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I begin, as always, by declaring an interest as a lawyer, a Crown court recorder and a part-time district judge. I wish to address an aspect of the Bill that has not yet been raised in any great detail-the clauses on domestic violence and domestic violence protection notices and orders. I wish to speak from a practical point of view and tell the House and the Minister-I have no expectation that the outside world, or even any other hon. Members, will have the slightest interest in what I say-about some problems that will need to be considered carefully in Committee.
We all agree that domestic violence is a very serious issue. The official figure for domestic violence is 14 per cent. of violent offences, but anecdotally it seems higher in the cases that have come before me. Such incidents usually involve a man being violent to a woman, although not always. They are, sadly, under-reported, but the Government have taken the issue seriously over the years. As well as introducing several important initiatives for the police, they have also set up specialist domestic violence courts. The Government recognise the importance of the issue and have tried to act on it as best they can.
I once heard it said that domestic violence is even worse than stranger-to-stranger violence, because it involves a breach of trust and therefore has a longer lasting impact. Be that as it may, we all agree that domestic violence is terrible, and everything that we can do as legislators to stop it should be done. We should punish those of either sex who are guilty of it.
However, I am not sure that the provisions in the Bill are necessary. The Government are nearly always well intentioned, but they have had a tendency to legislate a bit too much and forget about how the legislation will work in practice-what it will mean in extra bureaucracy for those who have to enforce it and what the results will be on the ground. I refer to clause 21 onwards and the provisions on domestic violence protection notices-the ability of the police to issue a notice to someone who has been violent or threatened violence to another in a domestic situation. Such a notice could have some nasty results for the person who received it. However, if we are dealing with violence-and the Bill specifically mentions someone who "has been violent towards" another, as well as threatening violence-I contend that we have enough provision in the criminal law to deal with the perpetrator, without adding another layer of statute.
Let us say that I am cohabiting with a woman and I am violent towards her, and she calls the police. The Bill would provide that I could be issued with a domestic violence protection notice, but the police can already arrest me, take me to the police station and charge me with a criminal offence. They can charge me with common assault, which is only triable summarily in a magistrates court and carries six months in prison. They could charge me with actual bodily harm, which is triable on indictment, or-if the violence is very nasty, with grievous bodily harm or malicious wounding with intent. If I threaten to kill my partner, they can charge me with threatening to kill. They cannot charge me under the Public Order Acts because those offences apply only outside dwellings, but they have several options for dealing with me. If the police are not happy with those options, they can move on to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997, which I think was introduced by this Government. It would apply if I had embarked on a course of threatening or abusive conduct-the Act requires such conduct to be carried out only twice before an offence is committed. That Act also gives the courts the fullest powers to impose non-molestation or restraining orders on me.
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