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Violence against Women and Girls

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 12 September 2023

3. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (906330)

10. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (906338)

12. What steps his Department is taking to reform the criminal justice system to help tackle violence against women and girls. (906340)

The crimes associated with VAWG are abhorrent, which is why we have already taken significant action to strengthen the criminal justice system’s response to it, including for example through our end-to-end rape review, driving up prosecutions, and the introduction of new protections for victims through the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021. Much has been done, but we are ambitious in wanting to go further.

I understand what the Minister is saying, but it takes two years or more for rape cases to come to court, and 69% of victims withdraw from the cases before they come to trial. Has the Minister had the chance to look at our proposal for specialist rape courts in every Crown court in the country?

I crave your indulgence, Mr Speaker. May I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin), who shadowed me for some time, and to the hon. Member for Lewisham West and Penge (Ellie Reeves), who also did so? I wish them both well, although given the latter’s election co-ordination role, hopefully not too well.

It remains our priority to deliver swifter access to justice for victims of rape. As the hon. Gentleman says, the experience of attending court is incredibly difficult for them. That is why we have committed to increasing the number of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers to more than 1,000 over the next three years. In June 2022, we announced our ambitious specialist sexual violence support project in three Crown courts, aimed at improving facilities and technology.

On the hon. Gentleman’s specific question, I would urge a degree of caution on those proposals. Listing is a judicial prerogative, and it is important we retain flexibility in the use of the court estate to maximise the use of courts and judges’ time for a range of offences and to meet the needs of the courts.

The independent inquiry into child sexual abuse recognised the issues with the criminal justice system and said:

“The length of time taken to investigate and prosecute child sexual abuse cases was…a matter of significant concern. Delay within the criminal justice system can add to the harm caused by sexual abuse”.

The experience of a constituent I am helping suggests that is still the case. What mandatory training for court, judicial and other criminal justice is available to ensure that they appropriately support people who have been subject to this abuse?

It is nice to see the hon. Lady in her place and it is always a pleasure to answer questions from her. She highlights an important issue raised by IICSA and historic and current child sexual abuse. It is worth remembering that the investigation of such crimes can be lengthy because of the complexities of the crimes and of obtaining evidence. While training for the judiciary and courts is a matter for the judiciary and the Judicial College rather than for the Government, we have been investing in training, as have police forces, across a range of specialisms, including handling child sexual abuse cases. It is important that they are handled with sensitivity and with an understanding of the impact that the trauma has had on those who are victims, and indeed also those who are witnesses. She touched on a specific case and I am happy to engage with her outwith the Chamber if that would be helpful.

According to the latest research, rape charges are taking longer to be brought forward; the average time a victim has to wait for their attacker to be charged—just charged—is now 400 days, over a year. That is disgraceful, and the situation is getting worse. When will Ministers speed up the process and give women, girls and all victims of rape across England and Wales the justice they deserve?

The hon. Lady is right to highlight the importance of timeliness. One of the key aims of Operation Soteria—the new model for investigating rape and serious sexual offences that is being rolled out to all police forces in the coming months—is to improve timeliness. Investigations in this space are, of necessity, often complex and can take a long time. The number of rape convictions is at or around the level it was in 2010. Now, the number of cases passed by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service for charge is up 130%. The number of cases charged is up more than 90%, and the number of cases received in the Crown court is up by more than 120%. Much has been achieved, but she is right to highlight that there is always more that we can and should do in this important space.

To tackle violence against women and girls, we need a criminal justice system that works. Part of that is having laws that are up to date to deal with the issues that women face today. I had the pleasure of working with my right hon. Friend the Minister on amendments to the Online Safety Bill that will make it a criminal offence to post intimate images online without consent, but he, I and others know that there are still gaps in the law when it comes to the making of those images. Will he give us an indication of when the Government intend to bring forward further legislation, not only to deal with that, but to keep online safety under constant review?

It has been a pleasure to work with my right hon. Friend on those amendments to the Online Safety Bill, which returns to the Commons today. She is right to highlight the rapidly changing environment that we are legislating for and the need therefore to keep things under constant review. Although she tempts me, I shall resist the temptation to speculate on a forthcoming King’s Speech or any future legislative announcements. What I will say, which I hope will give her some reassurance, is that we have been clear that, as soon as legislative time can be found, the Government are committed to implementing the full package of measures in the Law Commission report.