Motion D

Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 3:30 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 37, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 37A, and do not insist on its Amendments 38 and 83, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reasons 38A and 83A.

37A: Because it is inappropriate to extend the so-called ‘householder defence’ to victims of domestic abuse who use disproportionate force against their abusers in self-defence.

38A: Because it is inappropriate to provide a new defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, as the existing common law defence of duress is sufficient.

83A: Because it is inappropriate to provide a new defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, as the existing common law defence of duress is sufficient.

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

My Lords, the elected House disagreed with these amendments by a substantial majority. In inviting this House not to insist on these amendments, I remind noble Lords that the amendments seek to create two new statutory defences. Although the Government are sympathetic to the aims behind the new defences, we were, and we remain, entirely unconvinced of their necessity.

Amendment 37 sought to extend the provisions contained in Section 76 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. In effect, if I can shorten what is a bit of lengthy law, the amendment essentially seeks to extend the special householder defence, where force is used for the purposes of self-defence. Amendment 37 sought to extend those provisions to any person who is, or has been, a victim of domestic abuse and who has been accused of a crime involving the use of force against their abuser. The current householder defence in Section 76 recognises the acute circumstances of dealing with an unexpected intruder and makes it lawful to use disproportionate force. Amendment 37, however, made the disproportionate use of force defence available at any time and any place if the person accused has suffered domestic abuse at the hands of the person they assaulted.

Although the Government are sympathetic to the aim behind Amendment 37, we remain unpersuaded of its necessity. We are not aware of any significant evidence that demonstrates that the panoply of the current full and partial legal defences available are failing those accused of crimes where being a victim of domestic abuse is a factor to be taken into consideration. Full defences, such as the defence of self-defence, are defences to any crime and, if pleaded successfully, result in an acquittal. In the circumstances of domestic abuse, there are partial defences available relating to loss of control or diminished responsibility that can be argued. Additionally, the fact that an accused is also a victim of domestic abuse will be considered throughout the criminal justice system process, from the police investigation through to any CPS charging decision, down to defences deployed at trial under the existing law and, if relevant, as a mitigating factor in sentencing. We are also concerned that the proposed defence could, because it provides a full defence to murder, be open to misuse, potentially even by an abuser who sought to claim that they were the victim of domestic abuse—which is very widely defined in this Bill, which is a very good thing—rather than the actual victim.

Turning to Lords Amendment 38, I remind the House this sought to create a new statutory defence for victims of domestic abuse who, by reference to a reasonable person in the same situation as the victim and having the victim’s relevant characteristics, are compelled to commit certain crimes on the basis of having no realistic alternative. Amendment 83, which would insert a rather long and somewhat intimidating schedule, set out the offences to which this proposed defence would not be available, but even though that schedule is long, it would still mean that the defence would be available for many serious criminal offences, such as drug dealing, serious assaults occasioning actual bodily harm and most non-fatal driving offences. Although, again, the Government absolutely understand that victims of domestic abuse may also be compelled to resort to crime, we are not persuaded that the model on which this amendment is based, which is Section 45 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015, is either apt or effective with regard to domestic abuse. As I have stated previously, we have several concerns in relation to this amendment in terms of the nature of the defence itself and the nature of the offences for which this would be a defence. I will not detain the House by setting them out again, especially as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has now put forward an alternative amendment, Amendment 37B. It instead calls for independent review of the defences available to the victims of domestic abuse. However, I thought was worth briefly restating our arguments against the original Lords amendments because we contend that the existing full and partial defences are up to the task, and because of that, we have significant doubts about the case for a review of the kind proposed in Amendment 37B.

We are of course aware of the horrific impact and often devastation posed by domestic abuse, not only for direct victims but also indirect victims, such as children and the wider family and the House has noted the way the early clauses of the Bill have been drafted with that in mind.

We also recognise that there are some women offenders who have been subject to domestic abuse and have been compelled to commit crime as a result of their involvement in an abusive relationship. The Government have, therefore, given a commitment—and this is, I hope, an important point—to a review of sentencing in domestic homicide cases. The parameters and details of that review are currently being refined, but we intend to explore the use of sentencing legislation and guidelines in relation to use of a weapon, how aggravating and mitigating circumstances are taken into account, particularly those relevant to domestic abuse and, to the extent possible, the way in which defences to charges of murder or manslaughter affect sentencing, in both cases with a prior history of domestic abuse and those without. By undertaking that review, we will gain a greater understanding of how sentencing in domestic homicide cases works in practice, while avoiding a rush to make changes that could have unintended consequences. With respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, we feel that this is a more appropriate response, both to the original Lords Amendments 37, 38 and 83 and also, if I may say, to her latest Amendment 37B. For those reasons, I believe the principles and ethos behind this Bill will improve and provide better support for victims of domestic abuse and highlight the impact of offensive behaviour. We have raised the profile of domestic abuse. We will, obviously, continue to work in this area but, for the reasons I have set out, the Government are unable to support Amendment 37B, and I therefore beg to move Motion D.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour 3:45, 21 April 2021

As tabled, this new amendment, is in lieu of my earlier amendments which sought to create statutory defences for survivors who offend due to their experience of domestic abuse. One of the devasting impacts of domestic abuse is the unjust criminalisation of the victim. This is a landmark Bill, and I pay tribute to all who have been perfecting it and adding to it. I think it will be a hugely important piece of legislation, but I am afraid it does not prevent this criminalisation of victims.

I am not resisting the Motion, but my new amendment would commit the Government to establishing an independent review of the effectiveness of self-defence. It is my view, as a barrister in the courts who has done homicide cases involving domestic violence where the victim has killed her abuser, that there is need for legislative reform. A great deal of research has now been done. A study recently conducted by the Centre for Women’s Justice has produced a very persuasive report concerning the limitations of the defences available to women and, particularly, how self-defence fails women because often, in circumstance where their abuser is not using a weapon, they reach for a weapon. This is then deemed to be disproportionate to the threat, but in the circumstances, and the fear created in her is so great, and she is so unmatched physically with abuser, that she will often reach for a weapon where others might not. The report produced by the Centre for Women’s Justice calls into question the ability of self-defence to cover many of the women, and it provides serious evidence of that.

Equally, the Prison Reform Trust has done a great deal of research into women in custody, serving sentences in our prison estate, many of whom have been forced to commit crimes by their abusers.

We hope that this review might be added to the review that has just been mentioned by the Minister. The fact that sentencing is being looked at is welcome, but that does not deal with the fact that women unable to avail themselves of self-defence are often being left with a conviction. This has serious consequences for people’s lives, even if they are dealt with more compassionately by a court because of their history of abuse that the court has heard.

I ask that this review be undertaken in conjunction with the review on sentencing in homicide cases. I remind the House that the Lord Chancellor is contemplating such a review on homicide cases because, having spoken to the Victims’ Commissioner and the domestic violence commissioner, who explained to him the ways in which women might seem to take disproportionate action because of their physical disadvantage, he felt compelled to. I would not have thought that it was particularly complicated to add to the review the issue of whether the matter of self-defence and duress works for women and men experiencing domestic violence.

My amendment seeks a formal response from the Minister to my suggestion. I will not be pushing the amendment to a vote. My earlier amendments would have provided effective defences for survivors of domestic abuse who, as a result of the appalling experience, are driven to use force in self-defence or are coerced by their abuser into offending. The amendments were based on legal precedents already in place to protect other groups. Since we already make this special concession for householders facing an intruder, I cannot understand why the same kind of concession in seeking proper justice cannot be made available to victims of domestic abuse.

One might also look at how victims of trafficking who are compelled to offend are dealt with, as suggested by the statutory defence in the second of the two propositions that I put before the House. They would have provided equivalent protection to survivors who, far from receiving protection and support, as this Bill seeks to ensure, find themselves in the dock for offences that they had no realistic alternative but to commit.

When the Minister and I met last week to discuss these proposals with members of the Centre for Women’s Justice, we were joined by a survivor who spoke powerfully of her experience of terrible abuse, including how she was coerced by her terrifying abuser into handling stolen goods. I feel sure that the Minister would agree that there is no material difference between the circumstances that led her to offend and the way in which victims of trafficking are coerced into offending. Yet, had she been caught, it is highly likely that she would have received a caution or conviction, given the impossibly high threshold required for the defence of duress, and that she would have gone to prison.

This is far from being an isolated case. Many other examples, including cases in which self-defence has failed, have been collated and presented to the Government. The misery and injustice faced by victims in these cases will simply go on and on until reforms are implemented. Other common-law jurisdictions have dealt with these challenges through legislation, and I have never been more convinced than now that we need legislation in this jurisdiction to ensure that these cases are dealt with justly. I know that the Minister disagrees, but I also know that he sympathises with our aims. I hope therefore that he will take action today by confirming that the Government will hold an independent review of this matter, and do so in conjunction with the review of sentencing, as he has already outlined.

Photo of Lord Randall of Uxbridge Lord Randall of Uxbridge Conservative

My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendment 37B, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, having supported her in earlier amendments on Report.

I always think that it is a danger for a non-lawyer to get involved in some of these discussions. I remember that very often people asked why we had so many lawyers in the House of Commons, and when I got there I realised that it was because we make laws. This of course is a good example of why we need the great legal brains that this Chamber has in plenty. So I feel a little in awe not only of the noble Baroness but of my noble friend the Minister.

I declare an interest as the deputy chairman of the Human Trafficking Foundation. There is a similarity with the Modern Slavery Act, which covers people who commit crimes under duress because they have been trafficked or are enslaved, although my noble friend the Minister does not think so. I find it difficult not to see it, and it is a shame. The last thing we need is to fill up our prisons with people who should not be there and who committed a crime only because they were forced to. I heard what the Minister said, and what the noble Baroness said. It would be very useful if he could move a little more and extend that review to look at the issues that the noble Baroness mentioned. I heard what the noble Baroness said about the meeting that she had with my noble friend and the fact that there was a survivor there. I have always believed that listening to survivors, whether of domestic abuse or modern slavery, normally for me swings the balance in favour of the victims. Those poor, innocent people who have had to endure so much should not have to face criminal proceedings as a result of their abuse.

I look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister says in winding up this debate. I fear that I may be disappointed, but I hope that perhaps at the last minute there will be a glimmer of hope.

Photo of The Bishop of Gloucester The Bishop of Gloucester Bishop

My Lords, I support this amendment, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. In Committee and on Report, I spoke in favour of amendments to this Bill that proposed a statutory defence of domestic abuse, recognising the significant number of women coming into contact with the criminal justice system who have experienced domestic abuse and previous trauma, and how that becomes a driver for their offending. I do not want to repeat all that the noble Baroness has said, but I will highlight again the statistic of almost 60% of women supervised in the community or in custody who have an assessment have experienced domestic abuse—and the true figure is likely to be much higher.

Regrettably, these amendments have not been included in the Bill, and I therefore strongly support the call to hold an independent review of the effectiveness of existing defences, as proposed by this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green

My Lords, I had a few calm sentences worked out in response to this Motion, and completely scrapped them once I read the Commons disagreement amendments in lieu and reasons, because the reasons that the Commons have given for rejecting our amendments are absolutely pathetic.

I disagree strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, of whom I am very fond, when he says that non-lawyers should not get involved in lawyerly debates. Here in your Lordships’ House I see lawyers arguing ferociously about tiny issues on opposite sides of the Chamber. Lawyers often do not agree, and therefore at times we have to have some common sense.

It is no secret, or at least it might not be, that I am extremely intolerant of this Government. Quite honestly, the Minister referring to a “substantial majority” in the other place cuts no ice here when the Government have an 80-plus majority as well as some quite unsavoury little people from other parties.

I am sorry, but I now just have scribbled notes on these sheets of paper because of my fury at what I have heard. One of the points about lawyers in the other place is that they have given up their practices to become MPs. That means they are relatively inexperienced, whereas here we have experienced lawyers who do their best to give the Government good advice, but somehow that is very rarely enough.

The Commons reason for disagreeing with Amendment 37 is:

“Because it is inappropriate to extend the so-called ‘householder defence’ to victims of domestic abuse who use disproportionate force against their abusers in self-defence.”

I would argue that inherent in that phrase is the deep misogyny that we see all through society, because a householder who uses force against an intruder is almost invariably going to be a man while the person who attacks their abuser is almost invariably going to be a woman. Misogyny is written into that wording.

The Commons disagree with Lords Amendment 38:

“Because it is inappropriate to provide a new defence for victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, as the existing common law defence of duress is sufficient.”

That is clearly not true because women are still being sent to prison for, in many cases, quite justified aggression against their abusers. The same claim is repeated later in rejecting other amendments of ours. I just do not see how the Government can persist in their blindness towards what is happening in society and not at least try to make it a bit better. I fully realise that the Bill is a very valuable one and we absolutely need it, but why not make it as good as we possibly can?

I very much support the new amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I am very glad that she has persisted on this issue. I hope the Minister will actually listen to what we are saying now and take back to—I was going to say “his masters”, but your Lordships know what I mean—his department the fact that this would be a good addition to the Government’s review of sentencing. I cannot say that forcefully enough.

I just have one question—well, I have lots of questions, including “Why won’t the Government see sense?”—but this particular question is: when will the Government’s review of sentencing actually report?

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees 4:00, 21 April 2021

I must ask at this point: does anyone in the Chamber wish to speak? No? In that case it is over to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.

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

My Lords, it really is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for reasons that will become apparent, not least because we are three non-lawyers in a row.

On Report, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, wondered whether I was accusing the Government of being misogynistic, following on from what the noble Baroness has just said. I say very clearly that that is not what I said or intended to say. I shall clarify. The essence of misogyny, as I understand it, is hatred of women who fail to comply with the sexist stereotype of a compliant, subordinate woman—hatred of women who stand up for themselves. I am not accusing the Government of hating women, but in my opinion there are echoes of that view of women being subordinate in their approach to this issue.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, has said, on the face of it the Government’s refusal to extend the so-called householder defence to victims of domestic abuse who use disproportionate force against their abusers in self-defence in the same way that a householder is allowed to use disproportionate force against an intruder appears to smack of the view that men should stand and fight but women should run away.

I do not intend to go over the arguments that I made at previous stages of the Bill; suffice it to say that I do not believe the Government’s arguments hold water. As a result, I am led to the conclusions that I have expressed. I would not be averse to the Government repealing the so-called householder defence, but I believe that to allow predominantly male householders to avail themselves of such a defence while not extending it to predominantly women victims of domestic abuse is inconsistent and incompatible.

While I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Randall of Uxbridge, about Lords Amendment 38, in my view the Government’s approach is again inconsistent. The law specifically provides a statutory defence to victims of modern slavery when those victims are compelled to commit an offence, even though there is an existing common-law defence of duress. When it comes to victims of domestic abuse who are compelled to commit an offence as a result of such abuse, the Government argue that the existing common-law defence of duress is sufficient. Either the existing common-law defence of duress is sufficient for both victims of domestic abuse and victims of modern slavery or it is not. In my view, the Government should not be able to have it both ways.

Clearly, these anomalies need to be addressed. Motion D1 provides for an independent review of defences for those who offend due to domestic abuse, which we support. The review of sentencing as suggested by the Government does not appear to us to go far enough.

Photo of Lord Kennedy of Southwark Lord Kennedy of Southwark Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Housing)

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws set out in detail the case for her amendments in Committee and on Report, and it is disappointing that they have been rejected by the other place. In response, she has tabled Motion D1 in her name. As we have heard, she is seeking an independent review to look at the issues that we have been talking about throughout our consideration of these matters. I think that is the right way forward.

I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, is resisting the new Motion from my noble friend, but she made the point, as have others, that if the Government are resisting the issues raised in the amendment, he ought to address the question of whether they could be looked at by the review of sentencing—or is that a step too far for the Government?

There is a huge issue here. I recall the debates that we had when my noble friend and others presented harrowing cases. There is a real point here: if there is an intruder in someone’s house then, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, often a male can defend himself there and has a defence, but a woman attacked by her partner in her own home, which should be a place of safety, cannot rely on such a defence. That cannot be right.

The Bill is seeking to address the whole issue of domestic abuse in all its various facets. It is a good Bill, but it would be an even better one if we could make sure that all the gaps were plugged here. The fact is that women in their own homes, their place of safety, can often find themselves in very dangerous situations. If they have to defend themselves and end up injuring or killing their partner, we should understand that and ensure that they have the proper defences to take account of the difficult situation that they have found themselves in, often over many years. After all, these things escalate; they do not happen overnight.

My noble friend has identified an important point here, and I hope that when the Minister responds he can address it. We need to find a way to look at the issues that my noble friend raised in the review of sentencing, as he referred to in his earlier remarks.

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

My Lords, I am again grateful to noble Lords who have contributed to these exchanges. Right at the start, I say that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, was spot on when she characterised my position as disagreeing but sympathising—that is absolutely right. For the reasons that I have set out, I disagree but sympathise with the aims of the amendments.

Like the noble Baroness, I found the meeting with the representatives from the Centre for Women’s Justice extremely helpful. I have read a lot of material that they have produced, and, in particular, like her, I found the conversation with the survivor who joined us extremely powerful. Like my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge, we have to remember that, while we may be debating what sometimes seem here to be quite dry and technical issues of law, there are real people—if I may use that terrible phrase—and, in this case, real victims of domestic abuse, who are affected. The House can be assured that I have that at the very front of my thinking.

I will not go over the substantive points that I made—I hope I am excused for that. As I explained, the review is of sentencing in domestic homicide cases, but it is a broad review. The terms of reference are still being developed, but it will look at the impact of defences on sentencing, and, while I appreciate that that is not as far as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, would like me to go, I hope that it is an indication of the seriousness with which the Government take this matter and, in particular, the review of sentencing.

I pick up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. We respectfully disagree that there is a read-over to either the householder or the trafficking issue. As to the latter, I have made clear on previous occasions that we have concerns with the way that that defence is used in practice. Indeed, if I remember correctly, one of Her Majesty’s judges recently explained that in a case that he was hearing in, I think, Bradford—I may be misremembering that. As such, there is an issue as to how that trafficking offence is applied in practice.

Like the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, I am well aware that there is a substantial proportion of women in prison who have themselves been victims of domestic abuse—that is of course why a review of sentencing is so important. Without being trite, they are in prison because they were given a prison sentence; therefore, a focus on sentencing in the review is entirely appropriate.

I do not know whether there is anything I can do to help the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her apparent dichotomy between lawyers on the one hand and common sense on the other. The point I was making about the majority in the other place was actually that it was not the standard government majority, so to speak: it was a significant majority—with the greatest respect, that is something that this House ought to bear in mind. However, my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge did perhaps solve an age-old conundrum about a justification for the existence of lawyers, particularly in Parliament. He even came close to giving an explanation for their possible utility, so I am grateful to him for that.

My noble friend was also right when he said that people should not go to prison if they have been convicted of a crime that they were forced to commit—“forced” is a critical word, and that is where you get into the defence of duress. However, as I said, it is not only the question of the defence of duress: if there is a conviction, the nature of the force—if it does not amount to a defence—would still be relevant to sentencing and to mitigation.

As such, I hope that I have set out the reasons why the Government disagree. I hope that I have also responded to the particular point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on the scope of the review. However, for the reasons that I have set out, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, will indeed not press her amendment.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

I have received no requests to speak after the Minister. I beg your pardon; I see that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, wishes to speak.

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

As I explained, the review’s terms of reference are being set out. The date will depend on how broad the review is, which will obviously affect the date by which it reports. Certainly, as soon as there is a date fixed or anticipated, I can perhaps write to the noble Baroness to inform her of it.

Photo of Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws Labour

My Lords, I am of course disappointed that there has not been any movement—because the suggestion of there being a review in relation to the defences was posited last week, and I had hoped that, in the interim, we might have heard that some movement had taken place behind the scenes. Given that the terms of reference have not been finalised, I will write to the Lord Chancellor and seek to persuade him that the terms of reference might extend to a look at the defences as well as the sentencing in homicide cases where there is a background of domestic violence or abuse.

As I indicated, I will not press this Motion. I beg leave to withdraw it, but I ask that the good offices of the Lord Chancellor’s Department might be open to some reconsideration.

Motion D1 withdrawn.

Motion D agreed.