Sexual Offences

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 11th April 2019.

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Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on ensuring more effective prosecutions of cases involving rape and other sexual offences.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on ensuring more effective prosecutions of cases involving rape and other sexual offences.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The CPS has undertaken extensive work to ensure that specialist prosecutors are fully equipped to deal with the particular complexities of such cases, and I engage with it regularly about this topic. In March the Government announced a review of how the criminal justice system responds to rape and serious sexual offences. The CPS supports the review, and is committed to working closely with the police and others to address any issues highlighted by it.

Photo of Luke Pollard Luke Pollard Labour/Co-operative, Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport

Is there any guidance for the police or the CPS on access to victims’ data? It concerns me that victims of sexual abuse and rape are being subjected to trawls of their personal data—counselling, school and work data—before the CPS considers taking up their cases.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point. A natural and anxious debate is taking place about disclosure, but I can reassure the hon. Gentleman—and, indeed, all complainants and victims of crime—that “reasonable lines of inquiry” does not mean a reckless trawl through the private lives of entirely innocent individuals. That is not a good use of resources, and it is not what we are encouraging. We need a far more targeted line of inquiry, in accordance with both the law and the code of practice.

Photo of Thangam Debbonaire Thangam Debbonaire Opposition Whip (Commons)

Intimate partners and ex-partners are the largest single category of perpetrators of rape and sexual assault, which, in my experience of working with abusive men, are linked to outdated and, frankly, illegal attitudes to sex in relationships. What discussions is the Solicitor General having with his colleagues in the Department for Education about the content of the curriculum for relationships and sex education in schools?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for the work that she has done on this issue in the past. She is absolutely right to talk about the input of the Department for Education. I was delighted that the House overwhelmingly passed the new regulations on personal, social, health and economic education, because they deal with relationships properly, and will help young people to understand at an early age what that means and what their responsibilities are. I will continue to have conversations with colleagues in the DFE, and also, importantly, to ensure that the myth-busting that is already being delivered by judges and prosecutors in Crown court trials continues, so that jurors—along with everyone else who is involved in the system—do not have outdated misconceptions about these appalling crimes.

Photo of Theresa Villiers Theresa Villiers Conservative, Chipping Barnet

Millions of people in this country carry smartphones, which collect a huge amount of information on their activities. Will the Government take urgent action to ensure that the criminal justice system gets better at analysing that information? Otherwise, we will see many more collapses of trials.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

My right hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. She will be glad to know that, as part of the work that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General and I have done to publish a new report on disclosure, I will be chairing a tech summit in June to deal precisely with how we can make artificial intelligence work to help with the huge challenge of trawling through that sort of data.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

In cases where rape leads to pregnancy, does my hon. and learned Friend agree with the intention behind the 10-minute rule Bill introduced by Louise Haigh to remove parental rights from fathers of children conceived through rape?

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue with me. I regrettably have not had time to consider that Bill, but everyone in the House can agree that those who act criminally and break the law in a serious way should not expect to enjoy the same rights and privileges that the rest of us enjoy.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I am one of those who represents a constituency that has had this curse of the wicked grooming, mainly of young girls, by gangs—it has happened in more than a dozen cities and towns in this country. We still have not had an inquiry into the underlying causes and why this happened. The Crown Prosecution Service is under pressure to meet its responsibilities due to the lack of resources.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Solicitor-General

The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this deeply concerning issue. I am happy to report that there have been a number of successful prosecutions of gangs who engage in this despicable and criminal behaviour. That is as a result of a change of culture that means the victims of these crimes are taken far more seriously than they were even a few years ago. So there is progress.