Motion C

Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 3:02 pm on 21 April 2021.

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Lord Wolfson of Tredegar:

Moved by Lord Wolfson of Tredegar

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 33, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 33A.

33A: Because it is unnecessary and is contrary to the principle of judicial independence.

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

My Lords, the elected House has disagreed with Amendment 33 and by a substantial majority, in this case of 143. In inviting this House not to insist on the amendment, I first take the opportunity to underline the Government’s recognition that comprehensive, high-quality and up-to-date training on domestic abuse is of critical importance for judges and magistrates involved in family proceedings.

Perhaps I may also take a moment again to record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, and other noble Lords who have taken time to discuss this matter with me, including most recently on a call to which the noble Lord, Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, was also party. While the Government recognise that victims and survivors of domestic abuse can face difficulty in the family justice system, especially during proceedings and in particular when giving evidence in them, there are serious and fundamental concerns with regard to the substance of Amendment 33.

The first point is a constitutional one, which I have made on previous occasions but reiterate today. Training for the judiciary is the responsibility not of the Government but of the Lord Chief Justice—not the Lord Chancellor. The elected House disagreed with this amendment on the basis—correctly, I would submit—that it fundamentally undermines the important constitutional principle of judicial independence. We have a number of constitutional principles in this country; some have been debated in your Lordships’ House in the last several months. But perhaps I may venture that judicial independence is among the most important principles, if not the most important.

The statutory responsibility for ensuring that the judiciary in England and Wales is properly trained rightly sits with the Lord Chief Justice and is exercised by way of the Judicial College. My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor does not have a role beyond providing the resources required by the judiciary, through which the Judicial College is funded. As such, the Lord Chancellor simply cannot direct the judiciary on training with either a strategy or timetable, as would be required by this amendment.

Amendment 33B would therefore replace the reference to the Secretary of State in the original amendment with one to the Lord Chancellor. That correctly reflects the constitutional role of the Lord Chancellor, who, as opposed to the Secretary of State, has duties in respect of the judiciary. The amendment also adds the Lord Chief Justice to the list of those who must be consulted before the strategy and timetable are published. However, it does not alter the fundamental way in which these amendments impinge, I suggest, on the independence of the judiciary. That is the first point and it is an important constitutional proposition.

The second is a practical point. It is already mandatory for any judge or magistrate to have training in domestic abuse before they hear cases in the family court. More than 50% of the content of private law induction training for judges is now focused on domestic abuse, such is the judiciary’s recognition of its importance. There is not only induction training but ongoing training as well. Continuation training annually is compulsory for judges and any judge authorised to hear public family law cases must also attend the appropriate seminar for that authorisation at least once every three years.

Domestic abuse is covered in all family law cases run by the Judicial College, and training reflects the wide nature of domestic abuse. Therefore, it covers all areas recognised by the Government as abuse, ranging from serious sexual and other assaults, emotional abuse to coercive or controlling behaviour, including financial coercion and control. Let me explain what the training includes. This is not just one judge talking to other judges. The training includes practical exercises and role play and is delivered by a wide range of experts, including academics and experts in psychiatry, psychology and other professions and agencies working in this area, as well as victims. The Judicial College also advocates the use of specialists to co-train and provide an annexe of specialist organisations. In the e-learning, SafeLives, Cafcass and Cafcass Cymru and IDVAs have all contributed to the films provided to the Judicial College.

Thirdly—and importantly going forward—the Judicial College is committed to reviewing and improving training on domestic abuse for both the judiciary and the magistracy. The senior judiciary, including both the President of the Family Division and Lady Justice King, the chair of the Judicial College, both acting on behalf of the Lord Chief Justice, are working to further develop domestic abuse training.

As part of my departmental responsibilities, I meet regularly—albeit at the moment virtually—with the President of the Family Division. My last such meeting was, in fact, yesterday and we discussed judicial training on domestic abuse in the context of this amendment. He has given me his categoric assurance about the importance he places on effective training in the area of domestic abuse. He has said that the training will continue and, importantly, that it will be updated in light of the Bill, the harm panel, and the recent Court of Appeal judgments in four conjoined domestic abuse cases. Lady Justice King has given me the same assurances. Specifically, I have been assured that the Judicial College already has in hand the training that will be required as a result of this Bill, which is a landmark piece of legislation, as we all agree.

While I respectfully commend my noble friend Lady Helic for raising this important issue, for the reasons I have set out, specifically the constitutional and practical reasons, I respectfully ask her and all noble Lords not to insist on Amendment 33 or to press new Amendment 33B in its stead. I beg to move.