Power to give a domestic abuse protection notice

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 10th June 2020.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Clause 19 signifies the beginning of part 3 of the Bill, which introduces domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders. These are very important aspects of the Bill. It may help if, before turning specifically to clause 19, I recap why we are creating the new protective orders, and the significant value that they will provide to victims and to agencies in holding perpetrators to account.

Responses to our public consultation in 2018 emphasised that the multitude of orders currently available in domestic abuse cases, which include non-molestation orders, occupation orders, restraining orders and domestic violence protection orders, can be confusing for victims and, indeed, practitioners. Each of those orders is available in different circumstances, does different things and has different consequences for breach. No single order provides victims with the comprehensive protection that they need to rebuild their lives. Our intention, in creating the new DAPOs, is to bring the strongest elements of the existing protective order regime together in one comprehensive and flexible order, and for DAPOs to become the go-to order in domestic abuse cases.

Clauses 19 to 23 create the new domestic abuse protection notice, which is designed to provide victims with immediate protection and breathing space from the perpetrator following a crisis incident. The notice will be issued by the police and could, for example, require the perpetrator to leave the victim’s home for up to 48 hours. Issue of the notice triggers an application by the police to a magistrates court for a DAPO, an order, which, if made by the court, provides the victim with longer-term protection.

Unlike the current domestic violence protection notices and orders, the new domestic abuse protection notice and order can be used to protect victims from all forms of domestic abuse and not just from violence or the threat of violence. However, it will not always be the case that there is a single crisis incident that necessitates the issuing of a notice by the police. Furthermore, we know that some victims do not want to involve the police in their case at all; they just want the abuse to stop. That is why the Bill provides for a range of flexible application routes to obtain an order, enabling not just the police but victims themselves or any other person, with the leave of the court, to apply for a DAPO. In addition, it is open to a judge or magistrate to decide to make a DAPO as part of existing proceedings in the criminal, civil or family courts.

The DAPO is designed to be fully flexible, so that it can be tailored by the court to meet the needs of the victim, based on the specific facts of each individual case. That is one of the order’s most important characteristics. Unlike the existing domestic violence protection orders, which have a maximum duration of just 28 days, DAPOs can be flexible in duration and can therefore provide victims with longer-term protection if needed. It will be for the court to determine the duration of an order or, if necessary, to decide that it should be open-ended until such time as the court makes a further order.

The Bill also provides courts with the flexibility to attach to the order not only restrictions but positive requirements, depending on what is necessary in each case to protect the victim from abuse. For example, the conditions attached to a DAPO could range from basic non-contact requirements and an exclusion zone, right up to requirements to wear an electronic tag or to attend a behaviour change programme. Crucially, breach of an order will be a criminal offence, subject to a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment.

We know how important it is to get the implementation of the new orders right and to ensure that the whole process is as simple as possible for victims, the police and others to navigate. That is why we will issue statutory guidance on the orders and also pilot them in a small number of areas prior to any national roll-out. The Bill expressly provides for that.

We must acknowledge, however, that the creation of the new protective order will not by itself deliver a better response to domestic abuse. The success of DAPOs will rest on a strong, multi-agency approach to ensure that these orders are the protective tool that they are intended to be. Everyone will have a role to play in this: the justice system, other statutory agencies, and specialist domestic abuse organisations will be expected to work together to manage those who are subject to an order and, most importantly, keep victims and their children safe.

Clause 19 confers a power on a police officer to issue domestic abuse protection notices. It sets out the two conditions that must be met in order for the police to issue a notice. The first condition is

“that the senior police officer has reasonable grounds for believing that P”— the perpetrator—

“has been abusive towards a person aged 16 or over to whom P is personally connected”,

in line with the definitions we discussed yesterday, contained in clauses 1 and 2.

As I have mentioned, unlike with the current domestic violence protection notice, this clause provides that the new notice can be used to protect victims from all forms of domestic abuse, not simply from violence or the threat of violence, which the Joint Committee commented

“removes a key weakness of the previous scheme.”

Furthermore, it does not matter if the abusive behaviour that provides grounds for the issue of the notice took place outside England and Wales.

The second condition is that the police officer

“has reasonable grounds for believing that it is necessary to give the notice to protect that person from domestic abuse.”

The requirements imposed by the notice, which are provided for in clause 20, have effect in all parts of the United Kingdom, not just in England and Wales. For example, if a notice required the perpetrator not to make contact with the victim in any way, the perpetrator would breach the notice by sending a text message or email to the victim from Scotland. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I feel I have been remiss in not having yet said that it is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bone, as others have. I will not start with an inspirational quote, though I am sure you have given plenty in your time.

I thank the Minister for a detailed and forensic walk through the new DAPO system. It can sometimes feel like we say all these things in all these different scrutiny bodies, but absolutely nothing comes of it; however, from what the Minister has walked us through, I can see how different systems have evolved over time and over the course of lots of conversations. For people who love scrutiny, worry not: it does sometimes get heard.

I feel very hopeful about the new system of DAPNs and DAPOs. The Opposition, along with most witnesses who reported to the Joint Committee, strongly support any tool that gives the police and courts greater powers to protect victims of abusive relationships. We very much welcome the fact that the new orders just require abusive behaviour—rather than violent behaviour—as a precondition, although time will tell how that plays out on the ground. For too long, judges have looked for evidence of scars and bruises, rather than the emotional pain that victims suffer, so this is a real step forward, and one of which the Government should be proud.

The Opposition are also pleased to see the introduction of criminal sanctions—I believe that another amendment on this topic will be debated later—with the power of arrest for a breach of the order. For too many years, I have worked with women and children for whom the orders in place to protect them were not worth the paper they were written on. For far too long, victims have been left to argue with police forces about what constitutes a breach.

As modern technology has advanced—certainly since I started working in the field of domestic abuse—we have seen a host of new ways in which a perpetrator, or those connected with one, can breach an order. Sending posts through a family member on Facebook, for example, is a very common one that I have seen time and again. When the victim has highlighted that as a breach of an order with the police, it has not been acted on. This is not necessarily just a complaint about the police. I am not suggesting that they can act on literally everything; they have their own set of circumstances.

I have also seen breaches right up to victims having to tolerate their perpetrators stalking them every day at work and outside their homes. In lots of those cases, such an obvious breach is still met with no action from the authorities. We would not have to comb through many domestic homicide reviews before we came across instances of women and children being murdered while they had one of a variety of protective orders. Orders alone, certainly where the fear of criminalisation is not a feature, are not enough to protect most victims.

On the lack of police action on existing orders, I hope the act of criminalising breaches will keep victims safer, although there is currently no evidence for that. As the Minister outlined, there is a two-year pilot in a variety of areas to see whether that will be the case, and I very much welcome it. I truly hope to see the evidence being built up. Again, I do not wish to sound overly critical of the police, but even Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe stated in the evidence session held by the Joint Committee that there are too many instances of failure in this area. I am simply concerned that the police have the capability and the training capacity to deal with the whole host of orders, which will still exist, and with the new order.

I want to try to paint a picture of police resources from a day that I spent on response with West Midlands police. As I am sure lots of hon. Members have done, I went on a ride-along with the police in my local area. From some conversations I had in the Tea Room this morning about how far away the local supermarkets are in parts of rural Wales, I suggest that I live in quite a densely populated area. I will not say it is potentially more criminal than other areas, but that is probably the case. I live in a place where there are police call-outs every minute of every day.

It was really exciting to be on a ride-along with the police—a force that I have worked with my entire career. I spoke to the chief constable afterwards and said, “I want to become a police officer,” because I absolutely loved it. From the crackle of the radio and the number of calls coming in, I noticed that a lot of call-outs do not ever get a police response. I would say, “Listen to that one; let’s go to that one,” and they would say, “We can’t. We’ve got to go to this one.” I asked, “Well, what happens to them?” They said, “They’ll probably get a response later or tomorrow.”

Even though I have worked with the police force for years and I am sometimes critical of the police, I was genuinely surprised. The reality is that, if someone is a victim who is not at this moment at direct risk—nobody is holding a knife to their throat with a breach of this order; it might be a Facebook post or involve writing off to their kid’s school—my police force does not currently have the resource to respond really quickly.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I am not suggesting that it is not—

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

They are different in different ways. There is immense pressure in terms of population, but the rural experience is that there might well be a desired staffing level on the police of six to cover the whole of north-west Wales. It is physically impossible to reach people within the hour.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

That is a deeply important thing. For my constituents, it would take four minutes to drive across if there was no traffic, so that is not such an issue. It will definitely lead to victimisation by different means. It also has to be added on to the police resource, for when they see a call and have an immediate issue they need to deal with, because the order has potentially been breached, and they are going to have to drive 50 miles.

I am not suggesting for a second that the police do not want to act on these calls. I think that they do. Every police officer I meet—this has definitely changed over the last 10 years—deeply cares about domestic abuse and wants their force to be brilliant at tackling it. I am just concerned.

What I do not want to happen with the DAPO is for it to have the same reputation as all the other orders among victims and victims’ organisations. All the other orders are basically, “Isn’t that nice? I’ve got this piece of paper,” apart from an occupation order, which is given vanishingly rarely. If we were to sit down with a group of victims, they would say, “What was the point of it?”. I do not want the DAPO to have that. The inclusion of abuse and the inclusion of criminality will go some way to allaying that fear, but without resource, it will be very difficult.

The Joint Committee clearly shared some of our concerns. Its report noted:

“Particular concerns were that the proposed new notices and orders did not ‘cure’ the difficulties seen in the operation of the current Domestic Violence Protection Notices and Orders and the practical workings of the DAPO scheme had not been considered, or funded, sufficiently.”

I give the Minister her due; that is from a year ago and a lot of consideration has gone into it since.

The Joint Committee also found that the use of the existing model of DVPNs and DVPOs—different in flavour, if not in name—by police forces across England and Wales a year after they were rolled out nationally was “patchy.” We are not just referring to breaches; this is about whether they are even given out. I am concerned about resources for dealing with breaches, but there is quite a lot of concern about resources for the orders being given out in the first place.

The Joint Committee noted:

“Numbers ranged from three DVPNs and three DVPOs in Cambridgeshire”— where there is either no domestic violence, or they are not giving them out properly—

“to 229 DVPNs and 199 DVPOs in Essex”.

Bravo to Essex! The majority of forces submitted figures between 10 and 100.

The Joint Committee continued:

“A review of the police response to domestic abuse by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, Fire and Rescue Services”—

I noticed the Minister also struggled to say that earlier; it needs a better acronym—

“in 2017 found: ‘Many forces are still not using DVPOs as widely as they could, and opportunities to use them are continuing to be missed. Over half of the forces that were able to provide data— that were able to provide data does not speak to many—

“on the use of DVPOs reported a decrease in the number of DVPOs granted per 100 domestic abuse related offences in the 12 months to 30 June 2016 compared to the 12 months to 31 March 2015.’”

Those comments speak to my concerns about the capacity of the police, rather than their desire.

I very much hope that the inclusion of the term “abuse” rather than “violence” will act to massively improve the numbers—I really hope that we are proven right on that—and that the act of criminalising has a similar effect on the uptake and usefulness of DAPOs. However, I seek from the Minister an understanding of how and at what intervals that will be assessed.

A number of organisations, from the perspective of both the victim and the perpetrator, have expressed concerns about the new scheme and the act of criminalisation. I am sure that some minds will be put to rest if a framework for review and possible action plans from the evidence of such reviews were put in place—the Minister has spoken about a two-year review in specific areas. For example, if there is limited use in a certain police force after a year and it is identified that that is because of training deficits—that is what it usually is—action plans could then be put in place to ensure a remedy.

Some concerns about the criminalisation element would certainly be allayed if we have an idea about exactly how the pilot is going to work and what actions will be taken to remedy any possible deficits.

There are two potentials. In one of the pilot areas, they may not do it well, and we could all say, “Maybe DAPOs don’t work,” and go and look at something else. Alternatively, pilot areas could put a lot of effort and resources in because of the very nature of being pilot areas. Fair play to all of them, but when we scale that up to the Metropolitan police, the West Midlands police or a police force in a completely rural area, for example, and the scheme is ongoing, there is a concern that we need to ensure that we are reviewing it constantly and pushing for it to work.

I want to the order to work, and the sector wants it to work. I could be glib about people rolling their eyes when an does not work, but that tells victims that the police do not care, even if that is not the case. If someone rings the police and they do not act on a breach, the view is, “It’s because they don’t care about me.” That will stop that person going forward again in the future. That demoralises the whole system, and we cannot have that.

I welcome the fact that domestic abuse protection orders may be applied for without victims’ consent—by the police, specialist agencies and third parties, with the consent of the court. That will end a process that can be very onerous on victims, both administratively and, much more keenly, emotionally. As the Joint Committee highlighted,

“the nature of domestic abuse is such that pressure not to take action against the perpetrator will often be overwhelming and it would significantly weaken the protective effect of the orders if only victims were able to apply for them.”

I cannot sing the praises of that enough.

I turn now to some of the concerns raised by police about the cost of the DAPO application. We welcome the Government’s assurances that no victim will have to pay any costs. I have seen incidences, in times of austerity, where local authority partnership boards moved from systems for application of civil orders, where there was no cost to a victim for application, to a system where victims have been asked for large sums to apply for various orders. Some were asked for thousands of pounds in fees to keep them and their children safe—or, as it turned out, partially safe. It is welcome news that there will be no cost to the victim in this new regime.

Currently, however, an application for a DVPO costs the police £205—admittedly, that is under the current system—and a contested hearing costs £515. In evidence to the Joint Committee, Rights of Women explained:

“the police will seek a costs order against the respondent, which will only be granted when the application is successful. It is unclear how many costs orders are made following applications for DVPOs, and, most pertinently, how much money is actually recovered from respondents when costs orders are made. The National Audit Office report from the summer of 2011 concluded that as much as £1.3bn was owed in court fines, prosecutor costs and other payments arising from court proceedings.”

I especially like the bit at the end of a court hearing, when we talk about the money. It is so academic, as hardly any of it will be paid, but I often enjoy that moment in court.

To date, police forces have not received any additional funding for DVPOs. Olive Craig, legal officer at Rights of Women, told the Joint Committee:

“the organisation had been told by police officers, victims, and frontline domestic violence support staff that one of the reasons they did not use these orders was because they were seen as ‘too expensive’.”

It has been the concern of many specialists that courts will not want to be seen as being draconian, so courts may be less likely to grant DAPOs in the first place, especially now, with the criminalisation element.

There is also no time limit suggested in the Bill, which is something that will be debated later. On the time limits, however, I think the Minister has struck the right balance. I think 28 days is not enough. It is up to the court how long the time limit is. Having tried to help victims get occupation orders in the past, I can understand the concerns. We should remember that a DAPO will potentially exclude someone from their home. It is, essentially, an occupation order—an occupation order is a civil order that gets the person out of the house. A DAPO has a similar flavour in some regards, although not in all cases, but if it removes someone from their home, and if what I have seen of the courts’ unwillingness to grant occupation orders because of their draconian nature remains the case—I have seen that hundreds of times—I am concerned that the courts may be similarly nervous of this protection order and that it may be used rarely.

I hasten to add that I say all of that not out of criticism of the Government, but out of concern that the scheme should work and the best thing should happen. In cases where the courts do not grant an order, and the police therefore have to pay for it, there is obviously a disconnect, because the police will start to think, “Well, that it is too expensive.”

The concern relating to the cost, due to the fact that DAPOs are more likely to be defended because someone will lose their right to their home, will increase the cost concerns in the police’s mind, because orders will become more expensive to apply for. The Joint Committee highlighted this concern in its recommendation, which stated:

“The Government’s insistence that the police pay a court fee to make an application for a Domestic Abuse Prevention Order, while victims do not, will undermine the entire scheme and end any chance of the orders becoming the ‘go-to’ order to protect victims of domestic abuse. Police officers will be put in the invidious position of having to choose to use scarce resources to make an application or persuading the victim to make the application themselves. This effectively removes a key strength of the order, that an application may be made without the victim’s involvement, or even consent. We strongly recommend that applications for Domestic Abuse Protection Orders be free to the police, with appropriate funding to HM Court and Tribunal Service.”

In responding to the Joint Committee, the Minister has stated that the Government would provide sufficient funding to cover the cost for the police during the two-year pilot, and then use findings to decide what to do in the long term. Can the Minister outline at all how her negotiations with the Treasury are going in this regard? It is quite clear that if there is any cost of application to the police—leaving aside existing concerns about the resources the police have generally to cope with the extra admin and time needed for such an order—the system for DAPOs could fail without proper resources being available. None of us here wish to see that. Unfortunately, it does not make such a good political slogan: “Funding for the police for DAPOs” is not as good as “60,000 new officers” or whatever it is. It is a shame. Victims of domestic violence are rarely the go-to event.

Will the Minister outline what training she expects to be put in place? I sat in multi-agency meetings about domestic abuse 10 years ago. I sit in them today. I could sit in them for the next 30 years, and I guarantee to all here that the same thing would be being said about the need for training for police forces and the judiciary. I sometimes think I will just send a tape recorder of me saying, “We need better training.” It is a bit like with my kids in the morning—I could be replaced with a tape that just said, “Where are your shoes?” Given that DAPOs are intended to be more draconian than some similar orders, there must be clear training and guidance to all professionals, including judges across the criminal, civil and family courts, regarding the most suitable orders to use. That will ensure that DAPOs are utilised where appropriate over any softer options.

Will Minister enlighten the Committee on what is planned in this area so that we can feel confident that these new orders will not just end up as more nice words written on vellum, but will make an actual material difference to victims on the ground? Too often, we change laws in this building. During the initial throes of the coercive control law change, and the change regarding the idea that victims of domestic abuse can be victimised at the age of 16 or 17, I was working in service, and no change was felt on the ground. I am pleased to say that, in both those instances, that is no longer the case, but it took a good five, six or seven years of training police forces, courts and everyone for me to feel that the phrase “coercive control” is not just words on vellum, but makes a material difference to victims.

Understanding exactly what we will be doing with regard to DAPOs and DVPNs is vital to the success of this part of the Bill. What expectation does the Minister have regarding the support a victim might receive during the period a DAPO is in place? I would have thought that an order without support—for example, from an independent domestic violence adviser or a family support worker—would be less effective. What plans do the Government have to look at the framework for community support that might sit alongside the orders to make them as effective as we all want them to be? In the Northumberland police force and, potentially, the Gwent police force—they always seemed to do everything right when I worked in service—the initial roll-out of the DVPN was led by response officers with an independent domestic violence adviser in the car with them.

As the perpetrator was removed, an element of support for the victim swooped in to help her—it is usually “her” in this instance—to understand what was happening, what the processes were and how to go through them, and how to deal with the trauma. The likelihood of her then not just surviving but thriving because of the instigation of that support at the point of the order was borne out. If the Government could do one thing that would make DAPOs a success—this is a huge ask, and I know all the reasons why it possibly will not happen—it would be to guarantee that, with every order, somebody got a support worker. That would radicalise the way victims felt about the orders and their own safety.

The Opposition welcome the orders, but without the training, resources and hand-in-hand support for all parties concerned, perpetrators included, I fear that they could go down the line of their forebears. We welcome the orders, and certainly support the clause.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford 10:30 am, 10th June 2020

I want to add my voice in supporting the belief that the orders will be a step change in the courts. As a magistrate, I have grappled with many restraining orders and non-molestation orders, and with bail conditions. One of the frustrations I have seen on the bench arises from the desire to know what tools we have to do more, particularly for what seem like minor offences, when someone is not breaking down someone’s door, but writing Facebook messages, or text messages, to their mum or sister.

Many in the police and the courts recognise that the point of crisis for women—in my experience, it is mainly women, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley said—is when they try to break away from an abuser. That is the moment of greatest danger for a woman, because the perpetrator can see the control slipping away. That is a moment of desperation, when the perpetrator wants to reassert that control, and will use every tool and every trick in the book to do so.

In my experience, the courts and the police are crying out for the tools that they can use, and for the clarity and scope that the measures introduce. I am optimistic, and I believe that lots of people in the system are crying out for just this kind of measure. It will be very welcome and effective.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Forgive me, Mr Bone, but I should explain that, because we do not have box notes, I am having to use my phone. If I may, I will deal with a couple of points that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley raised. A lot of the questions that she posed sit with other clauses in the Bill, and I do not want to detract from the magnificent occasion that will be my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice getting to his feet and talking through some of those clauses, so I will defer to him.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of police fees and recognised that the Government have accepted the Joint Committee’s recommendation, which means that, for the two-year pilot, we will cover the police’s court fees for applying for the orders. We very much want to use the pilot to understand the resource implications of the new orders for the police and other agencies, and to use that to inform our considerations in future.

When she spoke to the Public Bill Committee in 2019, Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs Council lead on domestic abuse, said:

“The cost of the DAPO would be the least of our concerns. There are many positive aspects to the DAPO…Policing is not deterred by cost and I have some examples of that. We have a strong record of sometimes stepping in where other agencies are not able to.”––[Official Report, Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee, 29 October 2019; c. 27, Q47.]

In any event, as I say, we have said that we will cover the cost in response to the concerns raised by the Joint Committee.

In terms of training, we will provide statutory guidance on the new orders, to ensure that the police and other frontline practitioners use them effectively and consistently to protect victims and their children. We will consult with the commissioner, the police and others on the guidance before it is issued, and we will ensure that the police and other frontline practitioners have enough time to prepare for the introduction of the new orders.

The Judicial College has a regular training programme for all judges and magistrates, and Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service provides training for court staff. We will work with both those partners to assess how to incorporate training on DAPOs into their ongoing training programmes.

Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office)

I do appreciate the back and forth of this forum. I am pleased to hear that about the guidance. Will there be some overview to check whether that training has been done? What body might that sit with? I understand that the Minister may have to get the answer from somebody else.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Obviously, in relation to the judiciary, it will be the Judicial College. The College of Policing plays a vital role in training constabularies across the country to ensure consistency, as do chief constables.

To move away from the Bill momentarily and reflect on the last couple of months, the Home Secretary, I and others have had daily operational calls with the NPCC and other chief officers, and I have been struck by how much domestic abuse has been absolutely at the top of every chief constable’s mind in the last month or two. Some innovative policing practice has been going on, precisely because we are worried about the effects of lockdown.

I know that chief constables take that training responsibility very seriously. Of course, the Home Office has a role to play as well. The hon. Lady said that training is a constant theme in these discussions, which it is, but we should acknowledge that we are in a better place than we were, certainly 10 years ago and, actually, five years ago. I hope that I will be saying that in another five years as well.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

I was struck by what the Minister said about the problem of not having the officials here, and so not having inspiration fluttering from behind. If it is of any help to the her in these exceptional circumstances, if she is stuck on a point, I am happy to come back to the matter later, because the Committee would then be better advised.