Domestic Abuse Bill

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

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

The hon. Lady has given a powerful illustration of the importance of this order, because it can be run alongside a criminal conviction. So even if there is a suspended sentence, as in the case that she cited, an order can be passed—a DAPO—that will have its own criminal consequences. It gives that extra strength, that extra purchase, not just to the authorities but to the victim, to know that there is a mechanism by which the perpetrator can be held to account if they breach the terms. With respect, I think this is an important additional element, but I bear what the hon. Lady says very much in mind.

I want to ensure that we get these new orders right, so we need to make the whole process as simple as possible for victims, and also for the police and others when navigating it. I want these new orders to be effective in changing abusive behaviour and protecting victims. We shall pilot these provisions, therefore, in a small number of areas before rolling them out nationally, so that issues of the sort that the hon. Lady and others have raised can be ironed out and dealt with, to make the provisions as effective as possible. The worst thing to do in these circumstances—we have all been here before as legislators—is to talk nobly and grandly about our intentions, pass the legislation and then find that nothing has changed. When we do so, all we have done is to raise victims’ expectations, only to cruelly let them down. We are all responsible for that, so let us get this right.

If we are to strengthen the protection afforded to victims, we need to employ more measures to keep them safe. So, in addition to the DAPOs, the Bill seeks to build on two other preventive tools: the domestic violence disclosure scheme, which we all know as Clare’s law; and the polygraph testing of high-harm perpetrators.

Clare’s law has been in operation for over five years and I can see many Members—myself included—who campaigned very hard as Back Benchers to get that moving and to make a difference. It has been a success. Just to remind the House, the scheme has two elements: the right to ask and the right to know.

The right to ask allows an individual—or a relevant third party, such as a family member—to ask the police to check whether a partner, or ex-partner, has had a violent or abusive past. If police records show that an individual might be at risk of domestic abuse from their partner or ex-partner, the police can consider the disclosure of relevant information.

Under the right to know, the police may proactively decide to disclose information to keep a potential victim safe. In the year to March 2018, there were over 5,500 disclosures under that scheme—a welcome and encouraging statistic. However, I am clear, and the police accept this, that Clare’s law does not always operate as well as it should, which is why the Bill puts the guidance underpinning the scheme on a statutory footing, and places a duty on police forces to have regard to that guidance. We believe that will help to raise awareness of the scheme, increase the number of disclosures and ensure greater consistency across England and Wales.

I acknowledge that, in contrast to the rest of the Bill, there has been a degree of scepticism about polygraph testing, including from the Joint Committee, but I can assure the House that it is not a panacea—it is not a gimmick; it is a genuine attempt better to protect victims. I will tell the House why. It has been used successfully in the management of sexual offenders for the past six years. In that context, it has been shown conclusively that polygraph examinations provide useful information—useful intelligence—including what is disclosed by the offender, to help those responsible for supervision better to manage the risk of reoffending.

Given that evidence, I suggest that we at least test whether there are similar benefits to be secured in the management of high-risk domestic abuse offenders. To that end, the Bill allows the National Probation Service to conduct a three-year pilot among that cohort and, if successful, to roll the scheme out.