Clause 7 - Establishment and conduct of reviews

Part of Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 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 3:30 pm, 24th June 2004

Although I have said that there will be consultation on the guidance, I do not think that it is proposed that the reviews should be held in public. We do not want lessons to be learned just by those sitting round the table, however; we want them to be learned more widely. There is the question of how to draw to one side sensitive information that might involve identification, or confidential information relating to people who are still alive, so that that can happen. Certainly, we need to ensure that lessons can be brought to Ministers' attention, and that they can make what they learn public without treading on sensitive, personal matters. Matters warrant that description not because they relate to the protection of the reputation of agencies, but because they relate to people who are still alive and entitled to confidentiality.

On confidentiality, I do not think that data protection is the problem, because the Data Protection Act 1998 allows information to be shared when it is for the avoidance of crime. The legislation is sufficiently wide. However, professional confidentiality

is a major problem. Different professions have a different sense of the confidentiality requirement—and not just in the context of people in the family who are still alive: some professionals believe that they must protect the confidentiality of somebody even after that person has been killed. We have had situations in which somebody has said that she went to her GP six times, but the GP will not tell us what happened because it is confidential. Others will say, ''She might have had a right to confidentiality, but now she is dead, and we want the opportunity to learn lessons.''

The issues of professional confidentiality and the obligation to disclose are very difficult and are at the heart of this subject, as they are at the heart of child protection. A great deal of work is taking place in the Home Office, between Departments, and between professional organisations on how to resolve the obligation to disclose and the obligation to maintain confidentiality. In addition, the president of the family division, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, and I are chairing a working party on the disclosure and exchange of information between the civil jurisdiction of the family courts and the criminal courts. We are working on that issue all the time.

Everybody needs to ask themselves the question, ''What in my judgment is the best thing to do in this case? Should I keep things secret because of my professional confidentiality? Or is it worse to keep a secret when it might put somebody in more danger?'' The important thing is for people to feel that they are confident about making judgments in each and every case. I know that that is much easier said than done.

The hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham raised the question of costs and mentioned the regulatory impact statement. In Cardiff, it was estimated that the external consultant cost £6,000, but that was quite apart from all the extra work that the agencies had to put in. When I was in Walsall last week, the West Midlands police told me that they anticipated that any review that they led would be part of their mainstream work. The review is about learning lessons and risk prevention, and so they would expect it to be a good opportunity to have the wash-up that they would have anyway, and get other agencies in. When I asked the Crown Prosecution Service to carry out a review after a domestic homicide, it wrote to all the agencies and asked them to write back with what they knew. It then held one meeting. We will have to see how things go. I do not think that there will be a national blueprint. We have some examples from the Metropolitan police, one from Cardiff and one or two from other areas. We will have to determine which models are best.

It is difficult to identify the cost, as there will be great variation. Depending on the complexity of the case, the review might not be a high-cost activity. On the other hand, it could be extremely costly. We will just have to consider each one. It is difficult to come up with an average, because the cost will depend on the case and on how local people organise the review. We will put the overarching framework in guidance, but we want people to work out at local level how best to put it into practice.