Clause 7 - Establishment and conduct of reviews

Part of Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 24th June 2004.

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Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Women and Older People, Non-Departmental & Cross-Departmental Responsibilities 3:00 pm, 24th June 2004

I am glad that my constituent was able to brighten up your constituency so well, Mr. Benton.

I rise to add to the Solicitor-General's comments. The responses to ''Safety and Justice'' were, sadly, fairly truncated, which meant that it was difficult to get an idea of the breadth of the comments made. It is worth exploring the response of the Greater London domestic violence project, which has huge practical experience of dealing with reviews. Its members are the only people who have been doing them for any length of time, so it is instructive to listen to what they have to say.

My initial reaction was that a review was definitely a good thing and I could not see why anybody would have reservations. None the less, serious questions need to be asked about how we can ensure that it works to best effect. How will information from the review be used? There are concerns that if conclusions

are rushed, they might be false. I shall give a couple of examples. In London it has been discovered that a disproportionate number of victims are Asian. If they were minded, people could interpret that to mean that being Asian was a factor in the case. However, that is not what the Greater London domestic violence project believes; it believes that the social exclusion and isolation of the women is the overriding factor. However, from a race or culture point of view, there are dangers if that is not set in a wider context. That problem needs to be tackled sensitively and in the right way.

I spoke to some of the project's representatives, who said that nothing much seems to have changed: no information is available now that was not readily available before, and the process has been quite expensive. In its response to ''Safety and Justice'', the project said:

''we are unconvinced that Domestic Violence Fatality Reviews will necessarily provide useful information that will enable the prevention of future deaths. Certainly the reviews that have been conducted in London have failed to elicit any findings that were not already documented by a significant body of research. In other words, it has been an exceptionally expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratic process to demonstrate what we already knew.''

I found that alarming, because, as I said at the beginning, it seemed a good idea and it is good that all agencies should work together.

The project also raised the fact that the agencies often have useful information because they have been involved with a woman previously. However, it costs them a significant amount of money to take part in the process. If they have to spend their precious, hard-won resources on participating in the reviews, will they have less to provide some of the more practical help that they give day to day? Will the Solicitor-General clarify how the funding streams break down? That would put some people's minds at rest.

There is a possible omission. In the United States, there is usually some sort of interview with family or friends, but that is not suggested here. Will the Solicitor-General clarify? Evidence is available that if a perpetrator is aware that people know what he is up to—perpetrators are usually, although I accept not exclusively, male—and have contacted a project, that can be a protection. It is important that we try to find out, particularly in the early stages, what information is available from those sources.

Who will lead the reviews? Among the responses to ''Safety and Justice'', it was frequently suggested that the police might be a suitable lead agency. However, the Greater London domestic violence project made reference to evidence from a 1996 report, ''Multi-Agency Work and Domestic Violence: A National Study of Inter-Agency Initiatives'', which suggests that initiatives are less effective when they are police-led. Clearly, a lot of thought still has to be devoted to the fine detail. I agree with the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who said that it would be useful to see the details, and to comment and consult. In particular, the agencies involved need to be able to do that.

The Greater London domestic violence project also raised a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome. It felt that it was

necessary to examine to role of coroners' courts. I think that the Solicitor-General said that they had a narrow remit, so it would be useful if she could tell us whether that remit will be widened and what sort of links are to be made with other parts of the process. The idea that we are discussing is a good one but, given the costs and the amount of time and bureaucracy that could be involved, we need a clear idea of what we want to do with the information afterwards, even though I contend that any interaction between the agencies will be able to prevent further cases.