Part of Domestic Abuse Bill - Commons Reasons and Amendments – in the House of Lords at 5:56 pm on 21st April 2021.
My Lords, noble Lords know that Amendment 42, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, seeks to amend the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and provide for a new category of offender to be managed under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, otherwise known as MAPPA. The intention is that such offenders are recorded on ViSOR, the dangerous persons database. The new category would cover perpetrators who had either been convicted on two or more occasions of a relevant domestic abuse-related or stalking offence or who had been convicted of a single such offence and had been assessed as presenting a risk of serious harm. Those features are retained in exactly the same form in Amendment 42D.
The noble Baroness’s original amendment would also place a duty on the Government to issue a report on these changes 12 months after Royal Assent. The amendment specifies that the report would need to include a comprehensive prevention and perpetrator strategy for domestic abusers and stalkers. The noble Baroness’s new Amendment 42D modifies this aspect of her original amendment by incorporating the provisions of government Amendment 42A but with the key difference that Amendment 42D would provide for a strategy to tackle domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators.
Following the decision by this House to agree Amendment 42, we have once again reviewed the arguments put forward by the noble Baroness and others in favour of her amendment. I will now outline our thinking and detail the conclusion that we have reached.
It was impossible not to be moved by the many personal accounts that were shared during the course of debates in Committee and on Report. However, I think there has been some misunderstanding of what the amendment would actually achieve, and that is worthy of clarification. An example of this concerns the report that has been circulated, which many noble Lords have raised, that outlines 30 harrowing and extremely distressing cases of women and children who have been murdered or seriously injured by violent perpetrators. Based on the information provided in the report, in many of these examples the perpetrator would already have been eligible for management under the current MAPPA provisions or the proposed amendment would not have made a difference because the perpetrator had not been previously convicted.
What is clear from those examples is that the systems were not always working as they should and victims were let down. Those cases illustrate the need for a changed agency response to perpetrators so that they are brought to justice earlier and agencies work together to reduce the risk that perpetrators will commit future offences that might lead to death or serious injuries of women and children. That is why we have continued to argue that simply providing for a separate MAPPA category covering serial domestic abuse or stalking offenders, as Amendment 42D seeks to do, would not strengthen the way in which MAPPA operates or indeed address the underlying issues.
It is worth disaggregating the amendment a bit to see what practical effect it would have. The argument put forward by the proponents of this amendment is that the discretionary category 3 of MAPPA—if I could use the term—is not working and what is required is to ensure that high-harm domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators are automatically brought within the MAPPA framework, but the amendment does not achieve that outcome and I will say why.
As I have said, the proposed new category 4 would capture two types of offender. First, it would capture serial offenders who had at least two convictions for a domestic abuse-related or stalking offence. However, the list of trigger offences for categories 1 and 2 of MAPPA runs to 153 offences, including ABH, GBH and sexual offences, which are commonly charged in domestic abuse cases. Serious domestic abuse offenders will already come within categories 1 and 2 of MAPPA and there is nothing to be gained from a category 4.
The second cohort of offenders to be included in the proposed new category 4 are those with just one relevant conviction but who have been assessed as being high risk. The key word here is “assessed”. This second group of domestic abuse or stalking offenders will need to be assessed as being high risk by the MAPPA responsible authorities before they are brought within the new category 4. However, this is no different to how category 3 operates. I add here that the existing MAPPA statutory guidance makes it clear that:
“Offenders demonstrating a pattern of offending behaviour indicating serious harm … that was not reflected in the charge on which the offender was actually convicted”— as is often the case with domestic abuse—
“should be considered for category 3 management.”
The amendment simply does not achieve what it purports to achieve. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, knows that if it did, I would be the first to be fighting for its inclusion. We do not have a principled objection to amending the current statutory framework if we thought that it will make a material difference by better protecting victims of domestic abuse and stalking. I regret to say that this is not the case here. As I have said before, the issue we need to address is not the legislative framework but how it operates on the ground to ensure that agencies actively identify those offenders who pose the highest risk and put plans in place to manage them. If further legislation were the key to ensuring that, I would be happy to support the noble Baroness’s amendment, but that is not the case here.
I outlined on Report the actions we are taking to ensure that the system works as it should, including strengthening the current statutory guidance with dedicated entries relating to domestic abuse perpetrators. I also explained how enhanced provisions for agencies to share information under MAPPA are included in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, which will be with your Lordships’ House in the summer. The Bill puts beyond doubt the information-sharing powers of those agencies subject to the duty to co-operate under MAPPA. It will also explicitly clarify these information-sharing powers for those agencies or individuals who can contribute to the assessment and management of risk, for example GPs. This will give greater confidence to those agencies when sharing information, supporting more effective risk management. These are all extremely important practical steps and will make a difference to how MAPPA works on an operational level with regards to domestic abuse perpetrators.
I will also touch on the reporting in the media that the amendment creates a register for domestic abuse and serial stalkers, and that it has now been included in the Bill. This is misleading and inaccurate, and it is also unhelpful to victims of domestic abuse. However, again, we are committed to doing more to ensure the effective recording and sharing of information—this is absolutely crucial.
Noble Lords will recall that I also said that we will improve the MAPPA shared database, also known as ViSOR, which is used to manage offenders. I am delighted to inform the House that the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice have jointly funded a project to introduce the new the multiagency public protection system, or MAPPS, which will have much greater functionality than the existing system. It will enable criminal justice agencies to more effectively share information, improving the risk assessment and management of high-harm offenders and MAPPA nominals, including domestic abuse perpetrators. Once MAPPS is operational, we will be able to decommission ViSOR.
We want to be held to account on our commitment to do more in this area. Therefore, the Government have brought forward Amendments 42A to 42C, to which the Commons has agreed. Amendment 42A places a duty on the Secretary of State to publish a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy, and I welcome the fact that the noble Baroness has incorporated this provision into her new Amendment 42D. In our Amendment 42A, we purposefully confined the scope of the strategy to domestic abuse perpetrators to reflect the focus of the Bill. We are separately committed to publishing a complementary violence against women and girls strategy, which will, among other things, address stalking that is not domestic-abuse related. The House of Commons rejected Amendment 42.
In conclusion, we are committed to ensuring that MAPPA works as intended to better protect all those who might be victims of domestic abuse or stalking. Lords Amendment 42D will not help in that regard; it will no more guarantee the effective management of high-harm perpetrators than the current MAPPA framework. I repeat: I would be pressing for it if it did. Amendments to the MAPPA framework in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 are not the answer here, and the Commons agreed with this view by some margin. What is needed here is the more consistent application of effective operational good practice, supported by the new multiagency public protection system and the additional resources announced in the spring Budget. That is what the practitioners on the ground would tell you, and we should listen to them.
I urge the noble Baroness and the whole House not to send back to the Commons an amendment that is substantially the same as one already rejected. Instead, we should move forward on the basis of the programme of work that I have set out, which will be brought together in our comprehensive, and now statutory, domestic abuse perpetrator strategy, which we will publish later this year. I beg to move.