Domestic Abuse Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:14 pm on 2nd October 2019.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice 1:14 pm, 2nd October 2019

May I make a little progress? As I have said, I will be as generous as I can.

Can I take the House back 25 years to a case in the Crown court at Carmarthen that involved a young couple? The man was charged with assault against his wife. A young barrister had been given that case. That was me, and I remember seeing photographs of the victim’s injuries. I was 24, and not very worldly-wise. I looked at the photographs of that woman’s eyes, which were bloodshot and bruised. The police had got there in time to take photographs of the injuries—something of a rarity in those days—and I immediately thought that she had been a victim of a direct assault by punching, but I was wrong about that. She had been strangled—strangulation causes those types of injury.

The victim came to court. Frankly, I could not see what the defence was for the case, but my instructions were to plough on none the less. I saw a frightened and terrified woman having to come to this grand and rather old-fashioned court. Luckily, the judge was humane, sensible and sensitive, but there was a problem: the woman did not want to follow through and give evidence. The judge called her into court and called her to the stand because he was concerned about what was happening. He asked her to explain why she did not want to give evidence. She said that she still loved her partner, that she wanted to be with him and that she did not want to put him through the stress of a Crown court trial. With that, the case was over. He was acquitted, they went on their way, and I was left thinking, “Is that really the end?” Was it in fact just the beginning of the domestic abuse that we all recognise?

That story has haunted me all my professional life. The evidence shows that victims of domestic abuse will often have been a victim on dozens of occasions before they call the police or the authorities. Victims are suffering in silence, often for years, and we are unable to reach them.