Amendment 159

Domestic Abuse Bill - Committee (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 10:15 pm on 8 February 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb:

Moved by Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb

159: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—“Anonymity of domestic abuse survivors in criminal proceedings(1) Where an allegation has been made that a relevant offence has been committed against a person, no matter relating to that person shall during that person’s lifetime be included in any publication if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify that person as the survivor.(2) Where a person is accused of a relevant offence, no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed as the survivor shall during the survivor’s lifetime be included in any publication.(3) This section does not apply in relation to a person by virtue of subsection (1) at any time after a person has been accused of the offence.(4) The matters relating to a survivor in relation to which the restrictions imposed by subsection (1) or (2) apply (if their inclusion in any publication is likely to have the result mentioned in the relevant subsection) include—(a) the survivor’s name,(b) the survivor’s address,(c) the identity of any school or other educational establishment the survivor attended,(d) the identity of any place where the survivor worked,(e) any still or moving pictures of the survivor, and(f) any other matter that might lead to the identification of the survivor.(5) At the commencement of a trial at which a person is charged with a relevant offence, the judge may issue a direction for lifting the restrictions only following an application by or on behalf of the survivor.(6) Any matter that is included in a publication in contravention of this section must be deleted from that publication and no further reference to the matter may be made in any publication.(7) If any matter is included in a publication in contravention of this section, the following persons shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale—(a) where the publication is a newspaper or periodical, any proprietor, any editor and any publisher of the newspaper or periodical;(b) where the publication is a relevant programme—(i) any body corporate or Scottish partnership engaged in providing the programme service in which the programme is included; and(ii) any person having functions in relation to the programme corresponding to those of an editor of a newspaper;(c) in the case of any other publication, any person publishing it.(8) For the purposes of this section—“publication” means any material published online or in physical form as well as any speech, writing, website, online news outlet, social media posting, relevant programme or other communication in whatever form which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public;“relevant offence” means any offence where it is alleged by the survivor that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse;“survivor” means the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed.”

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I have tabled this probing amendment because I am trying to address the woeful underprosecution of domestic abuse and domestic violence in our courts. I do not think that the courts are quite set up to secure justice for survivors. Part of the problem is the intrusive nature of court into the survivors’ lives. The nature of domestic abuse means that deep and intimate details of a survivor’s life and their abuse can be exposed to the public eye. These intimate details can be exploited by the tabloid press or be the subject of trolling on social media. The higher the profile of the abuser or survivor or the more extreme the abuse, the more likely they are to face that media circus.

This should not be happening. Intrusion into survivors’ lives has to stop; they are revictimised and exploited by this publicity, which is incredibly damaging. Other survivors see this and it makes them less likely to report crimes that have been committed against them. It forces people to maintain secrecy for fear of becoming the latest victim of a media circus.

The courts are not currently set up to help survivors avoid this media chaos. There is scope for a survivor to seek a reporting restriction, but this is limited to situations where the restriction would help improve the quality of evidence or the level of co-operation given by a witness in preparing the case. This is not necessarily a survivor-focused approach; it is actually focused on helping the court to have the best available evidence, rather than the rights and protections of survivors. I hope that the Government will work with me to improve this. There must be some way to find agreement on the need to protect survivors, while allowing them to tell their story and obtain justice. I beg to move.

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

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for introducing this amendment. The openness of judicial proceedings is a fundamental principle enshrined in Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights. This underpins the requirement for a prosecution witness, including the victim, to be identifiable not only to the defendant but to the open court. It supports the defendant’s ability to present his case and to test the prosecution case by cross-examination. In some cases, it can encourage other witnesses to come forward, particularly if the victim has made false allegations in the past.

However, the principle of open justice can sometimes be a bar to successful prosecutions, and we know that domestic abuse survivors are less likely to report abuse if their name is going to appear in the press as a result. I speak from personal experience again. When I was a victim of domestic abuse, I was not prepared even to report my abuser to the police out of shame and fear that it might become public knowledge.

Currently, requests can be made to judges to order that a survivor be kept anonymous, but there is concrete evidence from domestic abuse survivors that a judge’s discretion is not enough, as their names are still published in the press in some cases.

However, it is not the case that every accusation is accurate. When false allegations are made, it is arguable whether the complainant should retain the right to anonymity. It is also illogical and somewhat contradictory to say that there is no shame in having been the victim of domestic abuse, and that awareness of such offences needs to be raised, while requiring anonymity. Enforcing a ban on social media is also difficult to achieve, as the noble Baroness alluded to.

The amendment provides similar protections for the victims of domestic abuse as the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 provides for victims of sexual offences. In the latter case, these protections are considered necessary and generally work well.

We know that domestic abuse is underreported, particularly in the case of male victims. If we are serious about a sea change in our approach to domestic abuse being brought about by the Bill, we should seriously consider this amendment.

Photo of Lord Rosser Lord Rosser Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Transport) 10:30, 8 February 2021

This amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, would add a new clause to the Bill to provide lifetime press anonymity for survivors of domestic abuse. It reflects similar protections for survivors of sexual assault enshrined in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said. It prevents identifiable details being published online or in print and creates a new offence for breaching this anonymity.

This issue has risen up the agenda because stories are published in which victims and survivors of domestic abuse, as well as family members and children, are named. When these stories then make their way on to websites, victims have no anonymity but the people who choose to make comments do have anonymity.

Apart from the protection for survivors of sexual assault enshrined in the 1992 Act, I believe the Serious Crime Act 2015 grants anonymity to and protection for victims of female genital mutilation, and the Modern Slavery Act 2015 grants anonymity to victims of any human trafficking offence. If I am right, that is three examples of anonymity given to three categories of victims. If the Government are not enthusiastic about this amendment—which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said is a probing amendment—no doubt they will explain in their reply why they consider that survivors of domestic abuse do not require the same protection as survivors of sexual assault, victims of female genital mutilation and victims of any human trafficking offence.

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

My Lords, I hope I can be relatively brief in my reply—not because the point is not important, nor indeed out of a lack of respect for any of the contributions we have just heard, but because there is a single and critical point, fundamental to the administration of justice, which lies at the heart of this debate.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, explained, this probing amendment is designed to protect the identity of complainants in domestic abuse cases by the automatic application of reporting restrictions from the point when the allegation is made. Although the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred us to Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights, I dare say that the principle of open justice goes back much further than that. We are all familiar with the adage that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. That statement, with which we are all familiar, I am sure, recognises that automatic reporting restrictions of this kind are an exceptional interference with open justice. Therefore, we make those reporting restrictions available only when there is a real need to do so.

The most familiar precedent is in relation to complainants who allege that a sexual offence has been committed against them. In those circumstances, there is a clear justification for preventing the reporting of the complainant’s identity, because there is an overriding need for anonymity to be guaranteed from the outset so that victims of a type of offence that still carries considerable stigma are emboldened to come forward and tell the police. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, says, there are a couple of other such other examples in the law, but each of those is an exception to the general rule. We must be very careful, I would suggest, to limit those exceptions to cases where it is demonstrably required. Therefore, while I listened with care to the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and his personal and, if I may say, moving testimony, we do not consider that, as a matter of generality, domestic abuse cases in which no sexual offence has been committed fall into the same category such that they require automatic protection in the same way.

However, as a number of noble Lords identified, that does not mean that victims of domestic abuse should be denied anonymity where they both request and need it. The courts have discretionary powers to impose, on application, reporting restrictions prohibiting the naming of a witness, where the court is satisfied that being identified would diminish the quality of that witness’s evidence. I suggest that there is sufficient discretion before the courts to meet cases where reporting restrictions are required. To go further would be an unjustifiable interference with the extremely important principle of open justice.

I hope, therefore, given that this is a probing amendment —and while of course I am always willing to discuss anything with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones—that she will feel able to withdraw her amendment at this stage.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I realise this is a tricky subject to legislate on, but I think there is a problem and we need to fix it in some way. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Rosser, for their largely sympathetic comments. I heard the Minister say that justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done. In that case, I would like him to go, perhaps, one of these days, to the High Court and see what is happening in the spy cops inquiry, where Judge Mitting—or rather the Met—is giving anonymity to many police officers who have committed crimes. Therefore, it does seem to me that somehow there is justice for some and not for others. I will, of course, withdraw the amendment now, but I still think this is a problem and that there has to be some way of sorting it out.

Amendment 159 withdrawn.

Amendment 160 not moved.

Photo of Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Deputy Chairman of Committees

We now come to Amendment 161. I remind noble Lords that anyone wishing to speak after the Minister should email the clerk during the debate. Anyone wishing to press this amendment to a Division must make that clear in the debate.