Amendment 214A

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (8th Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 10:30 pm on 15th November 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Baroness Brinton:

Moved by Baroness Brinton

214A: After Clause 124, insert the following new Clause—“Home detention curfews(1) The Home Detention Curfew policy framework is amended as follows.(2) In paragraph 4.3.1 at the appropriate place insert—“Offenders who have previously breached a protective order”.(3) In paragraph 4.3.5 at the appropriate place insert—“Anyone with a history of offences relating to stalking, harassment, coercive control or domestic abuse”.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would exclude offenders who have previously breached a protective order and those with a history of offences relating to stalking, harassment, coercive control or domestic abuse, from the Home Detention Curfew policy framework.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, I have laid Amendment 214A and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for also signing it.

The home detention curfew is a valuable and worthwhile scheme, allowing offenders to be released from prison to a suitable address and allowing for a smoother transition back into society. There are, however, a number of violent and sexual offences which rightly cannot be considered under this scheme, due to the risk the offender poses to the victim. This amendment seeks to expand the list of ineligible offences to include those which relate to ongoing harm or risk to a particular individual and which are not already excluded from the scheme. These offences include stalking, harassment, coercive control and domestic abuse.

The Minister knows from the many amendments that were tabled during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill and other Bills before it that in cases where perpetrators are fixated and obsessed, by the time they are convicted, many will have either a restraining order or another protective order in place. This amendment says that the home detention curfew should also not be considered in cases where such a restraining order or other protective order has already been breached.

The Government have described a key objective of this Bill as follows:

“We are changing release arrangements for serious violent and sex offenders, as well as for those whose risk to the public increases during their time in custody, so that they serve longer in prison.

These changes have the protection of the public at their core and ensure a firm but fair justice system.”

The victims of stalking, harassment, coercive control and domestic abuse, where the perpetrator has had a protective order made against them, often report that their perpetrator continues to try to control them, whether directly or indirectly, including from prison, sometimes without prison officials being aware.

One example is not untypical of the kind of perpetrator we believe should not be eligible for HDCs. The woman, who wishes to be anonymous, has been a victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband and has been granted multiple restraining orders for her own protection since divorcing him. He was convicted in 2017 for breaching an order and in 2019 for two breaches of another order, and then faced trial for eight breaches of a third order as well as numerous counts of stalking against her, her partner and her family. This shows a clear history of breaching protective orders—over 10 times—and the victim is currently on her fourth restraining order.

In 2020 the ex-husband was convicted of stalking and sentenced to a two-year custodial sentence. However, the victim was shocked to find out that he could apply for a home detention curfew in January 2022, having served only six months of his sentence—that is, just under one-quarter. Understandably, given the history, she has been very concerned about her safety. Given the perpetrator’s history of breaching orders, she has little faith in his compliance with home detention curfews or in the police responding if he does fail to comply. There is no way of blocking his application despite his record.

The Minister said in reply to the last amendment that risk and safety were critical. Ministers have made it clear that tackling violence against women and girls is very much at the heart of this government strategy. We know that some of these particularly fixated perpetrators are highly likely to go on to reoffend, are likely to already have had protective orders and, the amendment says, must have already breached those orders—so, frankly, HDC is not an appropriate choice here. By not excluding stalking and the other offences that I have outlined, those most at risk—their victims—are most at risk of further harm.

I want to be clear that it is the obsessive behaviours demonstrated by breaching protective orders given by the courts that would act as the trigger to exclude from the HDC. The amendment seeks to ensure that, in the Government’s own words on this Bill:

“These changes have the protection of the public at their core and ensure a firm but fair justice system.”

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 10:45 pm, 15th November 2021

My Lords, I am pleased to add my name to Amendment 214A, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, because we care about protecting vulnerable victims of crime from harm and repeat victimisation.

Home detention curfew, or HDC, is a valuable scheme allowing certain offenders to be released early from their custodial sentence if they have a suitable address to go to. We all recognise the value that this brings in providing a managed way of releasing offenders back into the community. However, there are, rightly, a number of exclusions to eligibility for the scheme based upon the offender’s history of compliance as well as the offences for which they have been convicted. For example, sex offenders required to register, those sentenced for breach of curfew and those serving sentences for cruelty to children or racially aggravated offences are ineligible for HDC. These are just some of the criteria that currently can preclude someone. I believe, as do some colleagues around the Chamber with whom I speak, that the safety of the victim and the risk presented to them by the offender are of the utmost importance when considering suitability for release under HDC.

Amendment 214A seeks to add two new criteria to the framework governing home detention curfews: first, that offenders who have previously breached protective orders such as restraining orders are deemed ineligible; secondly, that those with a history of offences related to stalking, harassment, coercive control and domestic abuse are also deemed ineligible. Victims of these crimes are at high risk of repeat victimisation and are in desperate need of respite from their abuse to help them recover. Under HDC, that respite can be as little as 28 days, allowing no time to address the behaviours that characterise these offences.

Fifty-five per cent of stalking perpetrators go on to reoffend because of the fixated and obsessive nature that defines stalking, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has just said. Therefore, granting HDC in stalking cases is highly inappropriate and of grave concern, as these offenders regularly breach orders and bail conditions. Home detention curfew for these offenders poses a significant risk, catching victims as they let down their guard. To see an offender released so quickly can be highly distressing, retraumatising and risky; and it impacts trust and confidence in our justice system.

HDC can allow offenders to leave prison so quickly that the victim is entirely unaware. I am aware of multiple cases where a victim has been harassed by an offender following release on HDC, including the victim of a brutal assault, whose father told me what happened: “My daughter was convinced she saw the perpetrator within yards of her new flat. She had to walk around him on the pavement. I assured her that this couldn’t be possible, even with only serving half his sentence. Nevertheless, I checked with the prosecuting officer. He knew nothing of any early release, nor had the police been consulted. In fact, we discovered to our horror that my daughter’s assailant had been released barely three months into his sentence.”

This woman saw the man who assaulted her just yards from her new address—an address she moved to for safety, which was secret for a reason. Her father told me of the enormous distress and anxiety this caused as she relived her assault and felt constantly in fear. In this instance, she had signed up for the victim contact scheme, but a HDC decision had been made before she had been allocated a victim liaison officer contact. As such, the decision was made without any opportunity to input licence conditions and set an exclusion zone for her offender, or for her to contribute in any way by raising highly relevant issues. The relevant issues included the fact that the offender had been given a 10-year restraining order—an unusual intervention signalling the judge’s belief that he posed an ongoing risk. Relevant issues such as that he had previously contacted the victim on bail, showing that he had a history of not complying with orders, should have raised red flags and, under this amendment, would have precluded him from HDC.

The use of home detention curfews in these contexts presents an ongoing problem. If the nature of the offence relates to ongoing harm or risk to a particular individual, as detailed in this amendment, HDC should not be considered a suitable intervention. Those are the words of a father who is so worried for his daughter.

I know it is drawing late, but I would like to thank the London Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman, and her office for bringing these concerning cases to my attention. We need to protect our vulnerable victims of crime.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, my name is on this amendment as well. I have the same briefing as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Newlove, so I do not have anything additional to say, other than that obsessional behaviour is a problem that one sees throughout the court system. While of course I support home detention curfews, it needs to be recognised that obsessional, fixated behaviour is a source of very serious risk—mainly to women, but not exclusively to women. I have seen, relatively recently, obsessional people in breach of a restraining order, a non-molestation order, bail conditions and licence conditions all at the same time. So I support the amendment in my name.

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

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, twice over. First, I thank her for tabling this amendment, which has enabled us to have this short but interesting debate. Secondly, I have to say mea culpa, because I failed to thank her for her contribution in the last group. I should have done so and I apologise for that. I hope that she will be able to hear what I am saying now, via the screen.

The home detention curfew—HDC—scheme has operated since 1999. It provides a managed transition from custody to the community for lower-risk offenders who serve sentences of less than four years. They may be released a maximum of four and a half months earlier than the date on which they must be released in any event, but on average they are released on HDC within three months of their automatic release date.

Offenders who are released under the HDC scheme are released under strict licence conditions. An electronically monitored curfew of at least nine hours a day is mandatory. Location monitoring may be added in cases where practitioners advise that it is required. Importantly, research suggests that offenders released early on HDC are no more likely to commit further offences than if they were released at their automatic release date. Compliance with the curfew conditions is closely monitored and breaches are dealt with robustly, which can lead to a swift recall to prison where necessary.

As my noble friend Lady Newlove pointed out, certain offenders are excluded in law from HDC. They include registered sex offenders, terrorists and those imprisoned for specified violent offences. But, as I have said, most offenders serving sentences of less than four years are eligible for the scheme. I underline the word “eligible”. The fact that a particular offender is, in principle, eligible, does not mean that that offender is suitable for release under the scheme. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, has just said, offenders can, for example, exhibit obsessional behaviour. No offender can be approved for release on HDC without a robust risk-management plan in place. Where necessary, the governor can set additional licence conditions that can include exclusion zones or location monitoring. If the result of the assessment is that the offender cannot be safely managed at the proposed curfew address, HDC will simply not be granted.

We recognise that the release of offenders with a history of stalking, harassment, coercive control or domestic abuse can cause additional distress. We do not believe that adding those offences to the list of offences excluded by law and putting a blanket ban in place would be proportionate, or an effective means of safeguarding victims while maximising the benefits of the scheme. But we are currently reviewing the HDC policy framework to ensure that all the appropriate safeguards are in place to protect victims and the public and that unsuitable offenders are not released on HDC. With these reassurances and for these reasons, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw this amendment.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this brief debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, spoke powerfully of the practical impact on victims of these fixated offenders after HDC has happened. I echo her thanks to Claire Waxman and her staff at the London Victims’ Commissioner’s office for their briefing and their assistance.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, helpfully reiterated the fixated behaviour of these offenders and how it is in their nature to breach orders. All the examples that the three of us have given show that they are likely to do so—and to do so repeatedly.

I thank the Minister for his kind comments about my contributions on both this and the previous amendment, but I understand that stalking, domestic abuse and coercive control are not lower-risk offences. We already know that stalking offenders in particular, but not solely, often do not comply with orders and reject treatment, providing a problem for their victims. We still believe that this puts the victims at risk of further harm and pressure if their perpetrators are allowed to have HDCs. Therefore, will the Minister agree to meet with me, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, to discuss this between now and Report? In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 214A withdrawn.

Clauses 125 to 128 agreed.

Schedule 12 agreed.

Clause 129 agreed.

Schedule 13: Community and suspended sentence orders: special procedures relating to review and breach

Amendment 214B not moved.

Schedule 13 agreed.

Clause 130 agreed.

Schedule 14 agreed.

Clause 131 agreed.

Amendments 215 to 218 not moved.