Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review

– in Westminster Hall at 5:03 pm on 30th November 2022.

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Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department 5:03 pm, 30th November 2022

I beg to move,

That this House
has considered the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review.

It is great to see Members here, and I thank the House for allowing time for this vital debate. I believe this Government have a strong and world-leading record on tackling violence against women and girls. I am very proud of what the Government have done, including, to name just a few, the violence against women and girls strategy, the Domestic Abuse Act 2021, the domestic abuse plan and the “Enough” campaign—a multimillion-pound public education broadcast campaign aimed at achieving long-term behaviour change and preventing public sexual harassment and domestic abuse.

Time does not allow me to give a comprehensive summary, but I am confident that the debate today will receive a positive hearing from the Minister. It deals with the most serious form of violence, which is where the violence ends in the death of a victim.

Last week, I spoke to two bereaved mothers of beautiful, young, talented daughters who had their whole lives ahead of them, but were murdered by their male partners. It was impossible to come away from a meeting with Carole Gould and Julie Devey, the mothers of Poppy Devey Waterhouse and Ellie Gould, without feeling heartbroken and devastated, not least because Poppy was about the same age as my daughter. I feel her mother’s pain only too intensely.

Carole and Julie are just two parents bereaved as a result of domestic homicide. There are too many more, and too many for me to refer to each one by name, but that in no way diminishes their pain or trauma. In researching this debate, I read hundreds of stories. Each one is harrowing. I want anyone watching or reading this debate to know that their loved ones are not just a set of words on a page, or a statistic that we can flick past and forget. As Her Majesty the Queen Consort said yesterday in her first major speech since she ascended to her position,

“we refuse to be desensitised by cold facts and figures and we resolve to keep the names and the memories of these women alive.”

Domestic homicide means that the victim is killed by someone with whom they are closely connected—either their intimate partner or family member. Before I go any further, I want the House to be in no doubt about the facts. Men and boys can be, and are, victims of domestic abuse and homicide. Government policy rightly can and does take account of that, but in the context of the United Nations campaign to raise awareness of violence against women, it is also a fact that domestic abuse is a gendered crime. In that context, I will keep the focus of my remarks on female victims.

Women are much more likely than men to be victims of domestic homicide. Forty-nine per cent. of all female homicides and 10% of male homicides are domestic homicides. Home Office data for the past three years records 207 female victims of domestic homicide who were killed by their male partner or ex-partner, compared with 29 male victims of domestic homicide killed by a female partner or ex-partner.

Poppy and Ellie’s killers were caught and sentenced, but the court cases did not bring justice for their families and friends. Poppy’s murderer, Joe Atkinson, was sentenced to a minimum term of 16 years and two months, and Ellie’s murderer, Thomas Griffiths, who was sentenced as a child, got 12 years and six months. The families point out that had the killers taken a knife out of the home and gone to the local park to stab their daughters, they would have received a much higher sentence, with a 25-year starting point, but most domestic homicides take place in the home, meaning that a knife is not taken to the scene; it is already there in the home. That automatically reduces the available sentence starting point to a minimum tariff of only 15 years.

Carole and Julie point out that overkill is overlooked. Overkill is a typical feature of domestic homicides; they are often frenzied, brutal and violent, involving excessive, repeated use of force or injury way beyond what is needed to achieve the actual killing, yet that does not add any significant time to the sentence.

Photo of John Cryer John Cryer Labour, Leyton and Wanstead

I agree with everything that the hon. Member said. I wish to place on record a similar case from Leyton in my constituency: Linah Keza was murdered by her former partner in the home in a very frenzied attack. Does the hon. Member agree that, very often, the system lets down these women? In this case, the police repeatedly refused to take any notice of threats to her, one of which was recorded, and a police officer told the attacker, Ms Keza’s former partner, that he was fine to visit her unsupervised.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the hon. Gentleman for bringing that case to the House’s attention. As I said, I have read about hundreds of such cases. It is very important that the police and all the frontline services put into practice the training that they now have to deal with these issues. I will come on to my recommendations later.

For many women, the murder comes after they have experienced domestic abuse, including violence or coercive and controlling behaviour. An overkill element also means that the family members’ trauma is even more heightened. Many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress.

Let us turn to another killer. Sally Challen bludgeoned her husband to death with a hammer. She was sentenced to life imprisonment with a tariff of 18 years, but a landmark judgment using the new coercion and control offences that the Government introduced in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 saw her conviction quashed, and she walked free after serving nine years. The judge agreed with her barrister, Clare Wade KC, and the campaign group Justice for Women, that Challen was a victim of coercive control that spanned decades; she met her husband aged 16. He had humiliated and manipulated her, which is a classic pattern of controlling behaviour. The court accepted that, and her sentence was converted to manslaughter.

Let us touch on the case of Anthony Williams, who strangled his 67-year-old wife, Ruth, to death. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was acquitted of murder. His defence argued that his actions were due to his mental state, which had worsened due to the covid-19 pandemic. This lesser charge and the sentence of five years’ imprisonment was strongly criticised by politicians from all parties and anti-domestic abuse activists. The Joanna Simpson Foundation, among others, argued that diminished responsibility and loss of control are overused defences for men in domestic homicides; that the defences are used in circumstances that they were not designed for; and that their use risked downgrading and normalising domestic abuse, which should not be tolerated. The “Women Who Kill” report, published by the Centre for Women’s Justice, found that, by contrast, women who kill their partners largely do so having been subjected to abuse from the men they kill. In 77% of the cases covered in that research, there is evidence to suggest that women had experienced violence or abuse from the deceased. Despite that, they are unlikely to be acquitted on grounds of self-defence.

Finally, I will mention one more case. Sophie Moss was choked to death during sex by Sam Pybus. He applied prolonged pressure to her neck and admitted to manslaughter; however, he literally claimed that she asked for it, as part of a consensual rough sex game. The judge accepted that, and he was jailed for four years and eight months—the same length of time that he might have received for a driving offence. An appeal to increase his sentence was rejected. It is clear even from this cursory summary, which in no way covers all the victims to whom I could have referred, that some of the sentences received by men who kill their female partners or ex-partners do not reflect the seriousness of domestic abuse, or the fact that these homicides often follow a period of prolonged abuse. On the other hand, sentences received by women who kill their partners in self-defence could appear disproportionate, particularly in cases in which they used a weapon. The issue of the knife coming from inside the home, as it is much more likely to have done when a woman is killed in a domestic homicide, adds another dimension.

It is an unfortunate fact that a woman who kills her male partner in self-defence is, due to her lesser physical strength, more likely to have needed to use a weapon of some type. That attracts a more serious sentence than would be received by a male such as Sam Pybus who kills a female partner by strangulation. We have seen that he was able to claim that he strangled her as part of a consensual sex activity that tragically went wrong. Strangulation does not always leave a mark, which compounds the difficulties for the police investigation and prosecution.

In response to all these cases and many more, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner and Victims’ Commissioner wrote to the then Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland, calling for a review of domestic homicide sentencing, due to their concerns that the sentencing for these homicides did not match the impact and severity of the crime. In March 2021, the domestic homicide sentencing review was announced, and in September 2021 Clare Wade KC, Sally Challen’s appeal barrister, was appointed to conduct the review. In welcoming the review, Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, said:

“Crucially, the Wade Review will also shed some much-needed light on how victims of domestic abuse who kill their abusers are treated by the criminal Justice system. Victims of domestic abuse…must receive a trauma-informed response from the criminal Justice system.”

I come to the central purpose of the debate, which is to ask the Government to publish the review as soon as possible and come forward with their response. I will ask detailed questions later, but first I wish to put on the record my thanks to all the campaign groups and people who spoke to me in the course of my research; I pay tribute to them for all the determined work that they have done on behalf of the victims, who, of course, cannot speak for themselves. I was fortunate to be able to speak to Clare Wade KC ahead of the debate. The content of the report will be familiar to the Minister, as it was to me when I briefly had the privilege of serving in the Ministry of Justice as the Minister of State for Victims and Vulnerability. It is a detailed, extensive, substantive, compelling and well-researched piece of work that makes for harrowing reading. I thank Clare Wade for the thoughtfulness that she has brought to the commission. She tells me that she set out a suite of recommendations that, taken together, constitute a coherent policy response. If implemented, they would tackle the gaps in sentencing options. She believes that the only way forward is to properly recognise the impact of domestic abuse, violence and coercive control in all its forms, and that the criminal justice process needs to take account of the harms to the victim, their family and wider society, so that justice can be done, and be seen to be done.

Another group I have spoken to, Refuge, states that one of the key problems is that the nature of coercive control is still poorly understood. More work needs to be done to educate people about the fact that it is not solely about physical violence. Frontline practitioners need to understand and act on the knowledge that the trigger point for danger is when a woman tries to leave or has left a relationship. The cases need to be dealt with by specialists, and more can be done to build on existing practices to ensure that courts, juries and judges understand and incorporate that knowledge. I recently tabled a written question to the Ministry of Justice and the response stated:

“The independent reviewer required more time than anticipated to complete the review and it was delivered to the department in June this year. The Review examines a number of important and complex issues… the government is carefully considering its recommendations and next steps.”

Let us return for a moment to Carole Gould and Julie Devey. They believe that one of the key problems with the law is on the issue of premeditation. They state that it may never be known whether the perpetrator planned to commit the murder in the home, knowing that weapons were there. Remember, that planning would attract a higher tariff, in that taking the knife to the scene indicates an element of premeditation. They state that using hands as weapons for strangulation has never been acknowledged as part of premeditated murder. They also believe that sentences do not reflect the fact that these are dangerous perpetrators. The fact that they could strangle or stab someone with whom they have been in an intimate relationship surely means that they are a danger to the public, so there is a public protection issue that is not being picked up in sentencing.

I ask Members to cast their mind back to the case of Sophie Moss, which I mentioned. The Minister will be aware of the outstanding work of my hon. Friend Laura Farris. As part of a group of MPs, she was successful in removing the rough sex defence to killing. She now has a private Member’s Bill that seeks to amend the sentencing code to provide for a minimum sentence of 12 years for cases of manslaughter that are sexually motivated. It is right to consider her ask in this debate.

I have questions for the Minister. Has he read the Clare Wade review, and what does he think of the recommendations? When will he publish the review? When will he come forward with the Government’s response? What is his response to my hon. Friend’s private Member’s Bill? Will he ensure that the measures he brings forward in response to the Wade review tackle the sentencing injustices relating to victims killed as part of so-called rough sex? How will he ensure that any recommendations flowing from the Wade review include training for courts, juries, judges, prosecutors and police in fully recognising the wider harms of domestic abuse, abusive relationships and the origins of violence against women? Will he bring forward the new measures that are required if we are to level up sentencing in the victims Bill? If he is unable to commit to that, what legislative vehicle does he foresee as being suitable?

Her Royal Highness the Queen Consort said,

“These women, tragically, can no longer speak for themselves. But we listen to those who can. I have learnt from my conversations with these brave survivors that what they want, above all, is to be listened to and believed, to prevent the same thing happening to others. They know there is power in their stories and that, in the telling, they move from being the victims of their histories to the authors of their own futures.”

We must and will do more. I finish with the words of Julie and Carole:

“Public perception needs to be changed and the correct sentencing can lead the way to show that these Domestic Homicides will not be seen as lesser crimes.”

I look forward to the Minister’s response. I want to place on the record my thanks to everybody who spoke to me before the debate, whether they are from a campaign group that assisted me with research, or whether they are the families.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:18 pm, 30th November 2022

I thank Rachel Maclean for setting the scene so well. I spoke to her outside in Westminster Hall—it was freezing out there; it is slightly warmer in here, thank goodness. She deserves to be commended for bringing this matter to the House.

I mentioned to the hon. Lady that I want to give some figures for Northern Ireland to underline where we are. To be fair, Northern Ireland is not the responsibility of the Minister, because this is a devolved matter, but I want to give those figures to illustrate why I fully support what the hon. Member for Redditch is putting forward today.

The hon. Lady has spoken up on numerous occasions; she has done good work and made sterling comments in support of victims of domestic abuse and, ultimately, the voiceless. In Westminster Hall and in the Chamber, more often than not we speak for the voiceless—those who do not have a voice and who do not have anybody to ask questions on their behalf. The hon. Lady set that scene very well.

We also speak for those who, sadly, have been taken too soon due to domestic homicide. I speak today to raise awareness of the issue and for those in Northern Ireland who have fought tirelessly for greater sentencing reviews. It is great to be here in Westminster Hall for them.

Recent Home Office statistics show that 61% of victims of domestic homicide had a vulnerability. The hon. Lady referred to a lady who was dependent on her partner, who abused her in every possible way, to the extent that her confidence was low and she did not have the freedom she deserved, and then she was brutally injured by her partner. Some 34% of those victims had mental health issues, while 28% had alcohol problems and 23% used illicit drugs. Most of that was down not to their addiction but to their dependence on their evil partner, who subjected them to that lifestyle and, ultimately, to their death. Despite those figures, there is absolutely no reason why somebody should be subjected to their own death at the hands of a domestic partner.

It was revealed in February 2022 that Northern Ireland has, per head of population, the joint highest rate in Europe of women killed as a result of domestic violence. I was horrified to hear those figures. I have already told the hon. Lady about some of the figures that we have back home. Over the recent period of covid—and, indeed, before that—the worrying trend of abuse against partners was at a level incomparable with anywhere else in the United Kingdom. We remain the only part of the UK that does not have a law criminalising the use of coercive control of a partner. Back home, the Northern Ireland Assembly has decreed that it will look at this matter.

Following that news, I am pleased to make Members aware that on 10 November 2022—just two weeks ago, or thereabouts—the Northern Ireland Department of Justice concluded its review of domestic homicide. Independent reviews of homicides include a range of representatives from numerous agencies across Northern Ireland, including Women’s Aid, which I have worked with on numerous occasions and which has information on some absolutely worrying trends; the health and social care trusts; the Police Service of Northern Ireland, which tells me that domestic abuse issues are involved in a large number of cases that it deals with, not just in my constituency but across Northern Ireland; the Probation Board for Northern Ireland; and the Department of Health’s strategic planning and performance group, formerly the Health and Social Care Board.

Over the past few years, as I told the hon. Lady before we came into Westminster Hall, there have been occasions on which the sentence given for murdering or injuring someone has not equated to the crime. I want things to be improved. We have asked the Public Prosecution Service to review those cases. It is important that the law of the land gives the right sentence for the crime.

Since the start of the pandemic, 12 women have been killed in their homes. Similarly, instances of domestic abuse have increased and continue to increase in Northern Ireland. These figures cover a short period of time and are shocking for a population of 1.9 million, but they underline why today’s debate is so important. The latest PSNI figures show that it received reports of almost 2,000 domestic abuse incidents between 14 December 2021 and January 2022—in other words, during a six-week period. Those figures are worrying. That illustrates why this debate is important and why the sentencing review must take place, and it is why I am here to support the hon. Lady in her request for that. Domestic violence and homicide accounts for some 20% of all crime in Northern Ireland, which is completely unacceptable. None of us here could ever contemplate just how bad it is.

Domestic homicide sentencing reviews are to learn, to improve services and to support the families who are living with domestic abuse. Northern Ireland’s latest domestic homicide plan confirms the horrifying truth that domestic violence and homicide is getting worse. Is it because of covid? Is it because of stress? Nothing whatsoever justifies an attack on a partner, especially on a lady. I am an old-fashioned person, and I will always speak up for someone who is unable to speak for themselves. That is why this debate is important to me.

These cases are a complete tragedy. Each one is preventable with the correct support and encouragement to victims to speak up and notice the signs. Sentencing reviews will strengthen the link between review learning, policymaking for domestic homicide sentencing, and practice. There is hope that that will result in changes that prevent future deaths of loved ones who are subject to domestic abuse.

We live in a very troubled society. The reality is that domestic violence is a common occurrence. I know that it features heavily in my constituency workload back home. Domestic violence that is not dealt with in the first instance has the potential to turn deadly, which is why the hon. Lady has brought the debate forward.

We must ensure that sentencing reviews for domestic homicide are treated with the most intense sentencing rulings, as they are murder. That is necessary both for prevention and to ensure that sentencing reflects just how bad the crime is. Regardless of the situation or the circumstances, no individual deserves to die at the hands of someone else so violently. I have seen that with horror in Northern Ireland. I know that is not the Minister’s responsibility, but I wanted to add it into the equation in support of the hon. Member for Redditch. I very much look forward to the Minister’s reply.

I will, obviously, share this debate with the Justice Department back home and the Minister, Naomi Long, to let her know what is happening here so that we can try to move forward after the report that we have just done on domestic homicide reviews, and do something equally vital. The volume of abuse and homicide contributes to a deteriorating picture of our criminal system, and we must do more.

Photo of Ellie Reeves Ellie Reeves Shadow Minister (Justice) 5:27 pm, 30th November 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank Rachel Maclean for securing this incredibly important debate, for speaking so powerfully and for all the work she did as a Minister in the Ministry of Justice. This debate is particularly timely as we are six days into the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence—a time when people all over the world take action to try to stop violence against women and girls.

In many cases, domestic murderers get off too lightly after committing some of the most horrific crimes against women. As we have heard, there is clearly a gap in sentencing between those who murder at home and out on the street. That is why, in our May 2021 Green Paper, “Ending Violence Against Women and Girls”, Labour outlined that, in Government, we would commission a review into the effectiveness of the current legislation and sentencing policy. In June 2021, we also tabled an amendment in Committee during the passage of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, calling on the then Justice Secretary to commission a review, but the Tories voted it down.

Although I am pleased that the Government have finally commissioned a review, I am dismayed by how long it has taken to progress. It took until September 2021 for Clare Wade KC to be appointed to undertake the review of domestic homicide sentencing. The review was originally due for completion in December 2021, but the report was delivered to the Justice Secretary this June. Nearly six months on, we are still waiting for the review’s findings—in that time, we have been through three Justice Secretaries. I am concerned that the chaos, and the carousel of changing Ministers, has meant that even a matter as important as this has not been seen as significant enough to be acted upon. Once again, women and victims of domestic abuse are being let down.

We have heard that men who kill their partners often receive a lesser sentence than those who kill others, despite the fact that domestic homicide often occurs in the context of years of domestic abuse. For example, the law regards a murder where the knife is taken to the scene of the crime as premeditated. It therefore warrants a longer jail term, with a starting point of 25 years. That is a 10-year disparity with the starting point for a murder in the home where the weapon, such as a kitchen knife, is already present.

Domestic homicides are often fully premeditated, aided by the perpetrator having full knowledge of the property and where to find objects to assist their violence. Indeed, the femicide census findings published in November 2020 showed that over the previous decade 62% of female homicides were at the hands of an intimate partner, 72% of victims died in their homes, 59% of cases involved a history of coercive control or violence, and almost half the perpetrators were known to have a history of abuse against women.

The case of Poppy Devey Waterhouse, which the hon. Member for Redditch powerfully spoke about, highlights that. Poppy was just 24 when she was murdered in December 2018 by her ex-boyfriend. The couple had split in October 2018 but continued to live in the same flat in separate rooms. Three days before Poppy was due to move into a new property, her killer had been out drinking and was said to be intoxicated and fuelled by jealousy and rage. He returned to the flat and stabbed Poppy to death with a knife from their kitchen, inflicting over 100 injuries. Poppy’s killer received a sentence of just 16 years, but had he taken his weapon to the scene of crime, deemed an aggravating factor, he could have received a much longer sentence. As Poppy’s mother Julie Devey has outlined, the sentence ignores the fact that Poppy’s killer had no need to bring a weapon to the scene; he had knowledge that knives were in the flat and could be used in the attack.

Julie has campaigned on this issue, and believes that the sentencing guidelines are simply wrong. She says:

“The savagery and violence of the attacks seem to count for nothing in the eyes of the law and this is infuriating”.

The change that Julie wants is for domestic murder tariffs to reflect the severity of the crime, rather than the location of the killing. If that were the case, the fact that a knife was used would be the aggravating factor, rather than the act of bringing it to the scene. That seems a wholly just change, which I would hope to see covered in the sentencing review.

If the public are to have confidence in the criminal justice system, we need appropriate sentences to deter potential offenders and to deal just punishment for serious crimes. That is why we called for a review into sentencing for domestic homicide and domestic abuse over a year and a half ago. We cannot afford for our laws and their enforcement to send the signal that violence against women and girls will be tolerated; yet record low prosecution and conviction rates under this Government are sending that message. Labour would back specialist rape courts to drive up prosecution rates, set up a domestic violence register and introduce new minimum sentences for rape and stalking.

I am fearful that the delays with the domestic homicide sentencing review are part of an ingrained culture that tackling violence against women and girls is not a matter of urgency for the Government. I hope that the Minister will assure us that the review will be published as a matter of urgency, and the Government will end their inaction.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice 5:34 pm, 30th November 2022

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean for securing the debate; I know how much time and personal effort she put into this topic when in Government. I welcome the focus that she is continuing to create on what I know is an important issue.

This is not an area normally in my portfolio. I put on the record that I cannot possibly imagine the distress and trauma of the families of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse, who were murdered in such awful circumstances. I can only commend their mothers for the ongoing campaigning that they are doing in relation to this issue. I know that colleagues who are taking part in the debate, and from across the House, will continue to support their campaign, and will have the families in their thoughts and prayers as they deal with the loss of a loved one.

Throughout the debate I have listened to the argument for reform of sentencing in cases of domestic homicide, which has been so eloquently explained. That is why the Government commissioned the review that we received in June and are now assessing. People are saying, “You have had the review now nearly six months—can’t you just get on with it?” But it is important that we get it right. It is tempting to rush, and I know that there is always a desire in such distressing circumstances to be seen to be acting. But in this place we quite often see the impact and consequences of acting without reflecting. I want to ensure that the response to the review is measured, and takes onboard the recommendations and factors that we need to assess.

I take this opportunity to publicly express my thanks to Clare Wade KC, the independent expert appointed to undertake the review. Ms Wade was the lead counsel in the high-profile case of Sally Challen, and has brought her unparalleled expertise to the complex nature of this piece of work. As has been pointed out, the published terms of reference for the review stated that the final report would be submitted to the Secretary of State for Justice by the end of last year. The report was received in June, and I appreciate that the delay, along with the changes in Government, will have been frustrating for all of those involved and concerned, and who want to see action.

I can give my full assurance that the Secretary of State and I are in the process of carefully considering all of the recommendations made in Clare Wade’s review. The topic is not only extremely important but complex and challenging; as I said earlier, it is important we get it right. Changing the law on sentencing for murder can have profound consequences, so it is something that we must do properly and consider very carefully, to avoid any unintended impacts. The matter has the full attention of the Secretary of State and the ministerial team, and I look forward to updating Parliament in due course with more detail on the review, its recommendations and how the Government will respond to them.

On my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch’s question about the private Member’s Bill that has called for a minimum sentence to be imposed on rough sex manslaughter, the Government are clear that there is no such defence in law as the “rough sex defence”. We clarified that position in statutory form in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. The Government are aware that there are rising concerns about seemingly low sentences given in some cases involving death, especially when there is evidence to suggest that there may have previously been consent between the parties for that type of behaviour.

Minimum sentences are rare in England and Wales. They tend to be used for repeat offences, or offences that are straightforward in definition, such as knife possession. Manslaughter offences cover a wide range of behaviours and circumstances. It is right that the courts have the full range of disposals available.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

I thank the Minister for the detail and commitment that he has shown to this process. I want to lodge one thought with him: he mentioned that courts need to take account of evidence that the parties had engaged in such activity within the rough sex domain, as we have already discussed. I make the point that the woman who was part of that is now dead. There is no evidence that she could give; she is no longer with us. I want the Minister to take that away and consider it when he comes to his final conclusion.

Photo of Mike Freer Mike Freer Assistant Whip, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice

My hon. Friend makes a strong point. Clearly, it is not always possible to know exactly what those who have no voice because they are no longer with us have said or consented to in the past. That is an important point, which will be reflected in our response.

The issue of rough-sex manslaughter will be a major consideration in our response to the independent domestic homicide sentencing review. Today, I heard the calls for reform to ensure that sentences are fit for purpose and commensurate with the crime. The Government are committed absolutely to that endeavour, and the domestic homicide sentencing review builds on significant action that we have taken already.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, passed earlier this year, ensures that those convicted of some of the most serious sexual and violent crimes, such as rape, manslaughter and attempted murder, will spend a longer proportion of their sentence in prison, protecting the public and giving victims the confidence that justice has been served. In the Act, we also took swift action to raise the starting point for murder for older children and young adults, to ensure that sentences in such cases reflect the seriousness of the crime and the age of the perpetrator. That was in part in response to the case of Ellie Gould, mentioned today, who was murdered by her 17-year-old ex-partner.

Going beyond sentencing, the Government are fully committed to improving outcomes for victims of domestic abuse and violence against women and girls in all its forms and, critically, to preventing more victims in future. Last year, we passed the landmark Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and, since then, we have published the rape review action plan, the cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy, a complementary tackling domestic abuse plan and, in May this year, our draft victims Bill.

The vast majority of the measures passed in the Domestic Abuse Act are in force already. In July this year, the most recent measure in the Act came into force, meaning that abusers are no longer able to cross-examine their victims directly in the family and civil courts. The cross-Government tackling violence against women and girls strategy seeks to transform the whole-society response in order to prevent offending, to support victims and to pursue perpetrators.

The tackling domestic abuse plan is investing more than £230 million of cross-Government funding into prevention and protecting victims, including more than £140 million to support victims and more than £81 million to tackle perpetrators. The plan introduces key commitments to reduce domestic homicide, including reform of the domestic homicide review process and building the first ever central repository of such reviews.

The plan also announced a domestic abuse policing and domestic homicide prevention pilot, which will involve auditing forces that have relatively high levels of domestic homicide to ensure that they are doing everything possible to prevent those crimes. It also announced that we continue to invest in research to build the evidence base on domestic homicide prevention. The Home Office has already awarded more than £2 million in research projects over the past two years.

The victims Bill will improve victims’ experiences of the criminal justice system. It sends a clear signal about what victims can and should expect from the criminal justice system by enshrining the overarching principles of the victims code in primary legislation. It will increase transparency and oversight of criminal justice agencies’ services to victims, so that we can identify problems, drive up standards and give the public confidence. It will enable improvements in the quality and consistency of support services for victims by improving how organisations work together to commission support services to meet the needs of victims better, and to increase awareness of independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers. We are carefully considering the recommendations of the Justice Committee’s pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, which will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Tackling violence against women and girls in all its forms remains an utmost priority for the Government, and the Prime Minister spoke last week about his determination and motivation to ensure that we tackle this issue. I have outlined the key action that the Government are taking, but of course there is more to do, and we will revisit this topic once we are able to respond to the Wade review. Finally, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch for her tireless work on this issue, both in and out of Government, and I thank colleagues for their contributions today.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department 5:45 pm, 30th November 2022

Thank you for allowing me time to wind up, Mr Bone. I thank Jim Shannon for the compelling speech that he gave. In his remarks, he talked about the fact that women have been killed at the hands of their partners, and about the desperate circumstances that those women have endured after a lifetime of domestic abuse. He has done an extremely good job of representing his constituents, and I really hope that discussions can continue with the Northern Ireland criminal justice authorities to ensure that they continue to bear down on this awful scourge, which affects women and girls across all parts of our United Kingdom.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive summary. He answered all my questions, and I am extremely grateful to him. I agree with him that the leadership shown by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Justice—the Lord Chancellor—is exceptional, and we should be proud of all the work that we are doing. The Minister outlined some of it, but had he had more time, he could have touched on many more actions that we are taking. I agree with him that the Wade review encompasses complex issues, and there are unintended consequences.

Sentencing policy is not straightforward, and we need to make law that is workable and that does not duplicate what is already on the statute book. I know that people who are listening to this debate will be reassured that the Minister is committing to publish the Wade review. He will be coming forward with some recommendations, and he is committing to take them forward as soon as parliamentary time allows, so I thank him very much.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review.

Sitting adjourned.