debated on Thursday 22 March 2018

2. What steps the Government are taking to reduce the level of victim withdrawal in cases involving domestic abuse. (904510)

4. What steps the Government are taking to reduce the level of victim withdrawal in cases involving domestic abuse. (904512)

The Government see the response to domestic abuse as a top priority. We want every victim to have full confidence in the justice system. When cases go to trial, a number of measures are already in place to support victims to give their best evidence. Where possible, we will take prosecutions forward without victims having to give evidence.

The new offence of coercive behaviour is an important reform that was introduced by the Government. What success has the CPS had in securing successful prosecutions under this new offence?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight this important reform that I managed to take through as part of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Between the commencement of the offence in December 2015 and April last year, more than 300 cases have been charged and reached a first hearing. That is progress. The offence also allows the police to intervene in relationships at an earlier stage than they have in the past.

Of course, the importance of the legal change is fundamental, as those of us who followed the story in “The Archers” are particularly aware. However, there is a technological solution to some of this as well. Will the Solicitor General join me in praising Kent police for its work in introducing body-worn cameras? That can mean that victims do not have to give evidence, ending the situation we so often find when they will not do so.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to mention body-worn cameras, which can, in a moment, capture the aftermath of an incident of domestic abuse, or indeed an ongoing incident. That often spares the victim from having to bear the complete burden of helping the prosecution to prove the case, or from having to give evidence at all.

Is the Solicitor General aware of the proposal that the Probation Board for Northern Ireland has announced today to introduce a 12-month programme, pre-sentence, for those who are engaged in domestic abuse? Will he consider the contents of that proposal and perhaps introduce it in England as well?

I will certainly be interested to consider the contents, although of course this is primarily a matter for my colleagues at the Ministry of Justice. I will say, however, that any programme of engagement with perpetrators needs to be very carefully calibrated. Such programmes can work, but more research needs to be done to make sure that we get it right.

Victim withdrawal is starting to become a problem in cases of revenge pornography, in respect of which the law was changed last year. What additional steps can we take to provide further support to victims to ensure that they get justice?

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise the issue of victim withdrawal. The consultation launched by the Government only a couple of weeks ago is looking at further ways to increase support, such as through a presumption that victims in domestic abuse cases will get special measures as opposed to having to demonstrate a particular vulnerability. All the measures that we take, such as preventing complainants from having to go to court by allowing them to give evidence via live link, need to be part of a continuing package. The message needs to go out that victims will not suffer in silence—they will be supported.

I have previously had exchanges with the Solicitor General about data collection. May I ask that in the case of revenge pornography, we now carefully collect data about the number of incidents reported, the number of prosecutions, and the numbers that are dealt with through fines, prison, community orders and harassment orders? In that way, we can monitor whether this is actually working.

The hon. Gentleman makes a proper point about the importance of data collection. The issue has been the need to disaggregate particular batches of data so that we understand them better. The CPS has certainly improved on that, and we have started to disaggregate in a number of areas. I will follow up on the specific matter of revenge pornography.