Clause 7 - Establishment and conduct of reviews

Part of Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 24th June 2004.

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Photo of Harriet Harman Harriet Harman Solicitor General (Law Officers), Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 3:15 pm, 24th June 2004

I can certainly assure the hon. Lady that the guidance will not be rushed out. By the same token, I hope that later she will not complain that we did not get the guidance out quickly enough. One of the reasons why the Bill did not come before the Commons sooner is because we wanted to consult everybody; we wanted everyone to have an opportunity to suggest what should go into it. We were therefore a tad disappointed when the hon. Lady asked what had kept us so long from bringing the Bill before the House. I assure the hon. Lady that we were not resting on our laurels; we were consulting and we will do that on the guidance, too. We will consult extensively, not only with those to whom the guidance will apply, but with all the other people who might not be brought within the Act but whom we want to participate. We want everybody to understand what is going to happen. Families, friends and organisations will know because they will have heard the discussions about the consultation. They will know that the change is happening and that they may have a role to play. It is important to get that right and it is important to consult on it. It is no good achieving a state of perfection in Committee and in legislation unless we also achieve change on the ground.

As for the conclusion of reviews, it will probably depend case by case, but I think that the hon. Lady is right that, even where the agencies have discussed something, evidence may come up in a criminal case that of which they had not been aware and which changes their understanding of the situation and their conclusion. I do not think that, once concluded, reviews will be put on the shelf. The agencies will be expected to learn lessons from the moment that they start discussions. If there are further lessons to be learned, they will have to be fed back into the review process.

The hon. Lady asked about Scotland. She was absolutely right—not having people to brief her or organise her research is not doing her any harm because she made a very good point. People go backwards and forwards across the border and, if the homicide occurs in England or Wales, there will be questions about information that may have arisen in Scotland, and vice versa. Next month—and, if not, in September—representatives of the Crown Prosecution Service and I will discuss with my good friend and colleague the Solicitor-General for Scotland, Elish Angiolini, her colleagues and various agencies how we work across the border not only on domestic homicides and the reviews thereafter, but on many issues.

A number of points were raised about the cultural aspects of the cases in question. It is important that people do not shrink from that issue, as it needs to be considered and understood. There needs to be greater understanding of the extra difficulties for victims who come from abroad, have no friends or family, do not speak from English, or do not go out to work but stay in the household. The lesson that agencies need to

learn from victims in that situation is that they need to be extra alert and that they must seize the opportunity to help people who might have difficulty escaping from domestic violence.

In relation to the perpetrator, I think that we should have no sensitivity at all to the cultural aspect. Grievous bodily harm is grievous bodily harm, whether it takes place in an Irish household, a white middle-class household, an Asian household or an African household. Whether the crime is manslaughter, murder or malicious wounding, the penalty for all perpetrators must be the same. The law must apply equally to everybody. We have no cultural sensitivity to the perpetrator, but we have exceptional cultural sensitivity to the victim to help us understand how we can protect victims in the future.

In the homicide reviews carried out during the last two years in London, the Metropolitan police have identified six risk factors. Of those, family honour being at issue is one of the risk factors for homicide reviews, so they are making it clear to the police in London that they must be alert to that and respond to the issue positively rather than feeling that they do not know how to handle the situation.