Amendment 148A

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 26 February 2024.

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Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:15, 26 February 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for her amendment relating to Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, and all noble Lords who have contributed to this heartfelt debate. These are horrific offences, taken with the utmost gravity by the Government.

Amendment 148A seeks to include relevant domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators on licence within the remit of management under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements—MAPPA. That would create a legal requirement on the police and the Prison and Probation Service to assess and manage the risks posed by individuals whose offending has taken place in the context of domestic abuse or stalking, and who either have more than one conviction of this nature or are assessed as posing a high risk of serious harm.

Amendment 148B seeks to make amendments to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, imposing on domestic abuse and stalking offenders the same requirements that apply to registered sex offenders. This would require the offender to report personal information to the police, including where they are living, their bank account details and passport details.

The Government agree that robust management of perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking is crucial to help keep the public safe. We completely agree with the spirit of these amendments; however, we believe the objectives can already be met through current provision and policy.

On Amendment 148A, there is already existing legislation where individuals who are convicted of specified violent offences and sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment or more are automatically eligible for management under MAPPA category 2. These offences include domestic abuse related offences such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, attempted strangulation, as well as stalking including fear of violence. The list is kept under review; for example, in recognition of the seriousness of the offence, we are legislating in the Criminal Justice Bill to ensure that offenders convicted of controlling or coercive behaviour will be automatically managed under MAPPA.

Noble Lords may question why all perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking cannot be managed under MAPPA. We need to ensure that the MAPPA framework, and the resources of the police, prison and probation services under the framework, focus on the most serious perpetrators, thereby ensuring that resources are targeted at those who pose the greatest risk. As committed to during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, we strengthened the Secretary of State for Justice’s statutory MAPPA guidance to include a chapter dedicated to domestic abuse and stalking. It mandates that all domestic abuse and stalking offenders who do not qualify for automatic MAPPA management must be considered for discretionary management known as category 3.

The Government have also worked with MAPPA agencies to improve practice, including the publication of a thresholding document to assist practitioners making the decisions. I can report that we have since seen a steady increase in category 3 management, with a rise of 37% in the last reporting year. We will continue to monitor the numbers of discretionary cases via the published MAPPA annual reports and to work with MAPPA agencies to develop practice in this area.

On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, to be automatically eligible for management under MAPPA, there must be a conviction for a sexual, violent or terrorist offence, and the individual must either be subject to notification requirements under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 or be serving a sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment or more. MAPPA management is available for only those perpetrators who have been convicted of or cautioned for an offence. Where the sentence is shorter but there is concern about the risk posed, a perpetrator can be managed under MAPPA on a discretionary basis. We have strengthened statutory guidance—I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall—to clarify that MAPPA management should be considered in all domestic abuse and stalking cases. Successive annual statistics indicate a rise in the number of discretionary cases, and the majority of the 42 MAPPA areas in England and Wales report an increase in the number of cases of domestic abuse managed under MAPPA.

On Amendment 148B, also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, the Government believe there are already provisions in place that will allow for information on perpetrators to be collected and used to manage risk. All individuals released on licence are subject to standard conditions for the duration of their sentence which include the requirement for perpetrators to inform their probation officer of any change of name and contact details, and to stay only at an address approved by their probation officer. There are numerous additional licence conditions which can be imposed to address specific risk factors. Breach of a licence condition can result in the individual being recalled to custody.

For individuals who are not subject to licence supervision, noble Lords may be aware that the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 introduced provisions for domestic abuse protection orders. These orders—which will be piloted in the spring—will allow for notification requirements to be imposed on perpetrators, of which breach will be a criminal offence. Domestic abuse protection orders are a civil order and can be imposed without a conviction, providing an opportunity to protect a greater range of victims than the proposed amendment. Piloting will allow us to evaluate and test the effectiveness and impact of the new model ahead of an expected national rollout.

Similarly, we introduced stalking protection orders—SPOs—through the Stalking Protection Act 2019 which can impose any prohibition or requirements that the court considers necessary and also impose notification requirements. Breach of both domestic abuse protection orders and stalking protection orders can result in up to five years’ imprisonment.

On another point made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, we agree that the implementation of measures to protect victims from harm should be reviewed to ensure they are fit for purpose. That is why we have committed to fund an external evaluation partner throughout the duration of the DAPN and DAPO pilot before taking a decision on rolling it out nationally and will continue to monitor the use and application of SPOs. We are aware that the police super-complaint submitted by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust on behalf of the National Stalking Consortium includes SPOs. We will take into consideration any findings and recommendations made by the investigating bodies when they report this year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, made some points about stalking protection orders and their enforcement. Some police forces, such as the Met, have been making excellent use of the new stalking protection orders we introduced in 2020. Others have applied for fewer than might have been expected. The VAWG strategy confirms the Home Office will work with the police to ensure all police forces make proper use of stalking protection orders. Among other actions, in October 2021, the then-Safeguarding Minister Rachel Maclean MP wrote to all chief constables whose forces applied for fewer orders than might have been expected to encourage them to always consider applying for them. In February 2023, the former Safeguarding Minister, Sarah Dines MP, did the same.

In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on MASIP, I am afraid I am unfamiliar with the programme and suggest a meeting to discuss further whether there is more the Government can learn from it.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, and my noble friend Lady Newlove, I am afraid I cannot comment on individual cases. However, I am happy to arrange a meeting to discuss them in private.

On the implementation of stalking protection orders, data from HM Courts & Tribunals Service shows that in their first 23 full months—February 2020 to December 2021—almost 1,000 interim and full SPOs were issued. The number issued rose by 31% between February and December 2020 and the equivalent period in 2021.

For these reasons, the Government feel that the aims of the amendments are already met through existing provisions, and I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendments.