My Lords, I rise to speak in support of Amendment 149 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, and other noble Lords who have signed it. I thank them for bringing this to the attention of the Committee and I wholeheartedly support this amendment on post-separation abuse, including economic abuse. It is tragic that so many women continue to be abused even after separation. They have done the right thing—left, escaped, moved or fled—but somehow the plague of abuse continues in other forms. It does not require physical contact, and for some victims this form of abuse only starts after they have left. It is another barrier to escape when they have surely suffered enough. It is widespread: one in four women reports experiencing economic abuse after separation. Most alarmingly, it is post-separation when women are at heightened risk of homicide.
Perhaps most tragically of all, the current law offers inadequate protection, and this amendment would begin to correct that. Currently, we are in the absurd position that many post-separation offences would be a crime only if they occurred before separation. In the words of one Crown Court judge:
“If you have had the strength to leave—we are suddenly not supporting those people? They have got the legislation wrong.”
There are a few important legislative issues to consider. The first is that the Serious Crime Act definition of coercive control does not cover post-separation abuse. Therefore, once this Bill passes, there will be an anomaly in the law, both within English statute and across the United Kingdom, since it is covered in Scotland. The amendment in the other place was withdrawn because of an ongoing government review into the offence of coercive behaviour. This would seem a compelling reason, but I do not think it reason enough to ignore this amendment. The review in question does not look specifically at economic abuse and, since it is concerned only with the current application of the law, which does not recognise economic abuse, it is unlikely to do the issue any justice. Therefore, the review should not stand as a barrier to the acceptance of this amendment.
Finally, it has been argued that victims of abuse can be protected under existing legislation concerning stalking, since statutory guidance has been updated to include economic abuse. But, practically speaking, this is unlikely to be effective. The guidance given to police officers when drawing up stalking protection orders does not include economic abuse provision. Indeed, it is not clear how it could. I therefore believe there is a clear and compelling case for accepting this amendment. The evidence that economic abuse is a crime has been accepted by all, as evidenced by the debate and continued passage of this Bill. It is now a question of offering every possible legal protection, consistently and universally, for the very brave victims of this awful crime. This amendment does that and has my unqualified support.