Nearly 10 years ago, one summer’s day, I remember sitting in a stifling hot room looking at a photograph of a cute, blond four-year-old boy who was beaming up at the camera. Nothing remarkable in that, you might think, and I expect that many of us have similar photographs of our own children smiling and laughing at the camera, just as they should be at that age, making happy memories. The difference on this occasion was that I was in court, sitting as a magistrate. The photograph had been taken by a police officer, and the little boy had an enormous black eye. He had been trying to protect his mother from being attacked by his father and had strayed too close to a flailing fist. He was just four years old, and he had already been subjected to more emotional and physical trauma than most of us can imagine. Domestic abuse is a crime and an abomination against victims and their families. It is a crime against our whole society. I have been lucky; I have never personally experienced it, but other Members of this House have done so, and they have spoken incredibly movingly about their experiences.
I will be supporting the Bill today, and I am proud that the Government are taking this lead. I pay tribute to all those involved in the development and drafting of the Bill. It is remarkable that until now there has been no cross-government statutory definition of domestic abuse, and no commissioner to give a voice and prominence to this issue and to hold the Government to account. I welcome those measures, along with the trial of protection orders and protection notices and the extra cross-court safeguards in the justice system, which will give more effective protection to victims and their children—explicitly, whatever their immigration status might be. I very much welcome the legislative inclusion of Clare’s law. I would also like to take a moment to recognise the pioneering work of my right hon. Friend Mrs May, who worked tirelessly for this legislation and to ensure that provisions on coercive control would be included for the first time.
In Hertford and Stortford, we are fortunate to have Future Living, a charity founded and run by the amazing Sandra Conte, which provides outstanding community support and services for victims and perpetrators of domestic abuse, male and female alike. Everyone who meets Sandra and knows what she and her colleagues do at Future Living becomes an evangelist, and I am no different. Unapologetically, I shall use this opportunity to encourage the Government and our local authorities in Hertfordshire to continue to provide Future Living with the support and resources it needs to do its vital work, especially as Sandra has told me today that she is seeing a significant increase in cases, particularly where a separated, abusive parent is using the covid crisis to keep children away from their victim and flouting contact orders. We expect even more of an increase in demand for the charity’s services as we come out of lockdown.
I truly understood the dynamics of domestic abuse for the first time only after I experienced the training given to magistrates. It opened my eyes and completely changed my perspective. It is vital that those involved in policing and the justice system have rigorous training so that they can recognise the abuse cycle, from subtle control to murderous violence, and the fact that the most dangerous moment for a victim is often when they leave the relationship and try to regain control of their own lives.
Domestic abuse is a dangerous and destructive cycle. It was about 10 years ago when I saw that photograph. That little boy will be 14 or 15 by now, and what I wonder most is whether he spent his childhood in that environment or whether things might have changed for him. Perhaps his father received the justice or indeed the help he needed; perhaps his mother managed to escape. Heartbreakingly, that boy might be condemned to repeat the cycle of control and abuse he grew up with, knowing no different and believing that that was normal family life. I support this Bill, because I think it will help children like him. It has been a privilege to contribute to this debate.