Provision that may be made by notices

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 10th June 2020.

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Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:00 am, 10th June 2020

May I start by saying that I have some sympathy with the aim of the amendments? I recognise that the targeting of the victim’s place of work is often a tactic used by domestic abuse perpetrators to cause distress and exercise coercive control. I have been a strong supporter of the work of the Employers’ Initiative on Domestic Abuse, which aims to help businesses and employers take practical steps to help members of their workforce who suffer from domestic abuse. They can often be very small steps, including allowing time off for a victim to go and seek medical help, but they can also include much larger ideas, such as setting up a bank account so that she can siphon money off to get a little bit of independence from the perpetrator. I am very interested in what employers can do to help their employees who are suffering from domestic abuse. Indeed, the Government are looking into this. Only yesterday, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy launched a consultation calling for evidence on what more can be done by employers to protect their workforce against domestic abuse. That is very much the direction of travel of this Government.

My hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn mentioned stalking, and the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley referred to some terrible cases in which victims have been murdered at their workplace. The story that always comes to my mind is that of Hollie Gazzard, as I lived not very far from Gloucester at the time. That was a horrendous case, and her parents have been quite extraordinary in doing what they have done to try to stop other families suffering in the same way. Our efforts to address the issue of stalking have included the introduction of stalking protection orders, which have a similar format to these orders. We have tried to mirror in DAPOs things like the positive requirements and the criminal breach that are in stalking protection orders, so that there is a protection order for stalking if the facts fit one, but if the facts are better suited to a DAPO, those orders will be available as well—subject to the approval of the House, of course. A huge amount of work is going on to recognise the role that the workplace can play in a victim’s life, and in the attempts of a perpetrator to continue their aggressive or coercive behaviour.

To be clear, clauses 19 to 23 relate to the notices, and these are emergency orders. They are issued not by a court, but by a senior police officer, and the perpetrator has no opportunity to make representations against the imposition of the notice. They apply for a very short period—for 48 hours—so that we can give a bit of space to the victim, and so that the police or others can take steps to make the formal application for an order before a court. These emergency orders are different in nature. They are much more restrictive, because obviously if they are issued by a police officer rather than a court and the perpetrator does not have the chance to make representations, we have to reflect that in the nature of the orders. That is why the list of conditions in clause 20 is exhaustive, and they relate in particular to the occupation of the premises shared with the victim. These were drafted because they mirror the existing provisions in the domestic violence protection notices that are in operation at the moment, but I will consider what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley and others have said about introducing the workplace into these notices.

There is one caveat. The hon. Lady has talked about the notices more generally. I hope, Mr Bone, you will forgive me if I veer into clause 21. The reason we are being very careful and methodical is that clause 21(2) requires the police to consider, before issuing a notice that restricts the perpetrator’s access to the premises, the opinion of other people who work on those premises. In very small workplaces, that may be practicable, but in a workplace of thousands—the House of Commons, a Government Department or elsewhere—there would be significant logistical challenges. We will look into the overall principle, but we flag that as a practical concern about amendments 59 and 60. We also have to bear in mind as we look at these amendments that a victim may not wish to disclose their abuse to their employer.

The purpose of amendments 61 to 65 is to make equivalent amendments to provisions that may be made by a DAPO. The Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend the Member for Cheltenham may deal with those specifically in relation to the clauses on orders. It may be that they are not quite as necessary in orders as they are in notices, given that orders will be considered by a court and there is much more freedom for the court to impose necessary restrictions.

I also note that clause 33(1)(b) provides that, so far as is practicable, the requirements imposed by a DAPO must avoid

“interference with any times at which the person normally works”.

The purpose of amendment 66 is to create an exception in circumstances where the perpetrator works at the same premises as the victim, so that such an interference with the perpetrator’s work would not have to be avoided. I will not go into detail on the further amendments, because I suspect they will come up in the discussion about the orders, but we take on board the points made and will take them away to consider them.