Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:32 am on 20th May 2021.
We now move on to our second session. We have Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner. Dame Vera, could you introduce yourself for the record, please? Not that you need a great deal of introduction, as you were formerly of this parish, but just for the record.
Dame Vera Baird:
Good morning. I am Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales. I hope you are receiving me. Over.
Excellent. We are receiving you—brilliant. I am not sure if you can see us yet, but we can certainly see you. I call Mr Goodwill.
Q Good morning, Dame Vera. I think the victims who feel most let down by the criminal justice system are the victims of rape. Very low numbers of those cases get to court and, similarly, low numbers achieve convictions. Over recent months and years, some electronic data from phones has been used to undermine some of those cases. Messages sent to placate—certainly not to antagonise—the abuser in an abusive relationship can be used to undermine the case, for example. Proposals on data analysis and consent for it are coming forward, but how can we improve victims’ confidence in the criminal justice system—particularly for crimes such as rape and other serious sexual offences—and reduce requests for information from those victims?
Dame Vera Baird:
Thank you very much, Mr Goodwill. It is very good to see you again—we were next-door neighbours at one time, constituency-wise.
I will focus on the digital download point, because it is extremely key. Clause 36 in the Bill is very problematic. We have done some considerable work on it, which I would like to mention. First, let me compliment the Home Office team who drafted it and who approached us to ask what we thought of it. Let me explain that I fully understand, as I guess the Committee does, that the purpose of clause 36 is different from the area Mr Goodwill has just rehearsed.
I understand from Mr De Meyer, who is the NPCC police officer I have mostly been talking to about this, that people say to the police, “Someone is harassing me” or “Someone sent me this. Look at my phone—there is the evidence.” The police are worried that if they take the phone, they might be in breach of the investigatory powers legislation, so they are seeking a statutory power to take a phone off somebody who is voluntarily giving it up. That was good to understand—that is fine—but the power as set out at the moment does not contain any protections for the complainants who are in the position that Mr Goodwill has mentioned.
If I may, I will briefly rehearse the position as it is seen from the victim’s point of view. If you look at a Rape Crisis survey 18 months ago, or if you talk daily to ISVAs, you will find that the view is that on the ground it is practically routine for rape and sexual assault complainants to be asked to hand over digital devices, and for most of the material on it to be trawled, so far as they are aware. Apparently, according to my network of stakeholders, the CPS frequently seeks a level of material straight away, before it charges, and if a complainant refuses, the case just does not get considered for charge. That is very, very troubling, and it has a chilling effect not only on current victims, but on reporting, and it could impact victim attrition.
We did an analysis of a data set showing that one in five victims withdrew their complaint of rape at least in part due to disclosure concerns. Home Office data shows an increase of rape complainants withdrawing pre-charge, and it is right to say that many senior police officers, including Mr De Meyer, accept that there has been a big blow to the confidence of the public in the police because of the whole issue of digital data.
In my own former area—I was the PCC in Northumbria until not quite two years ago—the Home Office funded a pilot of independent legal advice for rape complainants dealing with digital download. That pilot disclosed that about 50% of the requests for digital download of rape complainants’ devices were not necessary or proportionate. Of course, we must take some comfort from the fact that that means the other 50% were, and my understanding is that this pilot worked well. It was praised by 23 of the 25 professionals involved in it because it also speeded matters up: where there was a legitimate request for a particular section of the contents of the device, the independent legal advisor was able to get to grips with its reasonableness and advise if it was reasonable, and it was then very quickly accepted. None the less, 50% of requests were not in that category, and we do know that it influences people about reporting rape when they fear that not only their own personal data, but the data of everybody else who is on their phone—their little brother, their sister, their mother, anyone they may confide in—will also have to be disclosed.
The last three points that I really want to emphasise to let you appreciate the seriousness of this problem are that in 2020, the Information Commissioner published a report about exactly this, and outlined a series of ways in which the police were not complying in a number of respects with data protection legislation. The gateway for consent was one of the concerns, and there was an internal report by the CPS two years ago, which found that 60% of its requests for digital download were over-intrusive and not necessary. A little bit later, HMCPSI found about 40% were in the same category. The police have now done a lot of work to try to shift policy backwards, and this new power—which has no obvious nod, even, in the direction of the protection of complainants—came out of the blue from a different Department of the Home Office, and has absolutely none of the protections that, in policy terms, the police have been looking towards for quite some time.
We have the ICO, the Home Office and the National Police Chiefs’ Council all meeting with us, and we are very pleased with that. We asked whether we can draft some amendments to this that will safeguard the protection the police need, but will also offer protections for complainants when the power is used for this—as it will be, of course. In a very lightning run through them, there is no definition of agreement. What it says is that an authorised person can take information from a device if it has been voluntarily provided and there is agreement to give the stuff, but there is no definition of agreement, and we know very well—as I have just recited—that often, there is a sort of implicit threat that if you do not, that is the end of the story. We defined agreement in a fairly obvious way—fully informed and freely given. There is no requirement at all for the police to specify the nature of the material, let alone the actual material, that they want to look for. It is just all or nothing: you agree or you do not agree. A big concern is that although it is described as information that needs to be relevant if it is being sought, it does not make reference to the very important turn of phrase in the legislation, which is a “reasonable line of inquiry”. It is much broader.
We therefore drafted some amendments that dealt with all of those points and a number more, and we offered them to the Home Office team. I am very pleased to say that the National Police Chiefs’ Council accepted them, and felt that they fulfilled all the requirements that it had and offered some excellent protections. I am very pleased to say that the Information Commissioner’s Office, although it is happy with the code of practice going way beyond this legislation, also accepted them. The Home Office did not. When we tried to probe why, the answer came:
“While the NPCC indicated they were content with your drafted provisions, they have also said they were similarly supportive of the draft we prepared. We incorporated their operational perspective…with the views of our technical and legal experts”.
I think we probably need to move on, because other colleagues want to get in.
I think we have to move on now. It is not that this is not important. It is hugely important, but you have asked one question and there was a 10-minute response. We have three colleagues. We cannot do that again. I call Mr Dorans.
Q Thank you, Sir Charles; this is my first Bill Committee, and I look forward to serving under your chairmanship. Dame Vera, in your view does the Bill go far enough to put the interest of victims at the heart of the criminal justice system? If not, what further measures would you like to see included in the Bill as a priority?
Dame Vera Baird:
I do not think that it does go far enough. Sentencing is not a territory that I want to get into particularly because victims’ views are very different about sentencing. It is by no means the case that everybody who is a victim of crime wants extremely heavy sentencing. There was a piece of research recently by RoadPeace that shows that they are not particularly strongly supportive of the increased sentences for driving offences, and would prefer driving bans rather than what they see as people who have driven dangerously but are not dangerous people being locked up in prison for a long time. They feel that long sentences may deter charging or jury verdicts.
Victims, just like everyone else, are a mixed bag, but what they want very much is to be treated decently by all the criminal justice agencies; to have adequate support and courteous engagement; to be kept up to date; to have all the entitlements when they come to court that will help them to give their evidence well; and to be supported right through, including after the sentence, going into the time when someone is serving their sentence—keeping them up to date about what is happening so that they might then more easily accept what happens when the individual comes out.
That whole procedural justice—what works for victims—is absolutely key. It does start to appear quite well in the new victims’ code of practice, but certainly that code of practice, which is about the sixth version of it that we have had, must be implemented, when the others have not been. There is nothing in the legislation here to help with that. The victims’ law is coming down the line and I hope that we can do more for victims in that.
Apologies for taking a long time about digital download. I meant simply to end by saying that all the problems that we have experienced can be solved by the drafts that we have prepared, which have been accepted by everyone but the Home Office. I urge the Minister in charge to look at that again.
Q Good morning, Dame Vera. I have a couple of quick-fire questions, which hopefully you can answer briefly, please. There should be, in the victims’ code, consultation when an offender is going in front of their parole board, and the victim should receive notice, if not an automatic right to submit evidence to it. Unfortunately, that tends not to happen. I have had two cases in the last six months where offenders have been downgraded and could be eligible for release and the victims knew nothing about it. One of my amendments is to make it mandatory that victims have their statement read out during a parole hearing. What are your thoughts on that?
Dame Vera Baird:
I agree. I wonder whether the problem starts with the victim contact scheme and whether we are not embracing enough people into it. We have done some really good work with HMPPS about that. They are moving to a much stronger invitation to join the victim contact scheme and are offering all sorts of ways to do it, even after the event. That would put people in a position where their statement would be taken, and it would be read.
In fact, during the course of the pandemic, a lot of victims have gone online and read their statement to the parole board. The number of victims who have done that has gone up, and we think the online provision—giving satisfactory remoteness to an individual from a prisoner, but none the less communicating what is good—is probably a good model for the future, but it is imperative that that opportunity is given to victims.
Q Thank you. That leads me nicely to special measures. Again, there is the provision for special measures in courts, but it is at the judge’s discretion, and it also depends on whether the facilities are there. Do you think they should be mandatory for vulnerable witnesses?
Dame Vera Baird:
In essence, yes, I do. We have just done a report about special measures, Ms Champion, and it would be good if you looked at it. The problem starts with the fact that the needs assessment is not done clearly by a single agency. It is all across the CPS, witness care units and the police. We have said that it should be in the witness care units. It should be done in a professional and thorough way with them co-ordinating it.
Then there is the real problem that the range of special measures, and the one that might suit you as a witness, are not always available and are not always offered even if they are available. There is a risk of some sort of court culture limiting the choice when the intention is that the best evidence should be given for the benefit both of the complainant, to cut the tension, and of the criminal justice system, to get evidence that it might not get otherwise.
Let me add that the roll-out of section 28 enables vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to pre-record their evidence weeks and weeks—probably, in reality, years—before a case can come to trial, and then be cross-examined on video too so that, many weeks before it comes to trial, they have finished their involvement in it. Obviously, it often just needs to be a choice, but that can be the default position to get a lot of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses out of the queue at the Crown court, put an end to their stress and record their evidence while their memory is fresh. I think that should be the default position available for all the categories that you mentioned.
Q Thank you very much. Just one line, please, commissioner. Non-penetrative child abuse offences are not seen as serious crime; therefore, they do not fall under the double jeopardy rule. Should they be?
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. Welcome, Dame Vera. Your role as national lead on victims for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners is important, and we are grateful for all your work. We Q heard quite distressing evidence from PCCs this week about the impact of unauthorised encampments—illegal activity, damage, fly-tipping and intimidation—on the local communities where the encampments are. Do you accept that local residents who are in close proximity to the unauthorised encampments are victims of crime?
Dame Vera Baird:
I am not the lead for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners; I am the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, and I do not know about that conversation.
There are two difficulties. One is that an unauthorised encampment often causes great discomfort to neighbours of it—that is probably a gross understatement. The other concern I have—very frankly—is that my experience is that the appropriate statutory provision is not always made to provide Gypsies and Travellers with an alternative place that is lawful and so they, too, are put in a very problematic position.
I saw what Martin Hewitt from the National Police Chiefs’ Council said the day before yesterday. He said that he did not think the police needed more powers; it would be much better if more lawful places were made available. And then there is no difficulty with getting Gypsies and Travellers out of places where they should not be, because there is a lawful place to put them. So I am afraid at the moment we have kind of two sets of victims.
Q Thank you. That is helpful to hear. On cautions, out-of-court disposals, the proposed changes will ensure that the victims are consulted for their views. Are you supportive of that? Do you think that those changes will assist with the drive towards, and the approach of, more restorative justice?
Dame Vera Baird:
Yes, I do. It is very important that what victims want, which I have described—procedural justice, being treated with decency, being kept up to date and so on—is provided for in the process of delivering a caution. It looks as if victims are about as satisfied when the offender is given a caution as they are when the matter goes to court, so as long as they are consulted and they are treated as victims throughout, I think it is probably excellent to streamline the nature of this work.
There is one reservation: perhaps something needing a bit of looking at is the obligation to admit guilt in order to get an out-of-court disposal. Sometimes something like a deferred prosecution might be something that a person would be readier to accept, and it should be no more of a problem for a victim. But in principle, as long as victims are involved—we have a massive backlog in the courts, so if we can deal with justice for both sides in some other way, let us do it.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir CharlesQ . I have just one question, Dame Vera. What are your views on stronger sentences for drivers who cause death or serious injury?
Dame Vera Baird:
I am not an expert on sentencing and I do not think you particularly want my personal views. Do you want the perspective of victims on that?
Dame Vera Baird:
It is hard to say because we do not get a lot of victims coming to us and talking about sentencing; they are usually talking more about their own treatment by the justice system. But what I can tell you is that although they are broadly supportive of different sentencing, the briefing that you have probably had—and that we certainly have had from RoadPeace, Brake and British Cycling—suggests that they are worried about the difference between a sentence where someone has caused death and a sentence where someone has “only” caused what might be the very most serious of harms, and they wonder whether there ought to be some nearer proximity between the two.
But victims do say quite clearly that they have concerns about making causing death by dangerous driving and causing severe injury by dangerous driving have much higher penalties, because of the factor I mentioned before: it might deter prosecutions, or it might deter juries, who can pretty easily see themselves in a driving seat when something goes wrong, from convicting. So they have that reservation.
I think the telling line is that victims are not sure why there is such reliance on custodial sentencing for people who may have driven dangerously but are not dangerous people. Is it not better to use driving bans more effectively and not to allow such leeway about the unfairness of it but to make them pretty well automatic? That is their take on it, and I do not think I can second-guess them.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. Dame Vera, you answered, in response to your first question, most of the questions that I was going to ask, so I am very pleased that you were able to do that. Obviously, as the Opposition, we have tabled a lot of amendments, which seek to do exactly what you described.Q
To finish the conversation that we started at the beginning, it would be helpful if you could describe the impact that you think those amendments will have on the process and on the victims. Perhaps you could say a bit more about their sense of confidence in the system. What are we aiming for here?
Dame Vera Baird:
We do have to protect the article 8 rights of complainants, and the open nature—the swingeing and unconditional nature—of these clauses does not do that. I have set out all the people who have commented on how commonplace it is for a victim to have their phone demanded and for it to be trawled, as it is called on the ground. I have set all that out.
The consequence, of course, is that complainants, who say they have been sexually assaulted—they are already injured, and we have already failed to protect them against crime. They are probably vulnerable. They are certainly very nervous. They have heard that it is not a nice thing to go to court. They probably know the conviction rate is very low. They have got together the courage to go and talk to the police and to discuss the case, and they seem to be met—my survey last year made this very clear—with police officers who are looking askance at them as genuine victims and saying, in effect, “Hand over everything there is for me to know about you, so that I can check whether you are a worthy person for me to get behind and prosecute this case.”
Other than sexual assaults, rapes and trafficking, and occasionally domestic abuse, I do not know of any other kind of case in which the download of phones is used in that way. It is not just the download of phones. Frequently the police ask for, and frequently the CPS requires, all health notes, psychiatric notes, school reports and social services reports, which obviously adds to the tendency to think that you are the one under investigation, and not the other. This is a massive deterrent and, not surprisingly, a good reason why people withdraw.
Following the pilot we did in Northumbria, which was highly successful, it is very important that there should be automatic legal advice. When someone’s article 8 human rights—we have an obligation to protect human rights—are put at stake by what the CPS has found are overly intrusive demands in 60% of cases, the only way to try to deal with it, given that there are a whole range of cases about it, is to get free, independent legal advice for the purpose of discussing and ordering with the police and the CPS what is appropriate to seek, what should be disclosed and what should not.
Our amendments say that, and we have sent those to the Government. I think we have also sent them to every member of this Committee. I hope that the Government will realise that although it has an end-to-end rape review—the purpose of which is to restore confidence and restore prosecutions—this piece of legislation is actually running in the opposite direction and is likely to make things worse.
Q Hello, Vera. As Sarah said a few minutes ago, you have covered much of the material that we would want to ask questions on. I will ask you to give us a reasonable summary. Do you believe that any of the proposals in the Bill increase victims’ confidence in the system, particularly if they are victims of rape? We all know the figure: 44% withdraw their case before the trial even begins. If you were to give us a series of headlines, what would they be?
Dame Vera Baird:
What needs to happen is that section 28 needs to be the default option, so that rape complainants can finish with the trial while their memory is fresh and facilitate getting some trauma therapy, if that is what they need—section 28 and independent legal advice. I think it is fair to say to the CPS that if they require a level of data from phones and other places and they find something, however irrelevant, it may call the complainant’s credibility into question. There was a terrible case when I was a PCC in Newcastle, where it was put to a woman of 23 that she had always been a liar because she had lied by writing a letter to her school saying that she could not go to the swimming pool that day, and forging her mother’s signature. She was 12 when she did that. If something like that is found, the police probably think they have to disclose it to the other side, because they have a full duty to do so.
The point is not to look for ridiculously irrelevant material, or you are in pursuit of what I think victims think the police are looking for, which is the perfect victim. Of course, none of us would be a perfect victim in that sense, so that needs very much to be met by legal advice. It may be that once that material is found, there is no power in the CPS to do anything but disclose it. It is arguing at the beginning about what material should be sought.
It is absolutely clear that the Crown Prosecution Service has to start prosecuting rape. It now prosecutes around 1,700 cases a year, whereas for the best part of a decade, prior to a change in its approach to rape in 2016-17, it prosecuted 3,500 cases a year and got a corresponding number of convictions. Now it is prosecuting only half as many as that and getting convictions only in three figures, which is a terrific collapse. That approach, which changed, needs to be changed back.
There must also be good provision of independent sexual violence advisers. Anyone who comes to make a complaint, which is a very courageous thing to do given what they have gone through, the imbalance of power between them and the police and their complete lack of awareness of what the criminal justice system is like, needs a professional friend beside them to help them to cope. They may need to move house, if the rape was in the house, or move job, if the rape was connected with the job. At least a professional friend can help with those things, and you cannot expect a complainant to cope with that as well as with the criminal justice system. All that seems imperative. I am mindful of the Chair’s wish for brevity from me, so perhaps I will write to you with a longer list.
Thank you very much for that. I think you have covered everything that I needed to cover.
Q Dame Vera, I want to roll back and put this set of clauses in context. Everybody acknowledges that there is a significant problem with the trust of victims of sexual violence in particular when it comes to the seizing of phones and digital evidence. There have been recent cases that we have heard about. In consequence, the Government have an ongoing end-to-end rape review, which is looking at every single stage of the criminal justice system. Following the last question, I would not for a moment want colleagues to think that this Bill is the Government’s answer to addressing the real and keenly felt concerns of rape victims and other victims of sexual violence.
On the point about digital divides, do you accept that there is a need to clarify the law on this? At the moment, we have the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 and we have the Attorney General’s new guidelines, but presumably you accept that there is a need to set a framework in law in order to help and protect victims, and to protect the right of a free trial under article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998?
Dame Vera Baird:
I think national legislation to clarify the law about this is imperative, but it is just not this national legislation.
Q Okay. Within that context, we have to bear in mind the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 and the Data Protection Act 2018. Do you accept that?
Dame Vera Baird:
Yes, of course we have to do so. I am not sure you will be doing that with this power. I think there is a real human rights challenge here already, and I am pretty satisfied that there will be data protection challenges too. Yes, of course data protection is the law and it is important. I do not think this fulfils all your obligations under that either.
Q All right. Clause 36(5)(a) sets out the conditions under which the power may be exercised—namely, that an “authorised person”, as defined elsewhere in the Bill, must reasonably believes
“that information stored on the electronic device is relevant to a purpose within subsection (2)”.
That wording of course comes from the 1996 Act, doesn’t it?
Dame Vera Baird:
I do not know which it comes from, but “relevant” is no good, Minister. “Relevant” is not a reasonable line of inquiry. Somebody who comes across the letter from the lady in Northumbria might think that is relevant. I do not think that finding it is a reasonable line of inquiry. A reasonable line of inquiry in the CPIA is the right test, and this is the wrong test.
Q All right, but do you accept that there is a test of relevance in terms of disclosure under the 1996 Act?
Dame Vera Baird:
There is a test of a reasonable line of inquiry under the CPIA. That is the test, and that is very much a narrower test than the one in the proposed clauses. I have to say, because we narrowed it from relevance down to a reasonable line of inquiry in our amendments, the police were happy to accept that, so I am not sure why the Home Office wants it to be wider than the police want it to be.
Q I will come back to that. The test in clause 36(5)(b) is that the authorised person must be
“satisfied that exercise of the power is necessary and proportionate”.
Again, that wording applies across the board in terms of criminal proceedings. Is that correct?
Dame Vera Baird:
I have come across the terminology before, but it is highly subjective. Insufficient detail is gone into for it to have the meaning that it is important to have. I think it is a very good thing, if I may say so, Minister, that you have accepted that the backdrop against which we approach these clauses is a very, very undesirable one, where confidence has been lost by over-demands on vulnerable complainants’ personal data. It is hugely important therefore to put into the legislation every protection that can be put in, for fairness. Remember, there is a massive power imbalance in the relationship at the time of the requests—
Q I have long accepted that, Dame Vera. That is why we have the end-to-end rape review, which is ongoing, as you know. The reason I ask that is because one would not want the Committee to think that these clauses are the only measures being taken to secure the framework for extraction of digital devices. You will accept that the clauses set out that a statutory code of practice will accompany the Bill.
The codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, for example, are vital codes of practice that are relied on in court. If a police officer does not meet the standards expected by that code when interviewing suspects, for example—if there is a significant breach—the entire prosecution can fall. Do you accept that although we are rightly looking at the wording of the clauses, just focusing on those would not give the full picture? We also need to consider the importance that the code of practice will have. It will deal with some of the practice points that you have raised.
Dame Vera Baird:
I do not think it is the right analogy to compare any code of practice. Let me tell you, the code of practice under this is invisible or non-existent. Codes of practice are discussed though they are the answer to it all. The first thing to say is that they do not have the power of statute, and if the legislation goes through as it is now, that is what the police will likely rely on. Of course a statutory code of practice under PACE has the consequences that you described, Minister, but that is because if you break the code of practice under PACE, it impacts on the defendant. The defendant can say, “Oh, that’s been done unfairly and jeopardised my fair trial,” and a breach can even be the end of a prosecution. There is absolutely no power for a rape complainant to have a similar resolution of a breach of any code of practice in this legislation. They can breach the codes of practice until they are blue in the face, and it does not make any difference to the trial.
Q No, it is a proper analogy, because they are both statutory codes of practice. Of course the police will have to abide by those codes of practice and will be held to account by the Victims’ Commissioner and others if they are seen to be failing those codes.
Dame Vera Baird:
There is no possible remedy or solution for the complainant that is analogous to the outright acquittal that can be a consequence of breaching the PACE code of practice, because that is about a defendant. This is about a complainant. What do you suggest would be the solution if the code of practice were breached in my case of rape and too much documentation was taken and disclosed? What is my remedy?
Q The police force or the CPS are accountable for their conduct under the codes of practice. That is why the code of practice is in the Bill, not least because putting the sort of detail you seem to be suggesting in the Bill is not as responsive and flexible as putting it into a code of practice—by definition, changing primary legislation is not as responsive or flexible. These clauses are not the only factors to bear in mind when looking at the overall issue of digital devices. I will move on—
Dame Vera Baird:
I would like to answer that, if I can. They are the only thing, because there is no sign of a code of practice. There is no draft code of practice at all. When I ask what my remedy would be as a rape complainant, you say to me that the police will be accountable, but how will they be accountable? It is not a crime and it is not a tort to break this code of practice, so what is the remedy if it is broken? It is not an analogy with the PACE code of practice. Do not over-rely on this code of practice, Minister. You and I share the aim of protecting complainants. Do not over-rely on a code of practice no one has ever seen and that does not have statutory form.
Q This will not be operating in a vacuum. The police are of course accountable to police and crime commissioners, as you know as a former commissioner. The police are also accountable to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, and the police forces have their individual complaint processes. There are ways of accountability. I will move on—
Dame Vera Baird:
If those routes really do exist, have they been working, Minister? I do not remember any complainant being able to come to me as a PCC and complain about an individual case. Let’s face it: the dire situation where the public, or at least this sector of them, have lost confidence in the police has occurred at the time when all of those bodies that can call them to account have been in play, and they have not called them to account.
Q There are many aspects to public confidence, but that is why we are addressing this one aspect of it in the Bill as part of the Government’s overall work on the rape review and, as you said yourself, the victims law.
I will move on to unauthorised encampments. You were asked about the impact and you fairly conceded that residents can be victims in the context of unauthorised encampments. Clause 61 sets out the offence. The conditions that are laid down for the alleged commission of an offence include factors such as “significant damage”, “significant disruption” and “significant distress”. With your focus on antisocial behaviour, presumably you welcome the focus on those unauthorised encampments that result in those sorts of distressing conditions?
Dame Vera Baird:
I would not want anyone to suffer from any of those, but causing damage—I do not know what that is. If you are on an unauthorised encampment and you have not got a lavatory so you dig a latrine, is that causing damage to the field? I think it depends how it is defined. I really cannot go much further than saying that unless there is proper provision of authorised encampments, you have two sets of victims. I quite agree with you that the people who are distressed, damaged or whatever by an unauthorised encampment are victims of that. There is no doubt of it—you have made your point—but I want you to take into account the difficulty of finding somewhere to camp in a lot of places, which forces people into an unlawful place. Of course, damage is not justifiable, but that is a factor to consider. I was so pleased when the NPCC appreciated that as well.
So do you see it as inevitable—
Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions. I thank the witness again for her evidence.