Violence against Women and Girls: Prosecutions

Attorney General – in the House of Commons on 26th May 2022.

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Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow

What steps she is taking to increase the number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade)

What steps she is taking to increase the number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

What steps she is taking to increase the number of prosecutions relating to violence against women and girls.

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

I have seen at first hand the horrendous damage that these crimes do to victims, particularly when I was honoured to visit the Havens, which is a sexual assault referral centre, and that is why tackling violence against women and girls is a central mission of this Government. Supporting victims from the report to the police right through to trial and sentencing is a service that all victims deserve. I am working very closely with the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary so that we get a whole-system response to this challenge. I am very pleased to see that there has been a notable change in the volume of prosecutions, which has increased by more than 10% from quarter 2 to quarter 3 in 2021-22.

Photo of Kate Osborne Kate Osborne Labour, Jarrow

I thank the Attorney General for her response. In 2020, one in 20 victims of sexual assault reported being drugged or spiked by the perpetrator responsible for their assault, and that was before the terrifying reports last year of young women being injected. Given the scale and seriousness of this spiking epidemic, does the Attorney General regard it as acceptable that just 102 people were convicted for spiking offences in the whole of 2021? What more is being done to tackle this?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

I know that the Home Office is looking very closely at the issue of spiking. There will be movement on this because we take it very seriously, and we are very concerned about the increasing number of incidents relating to the spiking of victims as a way of attacking and sexually assaulting them. In the data we are beginning to see on how the system is responding—whether that is the number of referrals the police are making to the CPS, the number of charges that the CPS is passing on to trial and for prosecution, or the actual conviction rate—we are seeing improvements. We want to go further, of course, but we are seeing early signs of improvement.

Photo of Ruth Cadbury Ruth Cadbury Shadow Minister (International Trade)

The Attorney General rightly talked about a whole-system approach, but over the past year I have seen an increasing number of extremely concerning cases involving domestic violence in which, specifically, the CPS, the probation service, the courts and the police all seem to be operating in silos when trying to protect women from abusive ex-partners who continue to abuse and harass them. What is the Attorney General doing to ensure that the various parts of the criminal justice system work together to increase prosecutions and protect these women?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

The hon. Member is absolutely right that a whole-system approach is required. That is why the end-to-end rape review was announced last year and we have seen updates on how particularly the CPS is doing in relation to its responsibilities. The CPS recently published a rape strategy and the update to that, which sets out the improvements it has continued to see in every aspect of how it is managing rape prosecutions: better collaboration, as I mentioned; supporting more specialist units; and ensuring more support is given to victims. But I would just gently say that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, which I was proud to support as a great initiative by this Government, set out provisions to increase the sentences to be served by rapists and others convicted of sexual assault and I am only sorry that Labour voted against those measures.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders (Private Bills) Committee (Commons)

We will have to go a little faster. I appreciate that the Attorney General has complicated questions to answer, but we have a lot of business ahead of us today. We are supposed to have only another five minutes. We will obviously take longer, but can we go a little faster—short questions, short answers?

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care)

I am sure the Attorney General will have read the damning conclusions, and indeed the horrendous case studies, set out in last month’s joint inspectorate report into post-charge handling of rape cases. Does she accept the report’s findings when it comes to the way the system is failing survivors of rape and will she give us both a commitment and a timetable to implement its recommendations?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

We are of course always concerned about the need for more improvement and no one is denying that challenge. However, the CPS is committed to driving up the number of rape prosecutions and I am pleased with the green shoots of progress, which is notable from the recent data. If we compare performance —[Interruption.] This is not to be dismissed or laughed at. Since quarter 4 of 2018, the volume of CPS rape charges has increased by 24%. We have also seen that the rape conviction rate is 70%. Those are grounds for optimism. I do not deny that there is more to do, but we are seeing movement in the right direction.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Conservative, Maldon

Nowhere is there worse violence being committed against women and girls than that by Russian soldiers in Ukraine. Can the Attorney General assure the House that she will give every assistance to the Ukrainian prosecuting authorities to ensure that prosecutions will one day take place?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

I thank my right hon. Friend for raising that important issue. That is exactly the subject for discussion today and tomorrow with my friend the Ukrainian Prosecutor General, who has come to London at my invitation. I was honoured to go to Ukraine to see at first hand some of her work. What is remarkable about the leadership and fortitude the Ukrainian Prosecutor General is demonstrating is that she has already brought and led some charges and prosecutions of Russian suspects and one Russian soldier has already been sentenced for a war crime. That is remarkable, given the circumstances in which she and the Ukrainians are working.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

In England, modern slavery victims are helped by victim navigators to get the criminals to trial. Unfortunately in Wales, in the last seven years, there have only been two successful prosecutions under modern slavery legislation where people have been put in prison. Will the Attorney General look at expanding the victim navigator scheme to Wales in association with the great charity Justice and Care?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He is a doughty campaigner on this subject and I commit to looking more into what can be done.

Photo of Andrew Slaughter Andrew Slaughter Shadow Solicitor General

May I add my welcome to our friends from Ukraine?

In January, the Attorney General told the House:

“This Government take tackling domestic abuse and hate crime extremely seriously”.—[Official Report, 6 January 2022; Vol. 706, c. 142.]

Why, therefore, has she spent the months since then taking the BBC through the High Court to protect an MI5 informant who attacked one partner with a machete and another partner predicted will kill a woman if he is not challenged and exposed? One of his victims is now taking her case to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, but does this not demand a fuller investigation? Rather than disregard the interests of domestic violence victims where the security services are involved, will the Attorney General support an inquiry by the Intelligence and Security Committee into the handling of this case and whether it raises wider concerns that agents are able to use their status to evade criminal responsibility?

Photo of Suella Braverman Suella Braverman The Attorney-General

Of course, any allegation of domestic abuse or sexual assault on victims is horrendous. On no account does anyone in this Government condone that behaviour. I was very pleased with the result at court of our application for an injunction, because there are national security interests, and it is vital that those are balanced in any matter.

The Government are taking huge steps to support victims of domestic abuse. We passed a landmark piece of legislation, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, which brought in key measures, key duties and investment to support those who are victims of this heinous crime. I hope the Labour party will get behind that ongoing work.