Domestic abuse protection orders otherwise than on application

Part of Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 10th June 2020.

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Photo of Jess Phillips Jess Phillips Shadow Minister (Home Office) 2:15 pm, 10th June 2020

I feel that, now Minister Chalk is on his feet, I should have some things to say; I do not want to leave him out.

I cannot say how important the idea that the court can put in place an order on acquittal in these circumstances is to somebody like me, who has watched many cases fall apart over the years. I am always slightly jealous of the Scottish system of not proven, because in too many cases in the area of violence against women and girls, it may well be that the balance of evidence needed cannot be provided either at the magistrates court or at the Crown court in these circumstances, but there is still gross fear among all involved that the fact that it is not proven does not mean that it did not happen.

The idea that, on acquittal, courts could put these orders in place is a huge step forward, ideologically and politically speaking. My concern—I am almost doing myself an injustice on what I am going to say about some of the amendments later—is what the Ministry of Justice foresees as a review mechanism to ensure where this is going, how it is working and how regularly the family courts are dishing out such orders.

If everybody was like Essex police force, I would be jumping for joy. I do not hope for this, but maybe one day somebody will perpetrate a crime against me in Essex and I will see how brilliant the force is at orders, as we heard from the evidence earlier. What worries me is whose responsibility it will be, after a year or two years—even after the pilot scheme—between the Ministry of Justice, the head of the family courts structure and the chief prosecutor at the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, to see how readily these orders are being used in our courts.

I have already said this once today, but often people like me put in annoying questions to people like the Minister, such as, “Can you tell me how many times this has been used in these circumstances?”, and very often the answer that we receive back is, “We do not collect this data nationally”, or, “We do not hold this data in the Department.” I want a sense of how we are going to monitor this, because while I know this just looks like words on paper, to people like me it is deeply, deeply important that the courts could take this role.

However, I have seen too many times that, even the powers that the courts have—certainly the family courts, which no doubt we will come on to tomorrow—are not always used wisely and well, so I want an understanding of how specifically we are going to monitor the use of the courts giving out the orders, which is new in this instance. How are we going to test that it is working and try to improve its use? I would be very interested in even just a basic data gathering each year of how many were done on acquittal, how many were done on conviction and how many were done in family court proceedings where both parties were part of proceedings.

With regard to the family court, and in fact in all these circumstances—whether it is a notice or an order; whether a police officer has to make a decision there on the doorstep or we are talking about orders—how are we going to deal with some of the “he said, she said”? I have seen an awful lot of counter-claims in the family courts. Often somebody will talk about being victimised as part of domestic abuse, and it becomes: “Well, actually, she was domestically abusing me,” or, “He was domestically abusing me.” I wonder whether any thought has been given to how, in giving out DAPOs in a family court, we do not end up with potentially two people, both with an order against each other—or maybe that could happen.