Amendment 71

Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:45 pm on 1st February 2021.

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Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede:

Moved by Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

71: Clause 32, page 20, line 21, leave out “just and convenient” and insert “practical and within five working days”Member’s explanatory statementThis would ensure there is a maximum time (within 5 working days) in which a contested DAPO which was made without notice is brought back to court.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 71, 72 and 73. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for putting his name to Amendment 71; I thank both him and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for putting their names to Amendments 72 and 73.

These amendments as a group look at time limits and prohibitive requirements. Amendment 71 would ensure a maximum timeframe—five working days—within which a contested DAPO made without notice was brought back to court. There may be cases where a particular programme has to be assessed but the police may not know whether it is readily available, and it may take a certain amount of time to get an assessment for a programme. The purpose of this amendment is to put a time limit on that rather than it dragging on for a longer period.

Amendments 72 and 73 address the same issue but from a different perspective: that is, if there is a positive requirement as part of a DAPO, either to go on a course or to go to drug rehabilitation, the person who is to be submitted to the DAPO should agree to go on that course. While I understand that putting negative requirements on alleged perpetrators is something one can do without their permission, positive requirements will have a far greater likelihood of success if, first, they have been assessed and, secondly, the person agrees to go on whatever course it may be. There could be a number of different elements to this. I have mentioned drug and alcohol and domestic abuse courses, but there are also mental health issues with a number of the alleged perpetrators. All this needs to be taken into account, and that is the purpose of this group of amendments. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Anderson of Ipswich Lord Anderson of Ipswich Crossbench

My Lords, I welcome the introduction of DAPOs but believe that, in certain respects, clearer rules are required to ensure that they are used in a practical and proportionate manner. It is in this constructive—I hope—spirit that I have put my name to the amendments in this group.

The potential scope of a DAPO is extraordinarily wide. Under Clause 33, it may include any prohibition or restriction considered necessary to protect a person from the risk of domestic abuse, expressly not limited to what are referred to as the “examples” of non-contact, residence and tagging provisions in subsections (4) to (6). I remind the Committee that even the types of measure that can be imposed on suspected terrorists under the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011TPIMs—are exhaustively spelled out in the Schedule to that Act. They include some measures that one assumes would never be imposed in the context of domestic abuse, but the contrast in approach is striking none the less. With such a powerful and open-ended instrument as the DAPO, it is important that we get the safeguards right.

Of course, it will sometimes be necessary to impose the DAPO without notice. Amendment 71 would ensure that those cases did not fall between the cracks and were brought back to court as soon as practical, and in any event within five days. That matters for the reasons given just now by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and more broadly because DAPOs are highly personalised and highly intrusive. Without the presence of the person against whom the order is made, no one can be sure that the most effective and appropriate DAPO will have been arrived at first time around. Indeed, Clauses 31 and 34 acknowledge the principle that, if DAPOs are to be effective, they must be suitable and enforceable having regard to such matters as the work and educational commitments of their subjects, any other court orders or injunctions which may apply to them, and the interests of other persons including children.

As to Amendments 72 and 73, I comment only that in my days as a Crown Court recorder, it was axiomatic that one did not impose a positive requirement, such as a drug or alcohol rehabilitation order, or a mental health programme, in the absence of the intended subject of that requirement. These interventions are costly and, if they are to be effective, they require not just the presence but the consent and indeed the commitment of the subject. I have strayed there into Amendment 81, which we will come to shortly.

Self-evident as these matters may be to some, there is an advantage to putting them clearly in statute so that magistrates and their clerks are in no doubt as to the position. The amendments in this group are particularly compelling to me because they are supported by the Magistrates Association and by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, in his capacity as a magistrate with current front-line experience. I hope that the Minister will look favourably on them.

Photo of Lord Mackay of Clashfern Lord Mackay of Clashfern Conservative

My Lords, I support all the amendments in this group; I put my name to the ones that I thought were more appropriate for me but I agree with them all. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, has said, it is of course true that these amendments are supported by the Magistrates Association. My reason for supporting them, apart from the fact that I am convinced that they are right, is that they come from the Magistrates Association, of which I had the honour to be president for almost 10 years. However, that experience is rather elderly and I am therefore very happy that these amendments are supported by an active, front-line, authoritative magistrate today.

Photo of Lord Blunkett Lord Blunkett Labour

My Lords, we are doing very well this afternoon so I will try not to delay your Lordships’ House very long. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said, one of the great advantages of being on the front line as a magistrate at the moment, as in the case of my noble friend Lord Ponsonby, is that you literally have current hands-on experience. One of the burdens you carry as a former Home Secretary—including one who had what is now the justice ministry under that umbrella—is that you ask yourself, “What would I do if I were the Home Secretary today?”

My response would be something like this. The amendments are logical, rational, humane and very difficult to argue with, but the one relating to a five-day timeframe is in the present circumstances unrealistic. We currently have a backlog of 64,000 outstanding cases, including many people on remand. We have a justice system that has been described in this House over recent days as being “justice delayed, justice denied”. I do not think it is realistic to specify five days, although there should be a timeframe within which the response is required in court with the person present.

That leads me to the second element. I want to come back and speak on Amendment 81 but, for now, I will just reflect. When I had responsibility for drugs policy, I was very clear that you needed the consent and commitment of the individual if they were to be offered treatment as opposed to punishment. However, when you offer people a positive road forward and require their genuine commitment to taking that up, you also need a fallback position when they do not do so. I hope that the Minister, when she responds, will be able to reflect on how we might meet the genuine rights of individuals in this case, with the imperative not to be taken for a ride.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Immigration) 5:00 pm, 1st February 2021

My Lords, we support the approach of the amendments. As has been said, they are to be taken seriously; of course, all amendments are, but these not only incorporate theory but reflect practice. The comments of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, about positive responses reminded me of how, in this situation as in many others unrelated to domestic abuse, there may be what I understand is called a “teachable moment”, when the person who can or should benefit from some sort of support or assistance is most receptive to it.

As we have made clear, and as I hope is implicit in all our amendments, we believe that the judicial process must be seen to be fair to both parties, otherwise confidence is rapidly lost. Giving a defendant an opportunity to make representations is part of that. I read that as part of the thrust of these amendments to what I think we all regard as very wide provisions. We are pleased that they have been brought forward and supported by such eminent signatories.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, it is a privilege to take part briefly in a debate led by the noble Lords, Lord Ponsonby and Lord Anderson, and by my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. I would sum up this debate by saying that we have heard some very wise words. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, said that these amendments were logical, rational and humane. He also entered the Covid caveat, and obviously we need a degree of flexibility over timing, bearing in mind the extraordinary overburdening of the justice system at the moment. I cannot help but refer your Lordships to the Times today, which lists the extremely large number of people being drafted in to be judges without any previous experience. We have to bear that in mind—but I endorse the spirit behind the amendments, and I will say no more.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, Amendment 71, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, would make the very sensible change from the vague requirement to allow the alleged perpetrator to make representations about the issue of a domestic abuse protection order from

“as soon as just and convenient” in Clause 32(4)(a) to the more usual and precise “as soon as practicable”—or perhaps it should be “as soon as reasonably practicable”—to which Amendment 71 would add, “within five working days.” In addition to the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, I would say that such orders can have profound, and not immediately obvious, unacceptable consequences for the perpetrator, alleged or otherwise—as my noble friend Lady Hamwee mentioned when she said that the process needed to be fair to both sides.

Amendments 72 and 73 limit conditions imposed by a domestic violence protection order granted without notice to only negative or prohibitive requirements, not positive ones. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, drew the comparison with TPIMs; I shall draw a different comparison. This legislation appears to be similar to that governing knife crime prevention orders made under the Offensive Weapons Act 2019. In the absence of the defendant, when an order is made without notice, only an interim knife crime prevention order can be granted, under Section 16(3)(a) of the 2019 Act, with proceedings on the knife crime prevention order itself being adjourned. The interim order can impose prohibitions that may be imposed under a full order, but none of the positive requirements. Why not here?

I ask the Minister, in support of this amendment, why such a distinction between, say, an interim domestic violence protection order and a full order is not part of this Bill. Consistency in legislation, particularly in the criminal law, where people must be able to understand clearly what is expected of them—an important part of the rule of law, to which this Government appear to be paying scant regard, judging by recent form—is important. It is not inconceivable that someone who is or has been subject to a knife crime prevention order may, at some stage, be subject to a domestic violence prevention order. Inconsistency such as that between this Bill and such recent legislation as the Offensive Weapons Act 2019 is unhelpful and unwelcome.

As the amendments have the support of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, of an active magistrate, of a former Crown Court recorder and of a former Home Secretary, it would, at least in normal times, be difficult for the Minister to disagree. But I am sure he will.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, in response to that last comment, it is almost impossible for me not to rise to the occasion. First, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, for setting out his case for the amendments. Of course I have listened carefully to everything in the debate, particularly because, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, said, the points have been put in a constructive spirit. I take on board, of course, the point made by a number of speakers, including in particular the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, that the amendments have the support of the Magistrates Association.

Clause 32 sets out when the court can make a domestic abuse protection order without prior notice of the proceedings having been given to the alleged perpetrator. Typically, as is also the case with existing protective orders, the courts will provide the alleged perpetrator with prior notice of an application for a domestic abuse protection order and of the hearing. However, like existing protective orders, a DAPO can be made without prior notification if there is an urgent need. Clause 32 sets out that a court may make such an order without prior notification

“where it is just and convenient to do so”.

That is in subsection (1).

Clause 32 also specifies, in subsection (3), that before making an order without prior notice,

“the court must have regard to all the circumstances” of the case. Without limiting the breadth of that requirement, the clause then goes on to list a number of specific factors, three of which I will draw attention to. The first is

“any risk that, if the order is not made immediately,” the alleged perpetrator will cause significant harm to the victim. The second is whether the victim is likely to be

“deterred or prevented from pursuing the application if an order is not made immediately”.

The third is

“whether there is reason to believe that” the alleged perpetrator

“is aware of the proceedings but is deliberately evading service”.

Those provisions are crucial for ensuring that the victim can obtain the protection they need in all circumstances.

However, we agree, of course, that the alleged perpetrator should be able to exercise their right to make a representation to the court after such an order—an order without notice—has been made. That is a basic principle of justice: courts normally operate on what has traditionally been called audi alteram partem—it is a pleasure that one can still use Latin in the court of Parliament, even if you cannot use it in the courts of justice any more—which obviously means “both sides must be heard”. Where that has not been the case, for reasons of urgency or otherwise, a hearing where both or all parties are present is then convened. Therefore, Clause 32 already specifies that, when the court makes an order without prior notice, a return hearing must be scheduled

“as soon as just and convenient”.

I recognise that the noble Lord’s Amendment 71 sets a time limit of five working days; I understand his reasons for doing this, but there are a number of problems with this approach, and I shall set out three. First, the amendment would make our approach inconsistent with other protective orders, which require return hearings to take place as soon as is just and convenient. We do not see reason to take a different approach on that point for DAPOs.

Having said that, each sort of protective order must be looked at in its own circumstances, along with the mischief and harm that the order is seeking to address. Therefore, on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—that there should be a direct read-across from knife crime prevention orders as to positive and negative factors or the phrase “as soon as practicable”—the problem with such analogies is that they are different. One must look at each sort of order on its own terms.

Secondly, the period of five days is somewhat arbitrary. As the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, pointed out, in the current circumstances five days might or might not be realistic. I will resist the opportunity to respond to his points about backlogs in the justice system in this short debate; I have done so elsewhere. I will also resist responding to my noble friend Lord Cormack’s point about the article in the Times, which I have only skimmed and have not had a chance to read in detail. I suggest that it is better to have a just and convenient timescale.

This leads me to my third point: we would not want a court to be, or to feel, forced to hold a hearing within the five-day period if a slightly longer period might be more suitable—for example, if the respondent’s preferred counsel were available on the sixth day but not the fifth. Another example might be the judge who granted the initial order being available on the sixth day but not the fifth, when it might well be in the interests of the parties and the justice system for the same judge to hear the matter on an all-parties basis. Therefore, for those reasons, while recognising the reasons behind the amendment, we are not persuaded that it is required.

I now turn to Amendments 72 and 73 to Clause 33. The existing provisions in Clause 33 enable the court to impose “any requirements … necessary” for the protection of the victim from domestic abuse or the risk of domestic abuse. This includes both prohibitions and positive requirements. Any order the court makes must be necessary and proportionate to protect the victim. Although I, of course, respect the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Ipswich, while sitting as a recorder, that one would not normally make a positive order in the absence of a perpetrator, it may be important to do so in certain circumstances, and the courts should have the flexibility so to act.

I agree with the noble Lord’s view that, while it is important that the court can impose the necessary requirements by making a DAPO, we must ensure that the alleged perpetrator is not punished for breaching any requirements they were not aware of. This is especially the case as a breach of positive or restrictive requirements may be a criminal offence. In this context, it is important to take on board the point of the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, that we must not, if I may adapt his phrase, be taken for a ride in this important area.

For this reason, Clause 37 sets out that, where an order is made in the alleged perpetrator’s absence, the person does not commit an offence as regards breach of any of the requirements imposed by the order, whether restrictive or positive, until that person is aware of the existence of the order. This approach is consistent with other orders in this area. I assure all noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who made this point, that these are serious amendments, as has been said. We have considered them extremely carefully.

In the light of the explanations I have given this afternoon, I hope that the noble Lord is now content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his application, but I have to confess to being slightly confused or, at least, lacking some detail from his arguments. At one point, he said that the wording in the Bill is similar to other protective orders and that is why the Government do not support the amendments; yet, at others, he said that the reason why it is not consistent with other protective orders is that they are different.

I do not expect the noble Lord to be able to give me chapter and verse here and now as to why knife crime protection orders are different from domestic abuse protection orders, but I would be very grateful if he could write to me to explain why, on the one hand, the Government argue that the wording needs to be the same as other protective orders, while on the other, they argue that the amendments are faulty because they are different from other protective orders.

Photo of Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Lord Wolfson of Tredegar The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, there will be correlations and differences between various orders in this context. I can certainly undertake to write to the noble Lord on this point, but I hope I can go one better: if, in addition to a letter, a conversation would be helpful, I am very happy to offer that as well.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice)

My Lords, I will start with the point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has just made about the read-across between knife crime prevention orders and DAPOs. I would certainly be very interested in attending the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has just offered because the earlier point that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made was strong: that it is reasonably likely that perpetrators might be subject to both of those orders, so there is merit in having a similar approach, whether it is a knife crime prevention order or a DAPO. I would be very happy to join the meeting that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has offered.

I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. I was interested in the comparison made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, between these orders and TPIMs. He said that these are much more widely drawn, which was an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, sought to contrast treatment and punishment, which, I suppose, is a theme here—although we are not dealing with convicted criminals but prevention orders. The point I invariably make when I am sentencing in court or making an order like this is that, even if it is a punishment, it is for the benefit of the people who have positive requirements made of them in whatever that sentence might be. When I make that point, I invariably get a nod from the person I am sentencing, so people understand that point, in my experience.

I listened carefully to the explanation and summary given by the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, but I think I have quite a strong pack of cards, if I can put it like that, and although I will withdraw my amendment I may consider coming back at a later stage.

Amendment 71 withdrawn.

Clause 32 agreed.

Clause 33: Provision that may be made by orders

Amendments 72 to 74 not moved.