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Violence Against Women and Girls: Criminal Justice System Reform

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 18 October 2022

2. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (901680)

12. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (901692)

Since we published the end-to-end rape review, rape convictions have increased by 77% in the past year, and they are up by 30% on pre-pandemic levels. But there is much more to do, which is why, among other measures, we are more than quadrupling funding for victim support, to £192 million, and investing in increasing the number of independent sexual and domestic abuse advisers to 1,000 by 2024-25.

Crime is up, charges are down, criminals are getting off and victims are being let down—and that is just in the Met police. Yesterday, we saw the alarming weight of evidence from the Casey report, identifying structural misogyny, racism and homophobia in the Met, with thousands of serving police officers getting away with breaking the law. That cannot be a problem for the Met alone but goes across police forces. That culture explains the failures in our wider justice system, where sexism, racism and homophobia are unrecognised by police officers, and victims are not believed or supported. Unless those issues are addressed, we will never change the appalling low charge and conviction rates for rape and sexual assault, so will the Secretary of State—

Order. I am sorry, but I just said that we need to make progress. We cannot read speeches out; there has to be a question.

Will the Secretary of State look into whether this culture is symptomatic across police forces and take steps to ensure that victims get the justice that they deserve?

I thank the hon. Lady for her remarks; I have two observations on what she said. First, she talks about the Met police. The Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is the police and crime commissioner for the London police forces. I also ask her to direct her questions to the Home Office, which leads on these matters. Of course, we will play our part, which is why we are rolling out all the measures in the Crown courts to protect victims of sexual assault and rape, and there is a lot more to do.

Under this Conservative Government, people can be fined for cycling on the pavement but not for following a girl walking home from school. The problem is so widespread that research by Plan International revealed that one third of all schoolgirls have received unwanted sexual attention in their school uniform. For so many women, a lifetime of feeling unsafe on our streets starts in childhood. The Government continue to ignore the problem. Does the Minister agree that the law must be changed to criminalise street harassment?

I thank the hon. Lady, but I strongly disagree with her remark that we are ignoring the problem. As she will know from Home Office questions, in which we have had many exchanges over the Dispatch Boxes about that issue, the Home Office is leading on a review of the laws relating to street harassment—not to mention the significant amounts of funding that we have put in to local councils all over the country to keep women and girls safe at night.

Under the Ministry of Justice’s masterplan to increase the number of approved premises available, high-risk and very high-risk offenders could be located at Highfield House in Consett right in the centre of my local town, in a residential area near a lot of local youth facilities. Will the Minister meet me to discuss that, because it is quite inappropriate for the location that has been suggested?

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing his constituents’ concerns to the House and I would be delighted to meet him to discuss that in detail.

I, too, welcome the Secretary of State and his ministerial team to their place.

Under the Tories, we have seen rape prosecutions reach record lows, court backlogs reach record highs and victims waiting more than three years for justice, yet in his conference speech, the Justice Secretary did not announce any tangible ways to change that. Labour, on the other hand, would introduce specialist rape courts to drive up prosecutions, reduce delays and fast-track cases through the system. Does that not show that the Tories have run out of ideas and that it is only under Labour that the public can again have confidence in our criminal justice system?

It is lovely to have these exchanges across the Dispatch Boxes with the hon. Lady, and I am sure that we will have more of them, because it is in all our interests that we improve the criminal justice system and the response to rape. That is why, as she well knows, the work of the rape review is vital, and we have seen police referrals, Crown Prosecution Service charges and Crown court receipts increasing as a result of that vital work, driven by our law enforcement partners and the CPS. I draw her attention to two specific measures that we have introduced to assist: we have ended the criminal Bar strike, thanks to the efforts of the Lord Chancellor; and we have rolled out section 28 pre-recorded evidence to all Crown courts in the country to spare rape victims the trauma of live cross-questioning.