Children Act 1989 (Amendment) (Female Genital Mutilation) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:39 am on 20th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood Chair, Sub-Committee on Lords' Conduct 11:39 am, 20th July 2018

My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Berkeley of Knighton on promoting this Bill and on opening the debate so cogently. He has championed this most compelling of causes for some years past.

I put my name down to speak in the debate because I thought it might be helpful to add the voice of an erstwhile judge to what might appear to be a somewhat technical, legal objective, which this commendably focused Bill seeks. It will achieve, as has been admirably explained by my noble friend, the addition to the armoury of a judge who is seized of an application to make an FGM protection order under the 2003 Act the power to make an interim care order under the Children Act 1989, and thereby involve the local authority in the child’s future protection. To achieve this desirable aim, it is necessary by this Bill to effect the listing of the FGM Act 2003 itself among the various other statutes which constitute “family proceedings” for the purposes of Section 8(4) of the 1989 Act. Currently, inexplicably, the 2003 Act is omitted from that list. Really, that is all that needs to be said in support of this Bill.

I just wish to add this. The need to combat the scourge of FGM is one that I too have been alive to for some years. Twelve years ago, sitting in your Lordships’ House as a member of the Appellate Committee of this House, under the chairmanship of the late and much missed Lord Bingham of Cornhill, I was party to a decision in two linked asylum cases, reported under the title of Fornah v the Home Secretary, 2007, 1 AC 412. The cases concerned the meaning of the term “a particular social group” within the refugee convention. Put shortly, we held that FGM amounted to persecution under the convention and was an extreme expression of discriminatory treatment based on the institutional inferiority of all women in Sierra Leone, so that all women at risk of it were entitled to political asylum.

In giving the leading judgment in that case the noble Baroness, Lady Hale, now the President of the Supreme Court, which of course succeeded the Appellate Committee of this House, set out the WHO four-category definition of FGM—in fact, she did so in rather more detail than appears in the Library note, helpful though it is. I think it is worth reading into the debate her words at paragraph 92 of the judgment, in which she said that,

“these procedures are irreversible and their effects last a life time. They are usually performed by traditional practitioners using crude instruments and without anaesthetic. Immediate complications include severe pain, shock, haemorrhage, tetanus or sepsis, urine retention, ulceration of the genital region and injury to adjacent tissue. Long term consequences include cysts and abscesses, keloid scar formation, damage to the urethra resulting in urinary incontinence, dyspareunia (painful sexual intercourse) and sexual dysfunction. Infibulation can bring particularly severe consequences, and it may be necessary to cut open the skin to enable intercourse or childbirth to take place. It is likely that the risks of maternal death and stillbirth are greatly increased”.

Finally, I take this opportunity to make plain my growing astonishment and profound disappointment at the fact alluded to by my noble friend Lord Berkeley. Despite the continuing prevalence here of this disgusting and plainly criminal practice, there has still not been a single successful prosecution in the UK. Regularly prosecuting those guilty of it is, I am sure, central to the eventual eradication of this vile practice. In the meantime, in its own way, my noble friend’s Bill will, on occasion at least, save some poor child from this ghastly fate. I strongly support the Bill.