Amendment 148D

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (6th Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 26 February 2024.

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Baroness Brinton:

Moved by Baroness Brinton

148D: After Clause 47, insert the following new Clause—“Duty of Crown Court to issue a restraining order for child sexual offences (1) A condition of the release on licence of child sexual offenders must include the issuance of a restraining order preventing any contact with the victim.(2) After section 244ZC of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 insert—“244ZD Release on license of certain child sexual offenders(1) A restraining order (as defined in section 359 of the Sentencing Act 2020) preventing any contact with the victim must be in place until further order at the point of release from custody under license conditions for those convicted of certain child sexual offences.(2) For the purposes of this section, “child sexual offences” means those offences defined as in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 sections 5 to 29, and sections 47 to 51.””Member's explanatory statementThis amendment requires a restraining order to be a condition of release for those convicted of child sexual offences.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, we now turn to the perpetrators of child sexual abuse. I have tabled Amendment 148D, which imposes a duty on the Crown Court to issue a restraining order for child sexual offences for a perpetrator released on licence for certain child sexual offences. There is a strong reason why victims of child sexual abuse should be given this protection: they are among the most vulnerable, particularly when the abuse occurs within the family. Although there is respite for victims when the offender is in prison and while subject to licence conditions—provided that these have been properly set—the real problem is that robust licence conditions are often not in place; worse, even where they are, the victim is left unprepared once they expire.

Sexual harm prevention orders do not automatically include protection for the original victims of the crime; the onus is on the original victims to apply for a restraining order against the offender after they have been released—that is extraordinary. This not only creates enormous stress and fear but costs the Government more money through new hearings that must take place, not to mention the additional CPS and court resources that are needed. A restraining order placed at the time of release will save time and money, while affording the victim lifetime safety. It also sends strong messages to the offender that they will face criminal charges and up to five years’ prison time if the restraining order is breached.

Sexual abuse of any kind is dreadful, but child sexual abuse is particularly heinous. As the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse evidenced, the victims’ lives are affected for decades. It destroys trust and lives; the fear of their abuser returning to their lives is very real.

One such case is Emily Victoria, whose father was sentenced to 14 years in prison for sexually abusing her—his daughter—and a foster child. On release under licence, conditions were put in place to prevent him from entering certain areas where the children, now adults, lived and frequented—these conditions were necessary for their safety. However, when his sentence was completed, the offender was no longer subject to any licence conditions, meaning he is legally able to contact, in person or digitally, the children—who are now adults—that he abused for their entire childhoods. They live in daily fear for their lives and live in hiding, subjected to ongoing trauma because the power has been given back to the offender.

Emily Victoria said:

“My dad horrifically abused me for the first 18 years of my life. I am now 33 and I have spent more of my life under his control than not. He has always been a violent man and pled guilty to many cases of child sexual abuse to myself and another.

His sentence came to an end on 21 November 2023. I am appalled that he has been given the right to contact me in person or otherwise. I live in fear that he’ll be waiting for me in the shadows of my home. There have been times when my home has been broken into and things have been moved around.

Right now, as a result of a prime-time documentary I presented which was aired on Channel 4, more children have come forward to say he sexually abused them. This can trigger a violent response with me as a target.

I am suggesting we impose a Lifetime Restraining Order at the time of release on license to prevent abusers of Child Sexual Abuse from ever getting in contact with their victims directly or indirectly. My dad tried to get in contact via a family member and it’s absolutely terrifying. I should not have to carry the burden of his mistakes for my whole life.

Nor should I have to go to trial/court to request a restraining order. The option to have a phone that directly calls the police because I’m in danger is enough. The restraining order for life sends a strong message of consequences to the offender that they will face criminal charges and up to an additional 5 years in prison.

I go to sleep at night worried about the safety of my child and myself – and I’m strong. For those victims whose offenders come out after just a couple of years and receive less chance of rehabilitation, it’s paramount we give the victims as much protection as possible.

True freedom for victims of child sexual abuse is in the hands of our Ministry of Justice and can be given to victims with a lifetime RO”.

Her experience and those of many others speak to why we need to ensure that victims of child sexual abuse are given the confidence that their perpetrator will not be able to contact them after their release. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport) 7:15, 26 February 2024

My Lords, I do not need to add much to the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, because she has explained exactly why this is an important matter. I was slightly astonished when I read the amendment that this was the case and that this was something that we would need to remedy, so I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Earl Howe Earl Howe Deputy Leader of the House of Lords

My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for this amendment, which, as she explained, would require the Crown Court to automatically impose a restraining order on anyone convicted of a child sex offence; that would apply regardless of the type or length of sentence passed. There is no need for me to underline the horror of child sex offences and the lifelong harm that is inflicted on the victims. I therefore have a great deal of sympathy with the intent behind the amendment to do even more to try to minimise the impact of that harm, as well as protect the community from any further offending.

Restraining orders are a discretionary power available to judges to impose in cases where there is a need to protect people from harassment or conduct that causes fear of violence. The current regime allows for such orders to be imposed where there is sufficient evidence on conviction, post conviction or post acquittal. At present, applications for restraining orders are considered by the Crown Prosecution Service on a case-by-case basis, recognising that there is a need to keep a victim safe and take their views into account. Actions prohibited by the restraining order, such as going to certain locations or contacting the victim, may be a breach of the order which is punishable by imprisonment for up to five years. Variation or discharge of the restraining order must be undertaken by the court.

When dealing with child sex offences, the court has a range of sentencing options available that may include life sentences. The vast majority of offenders who are released are subject to licence conditions that could include conditions to protect the victim, such as prohibiting contact. Breaching the terms of any licence condition can result in an offender being recalled to prison.

Offenders are also subject to notification requirements, commonly known as the sex offender register, where individuals convicted or cautioned for a sexual offence must provide certain details to police, including address, national insurance number and bank account details. Furthermore, they will also be managed under Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements, or MAPPA, for the duration of those requirements that, in many cases, will be for life.

Other measures to protect victims are also available. The sexual harm prevention order, or SHPO, can be made in relation to a person who has been convicted of a broad range of sexual offences, committed either in the UK or overseas. No application is necessary at the point of sentence, but courts may consider it in appropriate cases. Otherwise, applications can be made by the police, or other agencies, in preparation for the offender’s release on licence.

The prohibitions imposed by the order can be wide-ranging, such as limiting forms of employment that may involve contact with children or restrictions on internet access. The orders may be for a fixed period not exceeding five years but are renewable. More than 5,000 SHPOs were imposed in the year 2022-23, which shows that the courts are using the tools and powers available.

While I support the well-meaning intention of the amendment, I do not believe it is necessary, because there is a wide-ranging and effective set of measures to monitor and control offenders. I also suggest that the point at which these additional measures would be needed are when someone’s licence comes to an end; until then, conditions such as non-contact and exclusion can be in place on the licence. So it would be better to take decisions on the controls necessary at the conclusion of the licensing period, rather than attempt to predict them at the point of sentencing.

Requiring the Crown Court to automatically issue a restraining order as a condition of release in every case caught by this amendment would constrain the court’s discretion not to issue an order where it was not needed or desired. From a practical perspective, a mandatory restraining order imposed on an offender at the point of sentence, which could be many years before the end of the sentence, would be a duplication of some of the other controls I have already set out and it could create practical difficulties down the line, especially where the sentence is very long.

We also must remember the voice of the victim, which plays an important part in decision-making. Where an offender has received a custodial sentence of 12 months for violent or sexual offences, which of course include sexual offences against children, victims will be automatically referred to the victim contact scheme. Where the victim is a child, a parent or guardian may join the scheme on their behalf. If they choose to join the scheme, a victim liaison officer will inform them when the offender is going to be released and help them to request licence conditions that will apply upon the offender’s release, such as prohibitions on contacting the victim or entering an exclusion zone.

In conclusion, I hope I have adequately explained the wide-ranging provisions already available to safeguard victims, which we should allow the courts to impose as they see fit, according to the circumstances of a given case. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness agrees and feels able to withdraw the amendment. In saying that, I make it clear, as I often do, that I am happy to talk to her after Committee to explore these matters further.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

I am very grateful to the Minister and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. I am very grateful for his explanation of the system, but my difficulty with his response is that it does not make sure that the victim does not have to be proactive to go back to the court and make a statement, if they are very clear.

I hear what the Minister says about a sentence of more than 12 months, and I may return on Report with a slightly different amendment. This is a particular problem for victims of child sexual abuse of those who are discovered to have abused others and who present other issues. It is not just a one-off case that we are trying to resolve. In the meantime, I withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 148D withdrawn.