Category: Domestic Violence

Lord Sheikh’s Written Parliamentary Question on Domestic Violence

Question:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what percentage of people seeking asylum in the UK are doing so because they are fleeing domestic violence. (HL576)

Answer:
Baroness Williams of Trafford:
The Home Office does not record the information in such a way that allows us to report on what percentage of people seeking asylum in the UK are doing so because they are fleeing domestic violence.

 

Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill

My Lords, I begin my remarks by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on presenting this Bill to the House. I warmly welcome the opportunity to debate it and I am a strong supporterof measures which assist the prosecution of people who hurt children or vulnerable adults and those who stand by and allow such acts.

Maintaining a wall of silence should not be a way to escape responsibility for perpetrating or allowing truly horrible offences against children or vulnerable adults in their own homes. This issue is one in which I have long taken an active interest. We should all want to do what we can to ensure that those who stand by or carry out abuse are not able to evade justice by passing the buck.

I recall well the background which led to the passing of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. I commend the continuing work done by the NSPCC in highlighting the problem of securing convictions when a child dies or is seriously injured by parents or carers. I also want to place on record my appreciation of the work of the Law Commission, whose efforts have done much to bring this debate to where we are today.

Section 5 of the 2004 Act created the offence of causing or allowing the death of a child or vulnerable adult, but the offence is limited to incidents where the victim died of an unlawful act and applies only to those members of the household who had frequent contact with the victim. The household member must have caused the death or failed to take reasonable steps to protect the victim, and the victim must have been at significant risk of serious physical harm. Only those over 16 may be guilty, unless they are the mother or father of the victim.

At the time that the 2004 Act was debated, the Minister made clear that it was important to establish the new offence before consideration was given to extending its provisions. The Act has been widely considered to have worked well in practice and to have operated in the way intended. During the period 2005 to 2008, the offence was used successfully in prosecuting 17 people, including the mother of Baby Peter Connelly and her boyfriend and lodger. In that case, it was clear that one of those three was responsible for the death of the child, but the police were not able to prove which one. In consequence, all three were found guilty of causing or allowing his death. Noble Lords cannot have failed to notice the considerable public anguish which that case aroused in the country. It is not my argument that this Bill should be a response to that concern, but rather that this is an appropriate next step to protect the most vulnerable.

I acknowledge that some have expressed concerns about potentially criminalising those who are themselves vulnerable or victims of domestic violence. I am satisfied that the threshold of “reasonable steps” is adequate to protect people in those circumstances from unwarranted prosecution. I understand that the Crown Prosecution Service is actively supportive of attempts to extend the scope of the offence. Its data suggest that in 2010, in six areas there were as many as 20 cases that could not be prosecuted under existing arrangements, but which might be under the proposed new offence.

This Bill, by amending Section 5 of the 2004 Act, would widen its scope to include situations where children and vulnerable adults have been seriously harmed. The Bill will apply to cases of causing or allowing a child or an adult to suffer physical harm. Itwill apply to members of the victim’s household who have frequent contact with the victim and who should have been aware of the situation or who caused the injury or death. It must be established that there had been a history of violence and that the victim had been subjected to abuse and hence was in danger. It will not be necessary to establish whether the person who is accused was responsible for causing the death or serious physical harm or for allowing the death or serious physical harm.

Widening the scope is still very much in keeping with the spirit and objectives of the 2004 Act, and, I believe, is very much to be welcomed. In total, this represents a healthy package of measures which would be fair and proportionate and would provide strong protection for some of the most vulnerable people. I recognise that this is quite a complicated area in which to legislate and I understand the caution which was applied during earlier debates.

One outcome that I would like to see from this Bill is an improved ability to enable the person who caused the victim’s death to be identified so that they can be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter, if appropriate, but a conviction under Section 5 would not necessarily lead to a further prosecution. The offence could stand alone. I recognise that the measures contained in this Bill were given some consideration at the time that the 2004 Act was debated in this place. None the less, it is proper that we should give them further consideration now, and I offer my support to the noble Lord. We should not tolerate a situation where, on the basis that the victim has escaped death, a successful prosecution is endangered. This could arise, for example, where a victim might be too young to give evidence or might not be able to do so as a result of injury or fear.

I welcome the inclusion in the Bill of a maximum penalty for the extended Section 5 offence. We need to make sure that the punishment for the extended offence is proportionate to the harm caused. It is also appropriate that the definition of serious harm does not include psychiatric harm, as the risk of this would be much harder to identify, and we should not wish to deter people from caring for vulnerable adults for fear of prosecution for failing to foresee a psychiatric injury. I welcome the inclusion of transitional provisions in the Bill that will ensure that there is no retrospective effect for the extended offence. I believe that the proposed maximum of 10 years’ imprisonment for an offence of causing or allowing serious physical harm strikes the right balance, particularly in the context of a 14-year maximum sentence for causing or allowing death and when compared with sentences for other offences of grievous bodily harm.

We should all feel a heavy duty to do what we can to help the vulnerable in our society. Children and vulnerable adults have a right to feel safe and secure in their homes. Those at risk of serious physical harm from members of their own household should be able to look to the law for protection. The Bill is a useful step in that direction. I am pleased to offer the Bill my full support.

Crime: Domestic Violence

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to reduce waiting lists for rehabilitation programmes for the perpetrators of domestic violence.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to ensure that all perpetrators of domestic violence engage in mandatory rehabilitation programmes irrespective of the length of time they spend in prison.

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what extra funding and resources they are making available to agencies that provide rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators of domestic violence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): The National Offender Management Service is working to reduce waiting times by ensuring all staff are familiar with the referral criteria for perpetrators of domestic violence, and by improved liaison between the offender manager, the programme delivery team, and the court.

Probation areas are delivering more domestic violence programmes than ever before. Also, a further three domestic abuse programmes, which are currently being piloted, will extend the range of interventions available.

Directors of offender management have been appointed to commission services that meet the needs of offenders and sentencers in their area, and to further co-ordinate services across community and custody. To support commissioning a specification, benchmarking and costing exercise is under way which will help directors to maximise the effective use of resources in each of their regions. There are no additional resources being provided.

The National Offender Management Service is also working to further improve value for money by reducing administration and overheads, whilst protecting front-line services wherever possible.

There are currently no plans to make programmes mandatory for all perpetrators of domestic violence. Domestic abuse offenders have diverse needs, some of which can be met by other interventions. As such, not all perpetrators of domestic violence will be suitable for or benefit from the range of programmes that are available. However, there are a number of requirements which can be attached to community sentences or custodial licences, in addition to a supervision requirement, which may be effective for domestic abuse offenders.

Domestic abuse issues can also be addressed on a structured individual basis as well as within a domestic abuse programme. Any intervention with an offender should be completed within a framework of inter-agency collaboration and protection of known victims.

During the waiting period offenders are being supervised by offender managers, where applicable (under MAPPA arrangements), and may be subject to other requirements and are usually engaged in preparation work for the programme they are required to undertake.

 

Crime: Domestic Violence

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will assist other local authorities to introduce domestic violence schemes similar to the Living without Violence programme provided by Brighton & Hove City Council.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): We support the introduction of community-based perpetrator programmes. However, it is local partners who have the main responsibility for the services in their area. In our recently published strategy, Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls, we set out our commitments over the coming year to assist local areas to ensure that they have the appropriate service provision in place. This includes developing tools to assist areas to assess need and clear guidance for commissioners.

Crime: Domestic Violence

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to increase the amount of community services for victims of domestic violence.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): On 25 November, the Government launched Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls: A Strategy. In relation to service provision, the Government have committed to ensuring that violence against women and girls, including domestic violence, is mainstreamed into the joint strategic needs assessment process, enabling the identification of joint or aligned commissioning strategies in response to local needs.

While central government have a role in the provision of some services, the main responsibility for local services rests with local statutory partners who administer the bulk of budgets and the now devolved commissioning responsibilities.

We will continue to invest in specific domestic violence services such as national helplines, multi-agency risk assessment conferences (MARACs) and independent domestic violence advisers (IDVAs).

 

Crime: Domestic Violence

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address domestic violence, in light of its correlation with alcohol consumption.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): There are a number of alcohol arrest referral schemes in operation which aim to reduce reoffending among people arrested for alcohol-related offences. People who are arrested on suspicion of alcohol-related domestic violence in AAR pilot areas may be referred to a domestic violence specialist adviser and encouraged to address their behaviour and the consequences of their unsafe drinking. We will continue to work with our stakeholders to better understand the role that both alcohol and drugs play in contributing to incidents of domestic violence.

 

Crime: Domestic Violence

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to ensure that more people who are responsible for inflicting domestic abuse are dealt with by the criminal justice system.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): The Government’s national domestic violence delivery plan sets out our framework for tackling domestic violence. One of our objectives is to improve the justice system’s response to domestic violence by supporting victims and managing perpetrators. Activities which support the delivery of this objective include:

updating domestic violence training for the police and Crown Prosecution Service to ensure a consistent and appropriate response to victims;rolling out to all police forces the new risk assessment checklist which covers domestic violence, stalking and harassment and “honour”-based violence; andincreasing the number of the specialist domestic violence court systems to provide a multi-agency approach to supporting victims thereby bringing more offenders to justice.

We also recently published our government strategy Together We Can End Violence Against Women and Girls, which includes a section on the response of the criminal justice system. One of the priorities is to bring more offenders to justice by improving reporting and conviction rates. We are also currently considering a number of proposals submitted by Chief Constable Brian Moore which address perpetrators of violence towards women and girls and will provide a full response in the new year.

Crime: Domestic Violence

 

Lord Sheikh:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the level of domestic violence nationwide.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing the impact of domestic violence on victims and their families. The Government’s programme for tackling domestic violence can be found in the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan, which was published as part of the fourth national domestic violence annual report on 21 August 2009. I have arranged for a copy to be placed in the House Library.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does he support the view that a greater focus on educating perpetrators of domestic violence is necessary to reduce the domestic violence problem? Can the Government provide additional help for setting up and supporting such initiatives?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we take this matter extremely seriously. One of the biggest studies of violence against women and girls, following the violence against women and girls consultation, was published earlier this year. As a result, we are working with private groups, local councils and the police in a raft of areas to make progress with what is a most horrible crime. Some of the statistics in this area are quite awful.