Amendment 19

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 3:38 pm on 23 April 2024.

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Baroness Brinton:

Moved by Baroness Brinton

19: Clause 2, page 2, line 36, at end insert— “(5A) Regulations under subsection (4) must make provision for a person to be able to obtain free of charge, on request, a transcript of the court’s summing up and sentencing remarks from a trial in which—(a) the person was a victim of a crime, and(b) that crime is tried in a court where the hearing is recorded.”Member's explanatory statementThis amendment will provide all victims with a right to free transcripts of the sentencing remarks and the judge’s summing up where the trial takes place in a court where the hearing is recorded.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat

My Lords, Amendment 19 in my name was originally proposed by my honourable friend Sarah Olney MP in another place. It highlights a scandalous failure towards victims, especially in the most serious crimes such as rape, serious sexual assault and stalking. It is completely unacceptable in this day and age that victims are forced to pay thousands of pounds to access a transcript of their own case while defendants can access them as part of their basic rights.

Let me quote:

“Accessing transcripts from proceedings in serious criminal cases is not only a fundamental right of victims but is also essential for maintaining transparency and accountability within the justice system”.

These are not my words, or Sarah Olney MP’s words; they are the words of the Government’s own Minister, Mike Freer.

In order to recover and cope, victims and family members need to be able to understand the reason a verdict has been reached, or the reason a certain sentence was imposed. Without this, many are left traumatised and are unable to move on with their lives. We have heard from many victims, saying they are constantly advised by the police and prosecutors not to attend a trial after they have given their evidence and, worse, not to attend sentencing hearings. Letters from the witness care unit literally capitalised the word “NOT” in “You are NOT required to attend”. Furthermore, videolinks to observe trials are rarely offered or facilitated for victims or bereaved families.

Unfortunately, the Government have cited the cost of court transcripts delivered through contracts with private, profit-making companies, and these prices can be prohibitive. With that, we agree. While the average sentencing remarks may only be £45 to £60, according to the Government, many complex cases can be significantly higher just for these comments—up to £200. The judge’s summing up can be higher still and we have heard of figures of over £500.

We are very grateful to the Government, and to the Minister particularly, for the meetings we had since Committee. We note that there is a pilot proposed. While the pilot proposed by the Government is welcome for these victims, it simply does not go far enough. It would, for example, not support the mother whose partner attempted to murder her and who is unable to move on. The pilot is very narrow in scope, running only for one year, only applying to victims of rape and serious sexual offences, and only giving access to sentencing remarks. Furthermore, we are not quite sure that the Government are clear on what they are hoping the pilot will achieve or demonstrate. We have discussed, with the Minister, the issue about data, and that remains an issue.

Ministers have suggested that transcripts are expensive to produce manually and the technology to automate the process is either expensive or not yet up to the standard. We do understand this point from the Government. This is why my amendment has been tabled, following discussion in Committee. Automation of the process at this stage would be needed only if the cost of producing transcripts was beyond the reach of government. In limiting this amendment to only sentencing remarks and summing up, we believe the cost, while prohibitive to many victims individually, is able to be taken on by the Government to provide open justice.

In conversations, the Government have questioned whether sentencing remarks really present a barrier. We know that they do, and I will give two very brief examples in a minute. Ministers have, on at least two occasions, said victims can go to a Crown Court and listen to the relevant audio recordings from the trial but may not record it themselves or transcribe it. This is wholly impractical, unknown among professionals, and we have never seen it happen once in practice. Having spoken with members of the judiciary, they were unaware that the practice even existed. The victims we are aware of who have tried to access this have all been denied.

The Minister has also previously stated that, in certain cases, a copy of the sentencing remarks can be made available to the public free of charge at the judge’s discretion. If this is true, members of the judiciary whom we have talked to are also unaware of this. We are certainly aware of some cases where they have been refused.

Here are two very brief cases. Juliana Terlizzi was quoted thousands of pounds for a transcript of her trail, and said:

“The trial was a culmination of almost two years I had fought to bring a dangerous, prolific sexual predator to justice. I was shocked to find out that I had to pay over £7,000 to get the transcript and I knew I couldn’t afford that”.

Rowan, whose daughter went through a gruelling court experience said:

“My daughter remains traumatised by her two days on the witness stand where she was character assassinated by the defence barrister.”

To prove the defence acted outside their own code of conduct, the family needed a copy of the court transcript and was quoted £22,000. This puts justice beyond the reach of victims.

There are other victims as well whom I have met and talked to: Charlotte, David, Victoria, Lily and Rosie. Those are not all their real names, because some of them are too scared to have their names mentioned. I particularly thank Claire Waxman and her team at the London Victims’ Commissioner’s office.

I have also signed some other amendments in this group and will be very brief. I have signed Amendments 57 and 59 on collaboration and adding stalking to the duty to collaborate. I have also added my name to Amendment 66 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell, on supporting a parliamentary report, once every three years, setting out the position regarding stalking. Importantly, I have also signed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester’s Amendment 70, about the Secretary of State including statutory guidance on sustainable, multi-year contracts. One of the big problems we have with victim services at the moment is that there is nothing in the medium term, let alone long-term planning.

I appreciate that the Government are concerned and have come a little way with the details of their pilots, but these victims need the ultimate justice. They are not part of the court system, and to ask them to pay for their justice seems unfortunate, at the very least, and absolutely inequitable in most cases. That is why I may have to press this amendment when it comes to a vote.

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 3:45, 23 April 2024

My Lords, a number of the amendments in this group are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Thornton.

Addressing first Amendment 19, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has spoken to, we agree with every word she said about the importance of this amendment. Access to transcripts for victims seems basic, given that this is a victims Bill, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, eloquently set out her case. Unfortunately, if she is to press this question to a Division, we will abstain. I regret that position, but it is a reality of the costs involved implicit within the amendment. I know that the Minister is going to acknowledge the desirability of court transcripts; I know that judges acknowledge that as well. There needs to be a technical fix for this, which will take a certain amount of investment and redrafting of existing contracts. But it is eminently achievable and I hope that the Minister will explain how the Government propose to achieve this end.

Moving on to Amendment 57, which is in my noble friend’s name, this proposed new clause would place a duty on specified public authorities to co-operate with the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses. The Government have previously agreed that it was vital for bodies to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner. However, the Government Minister, Mr Argar, previously stated that the Government chose not to add the duty to the Bill as they

“have not seen any evidence that there have been problems with a lack of co-operation in practice and therefore feel that the additional duty is unnecessary”.

They concluded that it was neither “necessary or proportionate” to alter the powers of the Victims’ Commissioner in this way.

The proposed clause would allow the commissioner to request a specific public authority to co-operate with them in any way they considered necessary for the purpose of monitoring compliance with the victims’ code. It also places a duty on the specified public authority to comply with that request. The clause would increase the powers and authority of the Victims’ Commissioner, in line with those of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, who is the most recent commissioner to be granted that power. These powers are essential for commissioners to drive forward change, and to hold agencies and national government to account for their role in responding to domestic abuse. It is therefore perfectly reasonable to grant the Victims’ Commissioner the same authority. I know that the Minister has moved in a number of ways on this issue, and I will listen very carefully to what he says when considering how to proceed with this amendment.

Amendment 61 is in my name. It seeks to ensure that consideration of children’s support needs is built into the heart of the Bill. We require that authorities must provide evidence in the published strategy of how they are meeting victims’ and survivors’ needs under the duty to collaborate. The needs of children are distinct from those of adults. It is vital that this legislation directs named authorities to explicitly consider this when delivering victim support services. They must be held accountable.

The support that children and young people require after experiencing abuse or exploitation is specialised in nature. It demands services and practitioners that understand their specific needs and requirements. We must support authorities to get it right for children. In order for the duty to collaborate model to be successful, the Bill must direct attention to and seek consultation with those who are best placed to understand the needs of children affected by abuse and exploitation.

I remember attending various meetings with other noble Lords taking part in this Report stage about the very specialist support that children need and the ambition to arrange things so that children have to tell their story only once. That is a difficult ambition to achieve and it works only when different authorities integrate their support, with people who understand children’s particular vulnerabilities. This amendment seeks to address that issue.

Amendments 72 and 73 are in my name. They state that the Secretary of State must issue guidance about specified victim support roles in England, but that Welsh Ministers should issue guidance in Wales. I tabled the amendment on behalf of the Welsh Government. The same amendment was tabled during similar stages in the other place. The Government have tabled Amendment 75, because previously there was no requirement in the guidance for the Secretary of State to consult Welsh Ministers. The government amendment is an improvement to the Bill—we acknowledge that—because it will require the Secretary of State to consult Welsh Ministers about the guidance to be issued under Clause 15. Nevertheless, I will listen with interest to the Minister’s response to Amendments 72 and 73, although I acknowledge that Amendment 75 has gone part way to meeting the requests in the amendments in my name. I will certainly not be pressing my amendments to a vote.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, this is quite a large group and I will speak briefly on the amendments I have my name to or on which I have something to say.

The first amendment in the group, from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, is on free transcripts. What I would ask the Government—I think the answer will be yes—is whether they agree in principle that this is and should be a right of victims: a proportionate right, without exorbitant costs and without needing pages and pages of transcripts. Do they agree that it is a fundamental right for victims to have the essence of what is said in a trial that involves them or their perpetrator, to understand the deliberations and the verdict that the judge and jury have come to, in a form and manner that is helpful to them and that they can use? In the same way that prisoners or perpetrators who have been found guilty go to appeal, the right that they have to access transcripts—quite rightly—is completely disproportionate when compared with the current right of victims to get almost any proceedings from the trials that concern them.

I think we are looking and hoping for an acceptance by the Government that the principle is right, understandable and correct; we are trying to find a practical way of achieving a form for that right to be exercised in a proportionate way for victims. While the RASSO model is a good start, it is clearly quite limited in extent. I will listen very carefully to what the Minister says in reply, and, of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will come to her own conclusions about what she decides to do.

Amendment 57, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, is about the duty to collaborate. The Minister may recall that, last week, we spoke about the fact that, if there is not a duty to collaborate, certain agencies will take it upon themselves to interpret statutory guidance in a way that is convenient to them, rather than in a way that is aligned to the requirements of the relevant commissioner.

In particular, I mention the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs. I was able to catch up with Nicole yesterday afternoon—I suspect it was not very long after she ran into the Minister—and we had a discussion. The content of the discussion was that, even if you have statutory guidance that says one should be collaborating, the fact is that some agencies will take that on board in the spirit it is intended and will collaborate, while others will say that they understand in theory that it is very important and should be done but will decide that they have other things that are more important, or that they do not have the time, money or resources to respond. That makes the role of a commissioner extraordinarily difficult.

Data is king. Knowing what is going on is fundamental to interpreting what is and is not working. If you do not have systematic, reliable data from every part of the country, it is very difficult to do one’s job and give sensible advice to the Government. It is hard, frankly, to look victims in the face and say, “We are doing everything we can for you”. Despite the fact that statutory guidance is written down, some agencies are deciding for themselves whether or not to comply. This is clearly unsatisfactory.

I asked the Domestic Abuse Commissioner what she would change, with the benefit of hindsight, about the way in which this was encapsulated in the Domestic Abuse Act and the guidance. She said that it is ultimately about accountability in so many areas; it is about who is ultimately responsible and who will be held to account if something which should be happening is not. At the moment, that is quite unclear. Having 43 different police forces, with police and crime commissioners on top, makes it rather difficult. The commissioner’s instinct was that perhaps one should hold police and crime commissioners’ feet to the fire and make them primarily responsible for ensuring that all the agencies in their jurisdiction take the statutory guidance seriously and comply. If they did not comply, some very awkward questions should then be asked of the police and crime commissioner to find out why.

Another thing that would be helpful is something that we have started to do in the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. We have a table which lists each department and ranks them by the egregiousness and inadequacies of their Explanatory Memoranda and the idiocy of their impact assessments. We are hoping that this will concentrate minds because, once again, data is king. It is extraordinarily important that one is able to measure what is going on.

I will listen carefully to what the Minister says on this and to the response of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. From the well-intended evidence about what we hoped and thought was going to happen in the Domestic Abuse Act, we have a chance to learn from what we thought was going to work well and which is not working so well and to try to do it better this time.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I will say a couple of words on—

Photo of Baroness Humphreys Baroness Humphreys Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Wales)

I do not think the noble Lord has finished.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

I am so sorry; I thought that the noble Lord had finished.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 4:00, 23 April 2024

Nearly—soon, I devoutly hope, but I have more to talk about, sorry. My Amendment 59 is about the inclusion of stalking within the scope of the duty to collaborate. Alongside the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, I had the privilege of speaking at a conference of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust this morning, because this week is National Stalking Awareness Week. I say on the record that we are extremely grateful that the Home Office issued some new guidance yesterday on the creation of stalking protection orders, which has significantly changed the game. Previously, one had to reach the level of criminality for a stalking protection order to be put in place, but it is now at the level of a civil offence, which is a great improvement that we are extremely grateful for. But I can only emphasise again how important it is that stalking is included. The Suzy Lamplugh Trust made a freedom of information request to every police force about what they were doing on stalking, and only seven had a dedicated stalking officer in place, while 12 of them admitted to having none at all. You have to concentrate on this really hard to make people realise that they have to take it seriously.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester will, I am sure, speak to his amendments, so I will not go on about them, other than to say that I broadly support them. I will listen carefully to the arguments he puts forward and to the Minister’s reply. I understand that any plea that involves pounds and pence does not go down terribly well with His Majesty’s Government at the moment, but I will listen carefully to what they have to say.

Lastly, Amendments 62 and 71 are in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Polak, who is unable to be here. I suspect that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, will speak to those later—I see her nodding, so I do not need to go on at length about them. They are part of our campaign, working with the children’s coalition, to better support children through the provision of services and of advocacy for children, both of which are incredibly important.

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop

My Lords, I will speak to my Amendments 60, 64 and 70, which echo amendments on support services for victims that I tabled in Committee. I am grateful to the Minister for his responses at that stage and for his kindness in meeting me and representatives of Refuge and Women’s Aid in the interim. In light of those conversations, it is not my intention to press any of these amendments to a Division today. However, I hope that, in this debate and in the Minister’s response to it, we can clarify a little further how His Majesty’s Government will seek to ensure that victims across the country have access to quality support services provided by organisations that hold their confidence and understand their specific circumstances. As we are now on Report, I will not repeat the detailed arguments of Committee, but I think their force still stands.

Amendment 60 places a duty on the Secretary of State to define in statutory guidance

“the full breadth of specialist community-based support domestic abuse services”.

This would ensure that victims receive quality support that meets their needs, and that they are made aware of the variety of community-based support available to them. Victims seek various forms of support, which might include advocacy, outreach, floating support, formal counselling or being part of a support group. All of these have a vital role to play. The guidance could cover the holistic support intersectional advocacy that is often provided by what we call “by and for” services —these are particularly helpful for black and minoritised women—as well as those providing specialist advocacy to deaf and disabled people and LGBT+ victims.

The implementation of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 demonstrates why a clear and precise definition is now critical. Under Part 4 of that Act, a statutory duty was placed on local authorities to fund domestic abuse support in safe accommodation. We found that organisations with a much wider remit than domestic abuse, and often services that had no expertise at all, because they are eligible for refuge funding under the duty, have now moved into that area, entering a sector previously run by specialists who really understood the service users.

What we find when local commissioning bodies rely too much on non-specialist organisations—which can be for financial reasons, or because they are easier to get hold of or to deal with—the result is that victims, particularly those from minority backgrounds or specialised contexts, receive much poorer support, yet these are, of course, often among the most vulnerable in our society. The amendment would simply ensure that commissioning bodies have to pay attention to their needs. Although I am not pushing it to a Division, my question to the Minister is: in the absence of placing a duty on the Secretary of State in the Bill, what assurances can he offer us today that the Government will place appropriate pressure on local commissioning bodies to procure the full range of specialist services from specialist organisations that such victims need?

Amendment 64 would require the Secretary of State to address the funding gaps identified by joint strategic needs assessments and support local authorities, integrated care boards and police and crime commissioners to deliver their duties under the duty to collaborate. The amendment has been framed so as to avoid requiring the Secretary of State to go outside the normal spending review processes, which I hope will give some assurances that this is not about trying to break the bank.

Without sufficient funding, it will not be possible for local commissioners to have regard to their joint assessments when producing strategies and providing services. The gaps in service provision that will likely be identified are already known, and there simply is not the funding available to plug them. Ultimately, the scale of the funding shortfall facing local commissioners —and in turn those specialist services—means that the Government do have a role to play.

Although the Ministry of Justice has committed to increasing funding for victim and witness support services to £147 million per year until 2024-25, this funding is not ring-fenced to domestic abuse services. Of course, existing commitments are simply insufficient to meet the demand around the country. Women’s Aid has found that a minimum of £427 million a year is really needed to fund specialist domestic abuse services in England: £238 million for community-based services and £189 million for refuges. Moreover, specialist services are now feeling the effects of this concerning rise in local authorities issuing Section 114 notices. This is a crisis that will only get worse.

However, I welcome the Minister’s statement in Committee that a ministerially led national oversight forum will be set up to scrutinise the local strategies. This could be the vehicle to identify systemic shortfalls in service provision, and hence to put pressure on commissioning bodies to plug the gaps. It could also provide the evidence to justify more adequate funding settlements, with specific requirements to include specialist community-based services. I would therefore be grateful if he could say a little more about how the ministerial-led forum he has promised will function.

Finally, Amendment 70 would require the Secretary of State to include advice on sustainable, multi-year contracts with statutory guidance. I know that the Government are already committed in principle to multi-year contracts in the victims funding strategy. The problem is that in practice, this is not happening. Refuge monitors all commissioning opportunities nationally, and half of commissioning opportunities are for less than three years. There is no enforceability mechanism for the victims’ funding strategy, and in the absence of that, short-term contracts are prevalent across the specialist domestic abuse sector. Such contracts make recruitment and retention of staff more difficult as services cannot offer fixed-term contracts. That leaves survivors forced to find alternative sources of ongoing support at critical points in their recovery and prevents services being able to take root properly in local communities. This is why I feel that a statutory requirement is necessary.

This amendment is a change from the one I proposed in Committee, where I sought to put the requirement into the Bill. I am glad that the Minister acknowledges the problem and would be grateful if, in responding, he could set out what further action the Government will take to ensure that longer-term contracts for specialist service providers become the norm and not the exception.

Finally, I support other amendments in this group, in particular Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, but will leave my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester to speak to that.

Photo of Lord Meston Lord Meston Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak briefly again in relation to the provision of transcripts covered by Amendment 19. I fully understand the point and the force of the amendment and wish to emphasise a point that perhaps the noble Baroness did not. She is not, in fact, talking about transcripts of the whole trial or transcripts of sections of evidence. I could not help suspecting that the costly examples she gave were of much lengthier transcripts than transcripts of the summing-up and sentencing remarks about which she seeks to make provision under this amendment.

To that extent, the noble Baroness may well have undermined her own case, because I suspect that transcripts of the sentencing remarks and summing up are much cheaper, but I cannot give expert evidence on that. Particularly important to some victims is the transcript of the sentencing remarks, because that gives the victim, and those who may advise or support them or provide them with therapy and counselling, an appreciation of what the judge assessed to have been the culpability of the offender and the impact on the victim.

As far as it concerns the provision of a transcript of the summing up and sentencing remarks, I support this amendment. This is subject to the caveat I mentioned at an earlier stage: in the case of sexual offences the distribution of transcripts needs to be subject to safeguards, because otherwise they can and do fall into the wrong hands. From time to time, I have been asked to authorise the distribution of a transcript, and a lot of thought has to go into who can and cannot see them and what happens to them once provided. If they get into the wrong hands, it will do the victim, among others, a great disservice.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 57. Why would I not, since it is a duty to collaborate and co-operate? We like a lot of “C”s in this Bill. I also support what has been said about transcripts. It is so important to have the sentencing remarks, so that further down the line you have the time to read them and digest them. I have some sympathy and understanding of what it feels like.

This amendment is so important to future Victims’ Commissioners. In Committee, I told noble Lords that it was time we gave the Victims’ Commissioner the tools to do the job that Parliament intended. I am not on the state pension yet, but this amendment would mark the coming of age of the role of Victims’ Commissioner. It would require criminal justice agencies listed under the victims’ code to co-operate with commissioners not as a favour or because they happen to get on with them but because they have a statutory duty to do so. This is how it should be.

When I met my noble and learned friend the Minister to discuss this amendment, he told me that commissioners had very different roles, and that the authority given to one commissioner should not automatically be given to others. I do not disagree but—I say this with the greatest respect to him—that is not why I back this amendment. All commissioners rely on the co-operation of government departments and agencies to deliver an outcome. They do not, as a rule, have executive powers invested in them. Whatever the differences in their remits, whether it be victims, domestic abuse, children or modern slavery, the underlying requirement to work collaboratively with key stakeholders remains the same. All commissioners are dependent on the co-operation of others if they are to effect change.

My office was asked to provide examples of where agencies have not co-operated in the past. We duly provided this information. I do not intend to share our examples today, but I believe they made the case for the change that we are calling for. To allay any concerns, we recognise that sometimes data might simply not be available or that there may be very good reasons for not sharing it with us. However, the reasons for withholding information are not always explained to us, and we do not always get the impression that agencies have considered whether they hold other sources of data that might be helpful as a substitute.

In conclusion, when asking my team members for other examples, I was concerned to be told that they generally do not ask for information as they know that it will not be shared with them. That cannot be right. If further Victims’ Commissioners are to be part of the solution in driving change and improvement, they need the support and co-operation of criminal justice colleagues. I await to hear what the Minister will say, but I am tempted to support the amendment if it is put to a vote.

Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 4:15, 23 April 2024

My Lords, Amendment 79, in my name and that of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, would ensure that migrant victim-survivors of domestic abuse subject to the “no recourse to public funds” condition would be fully entitled to services covered by the victims’ code. I return to this amendment because of the unsatisfactory ministerial response to it in Committee, which simply repeated what was said in the House of Commons—which I had already challenged—and which tried to reassure us that the amendment was not necessary. However, on-the-ground organisations—notably Southall Black Sisters, to which I pay great tribute for its indefatigable work in this area—and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner see it as very necessary. Moreover, in February, the UN special rapporteur on VAWG recommended scrapping the NRPF condition altogether for this group.

In Committee, I asked for an explanation as to why the Government have still not implemented a long-term solution for this group, despite three years of pilots—now extended to 2025—which have been subject to both an official and unofficial evaluation, that clearly demonstrated where reform is needed, and despite strong pressure not just from the sector but from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner herself. The pilot was set up because the Government said that they needed more evidence. While that need was disputed at the time, surely now they have sufficient evidence to put in place the long-term solution that is needed. Once again, I ask: why have they not done so?

I hope that the Minister will not try to argue that the reforms to what was the destitute domestic violence concession—now the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession—spelled out in his letter to me and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, constitute such a solution. While these reforms extend the concession’s protection to partners of worker and student visa holders, they do not also extend eligibility for settlement under the domestic violence indefinite leave to remain.

Southall Black Sisters dismisses this reform as a red herring. In a letter to the Home Secretary, written along with over 50 other organisations, it makes clear:

“We oppose this so-called ‘extension’ because it creates a cliff edge at the end of three months for those who are unable to pursue any settlement route. They are usually expected to leave the country, which will discourage many victim-survivors from coming forward for fear of deportation, rendering the extension ineffective”.

It is also concerned that

“creating a separate route which is a watered-down version of the DDVC and DVILR model”— the value of which, it is worth pointing out, is recognised internationally—

“will create confusion for victim-survivors and professionals, putting victim-survivors at risk of not making informed decisions about their rights”.

That is all the more true, given the near total destruction of legal aid and the lack of adequate funding for specialist services that could provide advice.

Here, I express my support for Amendment 60, in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, as specialist community-based domestic abuse services, particularly “by and for” organisations, are a vital element of the domestic abuse victim-survivors infrastructure.

Returning to the question about “no recourse to public funds”, the DAC has commented that the revised scheme

“doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is truly needed to support migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse. The time-limited support of the MVDAC, and its separation from the DVILR provides no clear pathway for migrant survivors to regularise their status”.

She explained that we know that the two schemes

“work best when they work together”.

Far from providing the long-term solution that she and others have been calling for, she fears that this reform

“is little more than a 3-month sticking-plaster and will discourage migrant survivors from coming forward”.

She calls instead for

“thoughtful investment to ensure that all migrant survivors have access to public funds, specialist domestic abuse support, and a route to regularise their status. Anything short of this simply won’t be enough”.

In view of these criticisms of the reforms outlined in the Minister’s letter, from both specialist front-line organisations and the DAC, can he please address their concerns in his response? Will he provide an explanation as to why there is still no long-term solution to ensure the adequate protection of migrant victim survivors of domestic abuse?

Finally, if the only real objection to the amendment is that it is not necessary, what harm would there be in simply accepting it, to show that the Government are at least listening to some of the concerns of front-line organisations and the DAC?

Photo of Baroness Gohir Baroness Gohir Crossbench

My Lords, I rise to support Amendments 60 and 64 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester, to which I have added my name. I declare my interests as set out in the register. The charity that I run operates a specialist domestic abuse service. I want to use my charity as an example of why these amendments are needed.

Muslim Women’s Network operates a national specialist helpline. It runs other projects in addition, but because it is not solely a domestic abuse service it has been excluded from stakeholder meetings by decision-makers, and also excluded from funding. For this reason, it is important to define the full breadth of specialist community-based domestic abuse services, which can then be used to hold decision-makers to account if they are excluded from being consulted, or when it comes to applying for funding. It can be quite short-sighted if organisations have that intersectional experience of cases. They also hold important data.

There is a huge funding gap, which has been mentioned. Barriers are put in the way particularly of small, specialist minority-ethnic organisations. We have seen this more in recent years under the current Government. As an example, there are very high thresholds to make grant applications. Thresholds can be so high that they exclude minority groups from putting in funding applications unless they form a coalition, which can be burdensome for a small organisation. The other problem this poses is that, if they form a coalition and there is a lead partner that gets a large chunk of money, most of that money goes out to the other partners in the coalition. That organisation then goes to, say, the charitable foundation sector to try to obtain funding and is told, “You’ve gone over the income threshold; you can’t apply for the funding because you have plenty of money coming in”. It is not considered that most of that money is going back out—this poses another barrier for small, specialist organisations.

These types of issues need to be considered to effectively commission relevant victim support services. I support the other amendments in this group, of course.

Photo of Lord Hogan-Howe Lord Hogan-Howe Crossbench

My Lords, I support Amendment 19 from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, principally because it is a good idea in principle that victims should have the reasons why the sentence has been decided. You could argue that the summing up can be a very long process and has to account for all the evidence that is offered; I can therefore understand why the costs might mount for the summing up, but I cannot understand why the costs would mount for the sentencing.

It seems vital for the victim to understand why a sentence was given. There has not always been a reasoned decision as to why a sentence was given, but they are provided more often now, not least because the suspect has the right to appeal their sentence, and they need to understand—as does any appellate court—the reason why a sentence was awarded.

I would have thought, although I have been quietly informed otherwise by a noble and learned neighbour, that all judgments, and the reasons for the sentence, would be written down. Apparently, they are more often ex tempore. That seems a little dangerous to me, but I am not in a position to argue. Apparently, there are times when sentences, and the reasons for them, are written down and published—and there must be times when they are transcribed for appeals et cetera—so, if they are available, that is not an extra cost.

In any case, I would have thought that judgments need to be recorded. If they are recorded, why can they not be shared, certainly for the victims’ reasons? I understand that there might have to be a cut-off point—perhaps for the seriousness of the sentence given, which may be imprisonment compared with a more summary offence—but I cannot quite understand why the sentencing decisions cannot be shared with the victims. It might well be that they do not want to be in court when the sentence is announced, or that they are not available to be in court. Quite often, nobody knows the time at which the sentencing decision will be made: nobody knows exactly when the hearing will finish, when the jury will decide its findings or when the judge will be available to deliver the sentencing judgment.

I support the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and if she decides to divide the House I will certainly support it. I realise that the Opposition have decided not to, but I am a little surprised.

Photo of The Bishop of Gloucester The Bishop of Gloucester Bishop

My Lords, from listening to this debate, I am struck again and again by how so much of what we are saying was said in this House during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. We need to listen to and be aware of that. I hope the Minister will reflect on that.

I agree with much of what has been said this afternoon. I will briefly add my voice in support of Amendment 79, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, to which I have added my name. I simply echo her frustration that we are no further forward in securing a long-term solution for migrant victim survivors of domestic abuse who are subject to the no recourse to public funds condition. I raised this during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. As has been said, we were told then that the Government needed more evidence before implementing policy change, and here we are three years later, with so much evidence produced, both officially and unofficially, about the need for reform but a reluctance from the Government to make the much-needed change. I simply hope that the Minister might answer the very valid questions raised by the noble Baroness, especially on the inadequacy of the reform to the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession.

Photo of Baroness Benjamin Baroness Benjamin Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I fully support my noble friend Lady Brinton’s Amendment 19 and her passionate and common-sense contribution, which I hope the Minister will consider. I will speak on Amendments 62 and 71, to which I have put my name.

Child abuse and exploitation affects hundreds of thousands of children across this country each year. Sadly, any child, in any place, can be a victim of abuse. Children are also disproportionately impacted by abuse. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse found that children are the victims of 40% of sexual offences. Being a victim of abuse has a devastating effect on children, with the impacts often staying with them for the rest of their lives. Yes, childhood lasts a lifetime.

Despite this, we are leaving our most vulnerable children without access to essential child-specific victim support services and child-specific victim support roles. It is key that, when commissioners decide what services and roles to commission to support victims, they must pay attention and due regard to the need for child-specific victim support services and roles to meet the need in their local area.

That is why I put my name to Amendments 62 and 71. These amendments would strengthen the duty to collaborate in the Bill and have a huge impact for children who have experienced the most horrific crimes. Child-specific victim support services play a crucial role in helping a child to start to recover from abuse and trauma, giving children a space to work through their trauma and offering mental health and counselling services.

However, support services are hugely underfunded and undervalued, and children are facing a postcode lottery in accessing them. Recent research by the Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse found that across England and Wales there are only 468 services providing support to victims and survivors of child sexual abuse. This is despite an estimated half a million children suffering from some form of sexual abuse every year. Barnardo’s, which offers child sexual exploitation services—I declare an interest as its vice-president—has found that an additional 1,900 child independent domestic violence advisers and almost 500 child independent sexual violence advisers are needed across England and Wales to support the number of identified child victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Commissioners must have due regard to child-specific victim support services when they are collaborating on commissioning strategies; this is why I support Amendment 71. This amendment simply aims to extend the scope of guidance given to commissioners under the duty to collaborate to include further detail about victim support services. This will ensure that commissioners are able to understand the type of victim support services that will need to be considered, including child-specific services.

Too often, children are only offered the support of independent domestic violence advisers and independent sexual violence advisers who are designed to support adults. These roles are not equipped to have the capacity to respond to children, whose abuse often looks very different from the abuse of an adult and who have different support needs. Amendment 62 would simply make it explicit that, when undertaking their duty to collaborate, commissioners must have due regard to the statutory guidance. It would be good to hear what the Minister has to give us as reassurance on this point.

It is shameful that so many children who have suffered unimaginable harm and trauma have been left without much-needed support. The Victims and Prisoners Bill offers us a key opportunity to make sure that these children are better supported to recover from their abuse in the future. The amendments I am supporting do not call for additional funding but solely aim to strengthen the Bill and the duty to collaborate. In turn, this will ensure that all victims, including children, are at the centre of commissioning strategies. If we want to support child victims, this is crucial. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee) 4:30, 23 April 2024

My Lords, I had not intended to speak on this group but, having heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, I want to add my 100% support for what she has just said. As a family judge for something like 35 years, I tried cases of sexual abuse against children. I also happened to do a report on the diocese of Chichester, and I met adult members of that group who had suffered serious sexual abuse. It lasts a lifetime, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said. I particularly realised it when I met these young men who had suffered abuse from clergy, I am sad to say—one of whom went to prison and one of whom died before. It lasted years and years. Everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said, is entirely right, and I support it tremendously.

Photo of Baroness Hamwee Baroness Hamwee Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I was surprised when there seemed to be a hiatus—I had not allowed for his need to draw a breath. He mentioned his conversation this morning with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner. I am not surprised to hear what she said. I recall that, before the Bill even arrived in this House, she was making her views about a duty to collaborate very clear and well known.

I simply wanted to support my noble friend in her amendment on transcripts. I have to say that sitting through most of the Committee and Second Reading of this Bill has really made me reflect on how victims can be treated as almost peripheral to a trial, because inevitably there is a focus on the defendant. It is inevitable because the court is determining guilt or—I was going to say innocence—not guilt. It would never have occurred to me that the availability of a transcript might depend on whether it has to be available to the defendant.

As the noble Lord, Lord Meston, said, this is quite a narrow amendment. The Minister was very clear about the constraints and difficulties. As well as being narrow, this amendment would reduce costs, which we were talking about at the previous stage. It is important that we pursue this.

Photo of Lord Hampton Lord Hampton Crossbench

My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 61, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and Amendments 62 and 71, in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Russell of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. In this, as ever, I must declare my interest as a state secondary school teacher.

The great thing about following the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, is that it is like somebody doing your homework for you. All the way through this stage of the Bill, we have talked about children as being separate victims, and we got the “Uncle Tom Cobley and all” reason back—in that, if you have to mention one, you have to mention all in this. I think we have to be specific. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, and I went to the Lighthouse child house and saw its model. We saw how, when victims are treated specifically, we can get higher levels of prosecution, better health for them in future and save money in the outcome. Why would you not do that?

Photo of Lord Bellamy Lord Bellamy The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I first bring forth the Government’s Amendment 75, which requires that Welsh Ministers be consulted on any guidance on victim support roles under Clause 15, so far as the content relates to devolved matters. Victim support roles may operate across criminal justice settings and include devolved health and local authority responsibilities. It is therefore right and entirely in line with the devolution settlement that Welsh Ministers are properly and fully consulted and that the Welsh context is properly reflected in the resulting guidance that will flow from that. I warmly thank the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his Amendments 72 and 73, which relate to this matter. It is the Government’s view that government Amendment 75 covers that ground and that it is no longer necessary for the noble Lord to press his amendment in this respect.

Amendment 61 is about consultation with providers who are under a duty to collaborate. It would create a mandatory requirement for relevant authorities to consult those providing support to child victims during the formulation of their strategy under Clause 13. We have just heard moving contributions on children. As I said last week during the debate, the Government have been clear throughout Part 1 that the distinct needs of children should indeed be taken into account. That is reflected in particular in Clauses 13(4) and 15(5), which specifically relate to children, now defined as individuals under the age of 18. Those clauses, among other things, require the commissioners to make reasonable efforts to obtain the views of relevant victims, which will expressly include children. The guidance will underpin that duty and set out best practice for consulting child victims and those who provide services to such victims.

We have fully discussed children. I do not think I need repeat anything that I have already said. The position of children is very widely recognised. Therefore, in the Government’s view, Amendment 61 is overtaken by the provisions that already exist in the Bill and what has already been said on behalf of the Government in this respect.

I come to Amendment 79 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lister, which relates to support for victims with no recourse to public funds. I thank her for tabling that amendment. The code is clear that victims are entitled to access services, including support services, under the code regardless of their resident status. As has been mentioned, there is also access to funding and support through the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession. That mechanism was expanded last February to give victims who are here as the partner of a worker or student a short period of lawful status, financial stability and support while they consider their future options. That is a major extension of the concession that was first introduced in 2012.

Of course, the Government have heard the concerns raised about the need for a longer-term solution in this matter. Basically, two points arise. First, this is not that easy to address in the context of the wider immigration system and immigration policy. We cannot ignore the fact that there is a risk of creating a route that is attractive to some who seek to shortcut or abuse the immigration system, rather than the genuine victims of domestic abuse whom we all seek to support. That has to be worked through. However, if I may speak frankly, while the Government will of course continue to support this important matter, which has been raised many times in recent years, resources are not unlimited and this must now take its place in the next spending review. No doubt the Government will then come to a view as to how resources are allocated.

In the meantime, there is support under the migrant victims of domestic abuse concession. There is also the support for the migrant victim scheme, which provides wraparound support, including accommodation, subsistence and counselling to victims with no recourse to public funds. As I understand it, that has supported over 1,200 victims since April 2021. I would like to go further towards the noble Baroness and others who have supported this amendment, but I hope that what I have been able to say will at least persuade her not to press it further.

I come now to Amendments 60, 64, 66 and 67, which variously relate to guidance defining specialist community-based services for victims of domestic abuse, sexual violence and so on, as well as the funding gap, a requirement that sufficient funding is provided annually to the relevant authorities to commission the relevant victim support services, and the establishment of cross-government “by and for” funding services. It is quite a large group, but your Lordships will have the general picture.

First, I very much thank the right reverend Prelate and others for their engagement on these amendments, along with representatives from the sector. Of course, the duty to collaborate under the Bill will need to have regard to the joint needs assessments, and the local strategies, which will be published, should include evidence of how the relevant authorities have carried out their needs assessments, as well as how those assessments have informed commissioning decisions.

I can commit that noble Lords will see in the draft guidance, shortly to be available, that it will set a clear expectation for local commissioners to share both a self-contained joint needs assessment document and joint strategies with the Ministry of Justice to enable the Government to bring together local intelligence on need. I very much hope and expect that this will provide the national framework for addressing the problems raised in this debate.

The guidance will make clear the Government’s intention to use the insight from the joint needs assessments to inform a co-ordinated and strategic approach to national funding, so that when we come to the next spending review, we can, as is it were, properly develop a national joined-up approach to these very important matters. Indeed, the very fact of collaboration should improve the use of existing funding, reduce duplication and enable better targeted use of resources. The Government’s position is that the spending review is the appropriate route for setting these budgets. We have to build in the necessary flexibility, in terms specifically of “by and for” services, which are indeed very important—the Government recognise that.

There has been just under £6 million of funding for those services in the past two years. One of the ambitions is to build further capacity for “by and for” services to better support victims, and in addition—this is perhaps in the sense of a separate bucket—police and crime commissioners across England and Wales with annual grant funding can include specialist “by and for” services based on their own assessment of local need. In the Government's view, we do not need to provide for this specifically in legislation, but it is very much part of the general approach to ensuring better support for victims’ services through the co-ordinated strategy that one hopes will emerge from the Bill.

Of course there is an enormous range of specific domestic specialist abuse services offered. As for the guidance sought under Amendment 60, we are quite reluctant as a Government to highlight some services over others. We would not want to inhibit new services being established in the future. But the general framework under the Bill, I respectfully suggest, is a very important step forward in relation to better funding for victims’ services. In the light of those assurances and remarks, I hope that this group of amendments need not be pursued.

Related to that is Amendment 70 on guidance for multiyear contract terms. Of course the Government have recognised the importance of multiyear funding. I can quite understand the position of the right reverend Prelate in particular that multiyear funding should become the norm. In many ways, the Government encourage that. The Victims’ Service Commissioning Framework should reiterate it as an expectation. The statutory guidance under the duty to collaborate should refer to that point.

Again, one is essentially juggling the various resources. One cannot account for unforeseen events. It is not always possible to provide things on a multiyear framework, but that is undoubtedly desirable. Grant agreements with police and crime commissioners include a requirement to commit to multiyear funding for the providers of local services they commission where possible. The Government themselves have committed over £150 million to the victims budget on a multiyear basis across the current spending review period, totalling £460 million over three years. The next spending review period should see those approaches continue. The Government’s view is that these existing mechanisms outside the legislation to ensure consistency of funding for victims’ services should and do suffice. There is a government commitment to multiyear funding to wherever we can make that possible. On that basis, I urge the right reverend Prelate and other noble Lords who support the amendment not to pursue it.

I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for Amendment 65, which requires evidence of how the relevant authorities have fulfilled their obligation under the duty in Clause 13. On this point, the Government will strongly recommend in guidance that duty holders will include evidence in their strategies. On that basis, I suggest respectfully that the inclusion of this requirement in the Bill is not necessary.

Amendments 62 and 71 would place a duty on local commissioners to have regard to guidance on support roles, particularly the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord Polak and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin—we revert again to children, and rightly so. I can only repeat what I have just said: children are already very much in focus under the Bill, and we do not think it appropriate to go any further than we have. I think and hope I have said enough today, and on the previous occasion, to emphasise the importance that the Government place on proper victim services for supporting children.

On Amendment 59, which is the stalking amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, rightly referred to the steps announced this week by the Government to improve the approach to stalking through the lower standard of proof required for stalking protection orders. Stalking is already covered by the duty to support victims and is almost certain to be a criminal offence in many cases under the Protection from Harassment Act or other Acts. The Government have been listening to concerns in this respect and will make sure that the draft statutory guidance highlights that support for victim services should be needs-led rather than crime-focused, if noble Lords understand what I mean—that is, what the victims have been suffering is the important thing to focus on. I am very much persuaded that the guidance should highlight the particular problems of stalking, and that is a problem that needs to be addressed. If I may put it like this, it is coming up the agenda, and I hope that sufficiently covers the matters that are addressed in Amendment 59.

That takes me to the duty to co-operate with the Victims’ Commissioner in Amendment 57. This is not in any way a reflection on present company, as it were, but the Government are not yet persuaded that we need more powers for the Victims’ Commissioner. The points can be summarised shortly. This particular commissioner’s function is much wider than that of other commissioners; it covers all crime across a very wide area. It has been a very successful office that has existed now for 14 years—it is not a new office—so it is not entirely clear why these extra powers would be needed. I have indeed had a conversation with the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, and if I took away something from that it was that statutory guidance powers do not actually help that much, to tell the truth; you still have the problems.

In this case, the role of the Victims’ Commissioner has already been substantially strengthened. The commissioner may now make recommendations to any authority, as in Clause 18, and that authority has a duty to respond. I suggest that that is in effect a duty to collaborate. The commissioner has the power to be consulted by the four inspectorates mentioned in Clauses 19 to 22. People can go direct to the parliamentary ombudsman. The commissioner’s functions include keeping the code under review, being a member of the ministerial task force and being consulted on non-compliance notifications and on the annual report, and Ministers will be required to consult the Victims’ Commissioner when issuing or amending the code. That is a large package of measures, and I therefore suggest that Amendment 57 is not required.

Lastly, I turn to the first amendment—an occasion where the last should be first, but the first is not last, as it were—which is the question of the transcripts. If I may say so, this is a question not of principle but of ways and means. In answer specifically to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, I can accept on behalf of the Government that a proportionate right to have access to what is said in the trial—certainly as regards sentencing remarks—is a proposition that we could accept. The issue is how we give context to that, whether it is through listening to the remarks in court, obtaining a transcript, listening to the audio, or perhaps listening remotely in another room or somewhere else where the proceedings are being transported remotely.

There are two aspects to the problem, really. In my letter of 27 March I think I set out all the arguments; I will not repeat them now. I gave details of the one-year pilot that the Government have committed to run and subject to the results of that we shall see what the next steps are, but it is important to complete the pilot before we take a decision. It is worth mentioning that there are roughly 46,000 convictions per annum in the Crown Court; that is quite a lot of transcripts even if you are limiting yourself to sentencing remarks, so it is a question of cost. However, it is very important that we keep a focus on this point, finish the pilot first and ensure that victims are supported at every stage.

Finally, I echo the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Meston—which was also made to me in Edinburgh two weeks ago by senior members of the Scottish judiciary—that in some cases involving sexual offences you have to be very careful about the dissemination of transcripts. That is another aspect to a not entirely straightforward question. I think I have replied to the points raised.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat 4:45, 23 April 2024

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on this group, and particularly the Minister for his response. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Meston, for his clarification of which parts of the court process are concerned. I was quoting both the judge’s summing up and judgment as well as the bigger costs for a wider trial transcript. I was trying to make the point that it can be asked for now but it is entirely at the judge’s discretion whether it happens and therein lies the problem, which is why we find ourselves here.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, for his help. He said: why can sentencing not be shared? I think that is one of the key points here.

I am very grateful to the Minister for his explanation but the difference between my amendment and the pilot is that the pilot remains at the judge’s discretion, which means that it becomes very difficult to collect any data on the efficacy of allowing victims to have these decisions at the point of judgment.

I was very moved by the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, relating to Amendment 57 —which I did not comment on earlier—and if the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, wishes to test the opinion of the House, these Benches will support her.

I believe that victims need to see progress in this area. I recognise that my amendment is not what they really want but it would be a step forward and, on that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 82, Noes 211.

Division number 1 Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) — Amendment 19

Aye: 80 Members of the House of Lords

No: 209 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

Tellers

No: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Amendment 19 disagreed.