Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 10th June 2020.
Clause 21 relates to matters that must be considered by the senior police officer before giving a notice. Again, I emphasise the difference between a notice and an order. First, the police officer must consider the welfare of any child whose interests the officer considers relevant to ensure that any safeguarding concerns are addressed appropriately. The child does not have to be personally connected to the perpetrator for their interests to be relevant and could therefore be the victim’s child from a previous relationship.
The police officer must also take reasonable steps to find out the opinion of the victim as to whether the notice should be given. However, as set out in subsection (4), the police officer does not have to obtain the victim’s consent to give a notice, which I think the Committee—I observe the nodding heads—is in agreement with. That enables the police to protect victims who may be coerced by the perpetrator into expressing the opinion that a notice should not be given or who are fearful of the consequences should they appear to be supporting action against the perpetrator.
Where the notice includes conditions in relation to the premises lived in by the victim, reasonable steps must be taken to find out the opinion of any other person who lives in the premises and is personally connected to the perpetrator, if the perpetrator also lives there. For example, if the perpetrator had caring responsibilities for a family member with whom they shared the premises, it would be important for the police to be aware of that. Consideration must also be given by the police officer to any representation that the perpetrator makes in relation to the giving of a notice, although that is not a formal process as with the courts.
I want to be absolutely clear that the primary consideration in determining whether notice should be given must be the protection of the victim and their children. We will ensure that that is set out clearly in the statutory guidance.
The decision that the officer has to make on whether he asks permission from an alleged victim or issues the notice without the support of the victim is going to be very difficult. What guidance will the Home Office issue to assist frontline officers in making that decision in a way that is consistent within and across police forces?
The hon. Gentleman raises a sensible point. There will be moments where an officer has to judge the situation as it is presented to her or him. We will be issuing statutory guidance and, as with the statutory guidance on the Bill, that will very much be in consultation with the commissioner and frontline charities.
These sorts of decisions have to be made regularly by officers. During the current crisis, officers are making decisions about whether they visit certain premises to check that people are okay and the potential impact of that. There will be difficult decisions, but we will very much engage with people in a transparent way to make sure that the guidance is in a good place before it is issued formally.
A point that has been raised with me is that training in domestic abuse for junior police officers is often much more thorough than that which their senior officers have experienced, and that, as well as guidelines, specific training for those officers who will be making the decisions could be very useful.
That is not the case with all senior officers. Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, who is the NPCC lead on domestic violence, is a very senior officer and an absolute expert. I take the point that officers at different stages in their career will have different levels of experience and training. I am sure the guidance will help address that so that we have a wealth and diversity of experience in the decision-making process.
I will be brief. I have a number of concerns about the notice, some of which have, quite rightly, already been raised. Louisa Rolfe is currently a West Midlands police officer—she is just about to leave that post—and an excellent one at that, but I get the point that has been raised.
Last night, a journalism award was given to someone who investigated what happens when there is domestic abuse within the police force. In this instance, we are putting so much of the onus on the individual police officer. If a social worker suffers domestic abuse or is accused and convicted or perpetrating domestic abuse, or any other type of abuse, the LADO process—the local authority designated officer—is followed. They go through that process at work and are not allowed to work on certain areas. I just want to make sure that something similar applies in this case. Individual police forces are huge; a variety of people work for them. If issues were raised in an officer’s case, that kind of process would ensure that they were taken into consideration when deciding who within the force gives out notices. I imagine that that sort of situation would be vanishingly rare, but it is worth noting.
On breach of a notice, we are talking about victims who do not give consent. As the Minister said, I nodded—I totally agree—but if a victim breaches a notice, I do not want that to end up being used against them in court. A lot of issues came up in the sad case of the suicide of Caroline Flack—