The first successful prosecution using the new offence of forced marriage was recorded earlier this year. Previously, the Crown Prosecution Service had to use offences such as assault and kidnap to address this serious issue. The CPS has provided legal guidance and learning support to its prosecutors on cases of forced marriage to raise their awareness of the issues involved, which includes the important work of joint workshops with the police in every CPS area to tackle this menace.
I thank my hon. and learned Friend for that answer. Clearly, we want to rid society of this scourge. Will he update the House on how many prosecutions have been brought to court and how many are in the pipeline?
From 2010, particular offences that involve forced marriage as a key element have been flagged by the CPS. I am happy to report that the volume of completed prosecutions in the last year, 2014-15, rose to 46, the highest ever. There is more work to be done, but the progress is encouraging.
Forced marriage is a scourge across many communities in the UK and I welcome the work undertaken by the Government on the Modern Slavery Act 2015. Will my hon. and learned Friend update the House on the work being carried out to bring this scourge to an end? What advice has been provided to young men and women who might be at risk of forced marriage?
The joint Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office forced marriage unit, which has been in operation for about 10 years, provides free and confidential advice on the dangers of being forced into marriage and the precautions that can be taken. It operates both here and overseas and last year gave advice and support in nearly 1,300 cases. I commend its work to the House.
I welcome my hon. Friend to the House. He brings a wealth of legal experience and I am grateful to him for his interest. He mentioned joint training courses; 14 London prosecutors attended last year’s joint training course, held with the Metropolitan police on forced marriage, honour-based violence and female genital mutilation. There is a specialist team of about 25 lawyers in London dealing with all Crown court cases that include elements of forced marriage and there are similar arrangements in magistrates courts.
Of the 1,271 cases, 11% involve victims who are under the age of 16. In the last Parliament, the Select Committee on Home Affairs specifically asked the Education Secretary to write to every headteacher to make them aware of this problem, especially before the summer holidays. Has this been done? If not, can it be done?
I do not have the information on whether that letter has been written, but I very much appreciate the importance of cross-governmental working to deal with this issue and, indeed, many others that, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, are cultural and need to be tackled head on rather than ignored.
Given that the forced marriage unit, which the Solicitor General rightly commended, is offering advice on some 1,300 cases, we are clearly only touching the tip of the iceberg with the number of cases that come to court. Is he certain that Crown prosecutors have the resources they need to deal with these complex cases and adequate training to understand the cultural and family backgrounds that might lead to victims wanting to withdraw the case?
The hon. Lady makes a proper point. I can reassure her that the degree of training and, importantly, the joint training that goes on with the police is very much understood by the Crown Prosecution Service. It applies not just to forced marriage, but to a range of offences in which cultural barriers and other issues can make it difficult for victims to come forward. It is well understood and I am glad to see that numbers continue to increase, but of course more work needs to be done.
Since the Modern Slavery Act came into force, there has been some limited success, but more has to be done to protect victims. What has been done to train staff in the public agencies to spot forced marriages?
I have dealt with training within the CPS and the police, but the hon. Gentleman makes a proper point about third-party agencies. In the case of young people it is an issue of safeguarding. Forced marriage is a form of child abuse and must be recognised as such. All agencies should be alert to this manifestation and make reports promptly and comprehensively.
Does the Solicitor General agree that the number of successful prosecutions on forced marriages, as with other offences, depends on there being a sufficient number of prosecutors with the time to make individual judgments on cases and to prepare properly for trial? Does the hon. and learned Gentleman agree that cutting the number of prosecutors in this Parliament and cutting funding for the Crown Prosecution Service is likely to be counterproductive?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his place—another experienced lawyer. The work that has been done by the Crown Prosecution Service in the past five years in removing excessive expenditure in the back office and concentrating on the front line has yielded results. I am absolutely confident that issues of resource will never get in the way of the proper investigation and prosecution of such allegations.