Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Bill [Lords]

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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): Thank you, Mr. Benton, for allowing me to raise a few further issues. One is the role of the voluntary sector, on which we have already had some debate. In the domestic homicide review carried out in Cardiff, the voluntary sector did not simply contribute information; it played

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a crucial role, because the review was chaired jointly by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the police. The report was written by the NSPCC, and Women's Aid and Cardiff women's safety unit were part of the information-gathering group.

I understand why the voluntary organisations are not listed in the Bill, but will the Solicitor-General comment on the fact that the NSPCC played such a crucial role in the Cardiff review and wrote the report? Those who took part in the review felt that the NSPCC contributed enormously and that agencies could take part in a way that would not have been possible if the review had been led by a statutory agency. The voluntary sector has gone beyond being a partner and giving information in some cases, so how will it fit into the reviews when they become statutory? Will the reviews still be able to be carried out in that way? All those taking part and I felt that the voluntary sector was able to play a constructive role.

My second point, which relates to the cost of the review, was also made by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham (Mrs. Gillan). I have experience of only the one review, but that took more than 12 months and an enormous amount of the time on the part of the professionals and voluntary bodies involved. They did it as part of their job, but, in view of the number of reviews that will have to take place, I wonder whether it is possible at this stage to cost them. I should also welcome some comments on the costings and how the voluntary bodies, which play such a major role in the reviews, can be helped.

My third point relates to restorative justice. In the example that I gave earlier of the woman who had been battered to death by her partner, the victim's family felt strongly that the case should be used to help to stop such a thing happening to anybody else; they wanted me to use her case in any discussions. The help that is given to the families of the victim, and perhaps of the perpetrator, is important, because we must remember that families will find it difficult to understand why the incident happened. A review will help both sets of families involved in such appalling tragedies.

Sandra Gidley: I am glad that my constituent was able to brighten up your constituency so well, Mr. Benton.

I rise to add to the Solicitor-General's comments. The responses to ''Safety and Justice'' were, sadly, fairly truncated, which meant that it was difficult to get an idea of the breadth of the comments made. It is worth exploring the response of the Greater London domestic violence project, which has huge practical experience of dealing with reviews. Its members are the only people who have been doing them for any length of time, so it is instructive to listen to what they have to say.

My initial reaction was that a review was definitely a good thing and I could not see why anybody would have reservations. None the less, serious questions need to be asked about how we can ensure that it works to best effect. How will information from the review be used? There are concerns that if conclusions

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are rushed, they might be false. I shall give a couple of examples. In London it has been discovered that a disproportionate number of victims are Asian. If they were minded, people could interpret that to mean that being Asian was a factor in the case. However, that is not what the Greater London domestic violence project believes; it believes that the social exclusion and isolation of the women is the overriding factor. However, from a race or culture point of view, there are dangers if that is not set in a wider context. That problem needs to be tackled sensitively and in the right way.

I spoke to some of the project's representatives, who said that nothing much seems to have changed: no information is available now that was not readily available before, and the process has been quite expensive. In its response to ''Safety and Justice'', the project said:

    ''we are unconvinced that Domestic Violence Fatality Reviews will necessarily provide useful information that will enable the prevention of future deaths. Certainly the reviews that have been conducted in London have failed to elicit any findings that were not already documented by a significant body of research. In other words, it has been an exceptionally expensive, time-consuming and bureaucratic process to demonstrate what we already knew.''

I found that alarming, because, as I said at the beginning, it seemed a good idea and it is good that all agencies should work together.

The project also raised the fact that the agencies often have useful information because they have been involved with a woman previously. However, it costs them a significant amount of money to take part in the process. If they have to spend their precious, hard-won resources on participating in the reviews, will they have less to provide some of the more practical help that they give day to day? Will the Solicitor-General clarify how the funding streams break down? That would put some people's minds at rest.

There is a possible omission. In the United States, there is usually some sort of interview with family or friends, but that is not suggested here. Will the Solicitor-General clarify? Evidence is available that if a perpetrator is aware that people know what he is up to—perpetrators are usually, although I accept not exclusively, male—and have contacted a project, that can be a protection. It is important that we try to find out, particularly in the early stages, what information is available from those sources.

Who will lead the reviews? Among the responses to ''Safety and Justice'', it was frequently suggested that the police might be a suitable lead agency. However, the Greater London domestic violence project made reference to evidence from a 1996 report, ''Multi-Agency Work and Domestic Violence: A National Study of Inter-Agency Initiatives'', which suggests that initiatives are less effective when they are police-led. Clearly, a lot of thought still has to be devoted to the fine detail. I agree with the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham, who said that it would be useful to see the details, and to comment and consult. In particular, the agencies involved need to be able to do that.

The Greater London domestic violence project also raised a point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome. It felt that it was

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necessary to examine to role of coroners' courts. I think that the Solicitor-General said that they had a narrow remit, so it would be useful if she could tell us whether that remit will be widened and what sort of links are to be made with other parts of the process. The idea that we are discussing is a good one but, given the costs and the amount of time and bureaucracy that could be involved, we need a clear idea of what we want to do with the information afterwards, even though I contend that any interaction between the agencies will be able to prevent further cases.

3.15 pm

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab): I rise to speak in support the establishment of domestic homicide reviews, because of an experience that I had at the end of last year. Two years ago a young lady called Heshu Yones, a 16-year-old Kurdish Muslim from west London, was stabbed to death by her father, Abdullah. She was dating a white boy. The court case only came to fruition last year.

Shortly after her death, during the trial, a couple of men from the college of further education that she attended came to see me. The reason for their visit was that they knew I took an interest in crimes of so-called honour. One of them had been a colleague of mine in Blackburn Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament about 45 years ago and he remembered me. He wanted to talk to me and get a lot off his chest. There had been indications within the college that things had been going wrong at home for Heshu Yones and he was worried that such events could happen again unless something was done. He was saying to me that he would have loved to have had input into some sort of hearing, so that he could have explained what was happening to her, what her reactions were and what things she had said to lecturers and to mentors, so that another such case can be prevented.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset) (Con): This is my first contribution to this Standing Committee—unfortunately, I was not able to be present at our proceedings on Tuesday. As a result of my actions on Tuesday, or perhaps for other reasons, I think that we now have two by-elections on 15 July. I leave hon. Members to work that one out.

I support the aim of the clause in principle, but I am concerned by two aspects that I hope the Solicitor-General will be able to address when she responds. The first was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham and by the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) in connection with the bodies that will be involved under subsection (4). I note that subsection (6) states:

    ''The Secretary of State may by order amend subsection (4) or (5).''

I would like guidance from the Solicitor-General as to whether she sees that power vested in the Secretary of State as simply one to amend the list in the light of changes to the arrangements for local government, or as a power that might be used to reflect some of the points made during the debate. There is probably a

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good case for the Secretary of State broadening the group under that power, in the light of experience or otherwise. I can think of instances when it might be appropriate to bring into the reviews youth leaders, those who are running refuges and others, because they would have a specific contribution to make, particularly in the serious case of homicide. To broaden that provision and to give the Secretary of State the power to do that would be worth while.

My other point is on the guidance that will be issued. Paragraph 44 of the explanatory notes states:

    ''This clause provides for guidance on the establishment and conduct of domestic homicide reviews''.

Paragraph 45 states:

    ''The guidance will encourage multi-agency reviews in relevant cases and will provide details as to leadership, format, timing and participants depending on the individual circumstances of the case.''

It would be helpful if the Solicitor-General gave the Committee some idea of what that guidance will be. I am most concerned about the circumstances in which the review is triggered. Whose responsibility is it to trigger the review process? Who will set it going? Who has the power to request a review? Is it automatic? Will the chief police officer always do that, or will other bodies be able to trigger it, including bodies not listed in subsection (4)? Apart from those reservations, I very much support the thrust of this clause.

 
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