Clause 7 - Establishment and conduct of reviews

Part of Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 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 3:45 pm, 24th June 2004

I think that the project does fantastic work, but the risk assessment that emerged from the Metropolitan police reviews of domestic homicides in London identified six risk factors. We all spend a lot of time thinking about domestic violence and most of us here are well informed about domestic violence. If I asked members of the Committee and you, Mr. Benton, to name the six risk factors for domestic homicide, we would probably quickly produce the same list, but the system has to understand those risk factors and we have to build an objective case for them.

One of the six risk factors—the times when women are particularly vulnerable—is pregnancy or a new baby. It is depressing that that should be one of the risk factors. Another is honour killings, which I have already mentioned. Another is if stalking or sexual offending is involved. Another dangerous time is around separation or divorce. A fifth is where there is repeat violence that is escalating in severity. I cannot remember the sixth.

If we were asked to guess the risk factors, we might guess those correctly, but we have to institutionalise an understanding and ensure that it is rational and

objective. We all have a hunch: we could all say, ''Oh, we know that anyway''. But the system does not know it, and we do not know it with any objectivity. It is important that we try scientifically to identify risk. Family and friends need to know that a review is taking place and they need to be able to contribute. I have said already that there will not be a national blueprint about who could lead the review, but it could be done from the voluntary or health sector.

Coroners are likely to come into the picture only after a homicide. The reviews are for the agencies to understand what they could have done before the homicide. However, to the extent that coroners might receive information that may not have appeared anywhere else in the system, it will be important to work out how such information can be shared with the homicide review. I will look into how we shall ensure that that channel of communication is open.

I hope that I have dealt with the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) about people who want to step forward. The point is that we must make it known that the review is taking place so that people who are not under direction know that they can participate.

The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) asked why the Home Secretary would need to amend the list. There are two reasons. First, definitions change and names change; the National Offender Management Service may change the name of local probation boards. We can be certain that most of the names in the list will change shortly. Secondly, organisational structures also change; we are seeing that in relation to children. Sometimes the substance of an organisation will change. We may have missed something obvious from the list, which we will work out later on.

I have answered the question about who can trigger a review: anyone can.

I was asked about social services. They come under local authorities. We have not specially mentioned them, but they need to be especially involved. They will be important contributors to the reviews not on all, but on many occasions.

Although we have been discussing the awful issue of people being killed, usually by a husband or boyfriend or former husband or boyfriend, and the awful issue of children being killed at the same time as domestic violence takes place, we can be optimistic that we can help and that clause 7 will be part of helping to bring about a culture change so that we do not just wring our hands and say, ''Domestic violence: well, it's been going on since Moses came down from the mountain, and there's nothing we can do about it,'' and walk away.

We in the Committee all feel that domestic violence is something that should not happen in the 21st century, and we cannot let it continue unchallenged. The clause is part of the carrying out of the report's conclusions. For many people, it has been a surprise to hear that two women are killed every week, and they say, ''Good heavens, is it really

two?'' As a result of domestic homicide reviews, they will know not only that two women are killed but the circumstances in which they were killed, and they might think about how they, too, could be part of preventing that. The reviews will be important as part of the culture change in the country and will create change in the agencies, so that everybody feels that they have a role to play in the prevention of escalation. We need to prevent the escalation of violence, which leads to so many tragic—and, many now believe—preventable deaths.