Previous Section Index Home Page

5.45 pm

Ms Rosie Winterton: I thank the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh) for his contribution; as he said, when the matter was debated in Committee the different experiences of some Committee members were recounted, which showed how expert the Committee was. Their knowledge was brought to bear on our deliberations, and it certainly helped to swing the argument in favour of introducing the new safeguards.

I shall have to write to the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (James Duddridge) about the technical point concerning the wording. I believe that the Mental Health Act Commission might be looking at the number of people who receive ECT, but, again, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman to clarify the point. I thank him, and all members of the Committee and other Members of the House, for the warm welcome they gave the amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 7

Victims’ rights

‘Schedule [ Victims’ rights] (which makes amendments to Chapter 2 of Part 3 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 (c. 28)) has effect.’.— [Ms Rosie Winterton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Ms Rosie Winterton: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government new schedule 1— ‘Victims’ rights.

Government amendment No. 67

Ms Winterton: The new clause, new schedule and amendment relate to the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. They extend the rights of victims of mentally disordered offenders to receive information and make representations about a patient’s discharge. I pay particular tribute to the work of the Zito Trust and Victims Voice, with whom we had several meetings, who have made strong representations about extending
18 Jun 2007 : Column 1118
the rights of victims in such tragic circumstances. I also pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friends the Members for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart), who has been very involved in the issue, and for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon), who raised it in Committee. I am glad to say that I think that the provisions will have cross-party support, showing the importance that Parliament attaches to treating victims with respect and dignity. Those issues were debated in Committee and the other place, and we introduced amending provisions in response to those debates.

The amending provisions relate to persons with a mental disorder who have been convicted of a criminal offence of a sexual or violent nature, but who are not made subject to restrictions. Unlike the victims of offenders given restricted orders, these victims are not told when the offender is discharged from detention in hospital. In responding to the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee report on the 2004 draft Bill, we said that we would consider how victims’ rights might be extended to cover victims of serious offences where no restrictions had been imposed. The amending provisions also help to deliver that commitment.

The Government believe that the key ways of helping victims of crime are through support services, allowing victims’ voices to be heard in court and providing information, which can take several forms. For example, there is information on where to seek help and advice; on the progress of a case from the point of report through to the end of the criminal case; and on when the offender is released. Much of that was included in the code of practice for victims of crime, which set out for the first time the obligations of the criminal justice system towards victims.

It is also important to recognise that we looked into how to extend victims’ rights further. We shall table amendments that reflect discussions on the importance of information about what has happened to restricted patients, but we are also extending provisions to include circumstances where patients are not restricted. Many victims’ organisations have stressed to us the importance of sharing information between agencies, and we must recognise that.

The draft illustrative code of practice, at chapter 34A, deals with public bodies’ sharing of information in order to address risk. It is important to acknowledge that some considerations need to be taken into account where confidentiality is crucial, and patients are entitled to know that their rights will be respected to that extent, but it is also important to recognise that many victims’ organisations made it very clear to us that information about risk should be shared between different agencies—even when the information is about someone detained under the Mental Health Act. We will consult further on the draft code of practice and information sharing so that we can consider bolstering our guidance. As I said, patients have a right to confidentiality, but the public have a right to know that systems and services are in place to support people with a mental disorder.

Victims need to know when an offender has been released in order to reassure them about their future safety. The amending provisions are designed to extend to more victims the protections put in place by the
18 Jun 2007 : Column 1119
Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act, which sets out the current rights of victims of mentally disordered offenders.

Under that Act, victims are entitled to receive information where the following apply: first, where a person is convicted of a violent or sexual offence; secondly, when he receives a hospital order or a hospital direction, or is transferred from prison to hospital under a transfer direction; and, thirdly, where he is made subject to special restrictions, respectively a restriction order, a limitation direction or a restriction direction. If those circumstances apply, the victim has the right to elect to receive information about the patient’s discharge from hospital; to make representations about whether the patient should be subject to any conditions in the event of his discharge; and to receive information about the discharge and any conditions imposed for the victim’s protection.

The amending provisions extend those very important rights to victims of mentally disordered offenders who are convicted of violent or sexual offences, but not made subject to special restrictions. The process will be similar to the current one for offenders who receive restricted hospital orders. The local probation board must take reasonable steps to establish whether a victim wishes to make representations about whether the patient should be subject to any conditions in the event of his discharge from hospital. It must also establish whether the victim wishes to receive information about any conditions to which the patient is subject in the event of his discharge from hospital.

Where the victim so wishes, the probation board must notify the relevant hospital managers of the victim’s wish and their name and address, so that they may be contacted. Should the victim wish to rescind their request for information or notify the board of any change in their contact details, the board must notify him of the contact details for the hospital manager. A victim who initially declines to make representations or receive information, but changes their mind, may contact the local probation board.

To facilitate the making of representations, the responsible clinician is required to inform hospital managers whether he is considering discharging a patient, making a community treatment order or varying the conditions of an order. There is a duty to inform hospital managers when any other person is considering discharging the patient under section 23(3), and when an application is made to the mental health review tribunal. On receipt of such information, hospital managers must notify the victim that discharge is being considered, giving the victim the opportunity to make representations if they wish.

Hospital managers must forward representations to those who have the power to consider the patient’s discharge from detention, or discharge on a community treatment order. The responsible clinician must inform hospital managers whether a patient is to be discharged or a community treatment order is to be made. If so, managers must be told whether any of the conditions in the order relate to contact with the victim or their family. The clinician must also notify them of whether any conditions relating to the victim or their family are to be altered or added. Finally, he must notify them if a
18 Jun 2007 : Column 1120
community treatment order is to cease to be in force, and the date on which it is to cease, and if the conditions for a patient’s authority for detention are no longer met.

A person who is to discharge a patient under section 23(3) must also inform hospital managers, as must the tribunal if it directs that a patient is to be discharged. When hospital managers receive this information, they must take all reasonable steps to pass it to the victim. They may also provide such other information as they consider appropriate. The same notification requirements will apply when a victim has elected to make representations, or to receive information about a person subject to a hospital order with restrictions, and the restriction order is lifted while the hospital order remains in force. Those rights will also apply to the victims of persons made subject to a hospital and limitation direction where the direction ceases to have effect, and in cases where convicted persons are transferred to hospital under a transfer direction without a restriction direction, or where the restriction direction is removed.

6 pm

As I said, many organisations representing victims, particularly the Zito Trust and Victims Voice, have campaigned for these provisions for a number of years, so I am glad that we have been able to introduce them in the Bill. It is the right thing to do and I am grateful for the support that I hope will be given from both sides of the House. The amendments are important and will send a real message of our support.

Dr. Gibson: I welcome many of the procedures and accept their necessity, but I want to raise a point made to me by a consultant forensic psychiatrist, on which I would welcome my right hon. Friend’s view. His slight criticism was that the language used in presenting the proposals was not helpful, and that the term “public protection” was somewhat severe and negative. He said:

Has that consideration crossed my right hon. Friend’s path?

Ms Winterton: The term “public health” might have a different connotation, too, and could be slightly confusing. It is important to recognise that we can talk about public protection in relation to such cases and we should not be embarrassed to do so. Victims, and those who have suffered in some tragic cases, expect us not to be mealy-mouthed, which is why the proposals are important. I value the support I hope they will receive on both sides of the House.

Tim Loughton: I shall speak briefly in support of the new clause, which my hon. Friends and I signed. Although we did not have the opportunity to discuss the proposals in Committee, they are welcome and I wholly concur with the Minister’s comments. We should certainly treat with respect and dignity the victims of horrendous and tragic crimes, about some of which we are only too well aware. I pay tribute both to the organisations mentioned by the Minister and to the others that have lobbied long and hard for respect for victims’ rights.

18 Jun 2007 : Column 1121

We hear much about some of the horrendous cases, but they need to be put into perspective, as I am sure the Minister agrees. We need balance, but we need to make sure that the victims of those crimes are properly respected and that the horrendous blow they have suffered is dealt with as sensitively as possible and the situation is not exacerbated in the future. They have to go on living with the injuries—or, in extreme cases, the fatalities—that may have occurred. We need to think about victims, and the proposals are a good, if belated, way of adding the same safeguards as those in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act and for other victims of crime.

The biggest tribute we can pay to victims and, we hope, to avoid there being more of them in future, is to make sure we do everything possible to stop perpetrators before they commit such ghastly acts. That is what the Bill and mental health services are all about—making sure that people who are a danger to themselves and others are picked up at an early stage and given the treatment they need and deserve for their medical condition. We need to get that balance right.

Such crimes have an impact on families, too. I have spoken to the victims of patients and of others suffering from mental illness. For innocent families who have had no connection with the mental health services, it can be hard to come to terms with such a most shocking blow. In extreme circumstances, professional staff and others working in mental health services can also be the victims of patients when their condition gets out of control. We need to think about those sets of victims and their families.

As the Minister said, we have a duty to offer victims support services. Some of the organisations in my constituency do an excellent job in that regard and we should give them every support to do more.

Victims need a voice in court. I agree with the Minister: too often, that is an unheard and forgotten part of the equation. Most importantly, victims need information about the progress of the case, and the whereabouts of the perpetrator and their likely release date—in a safe situation, we hope, so that they do not commit other atrocities in the future. Sharing information between agencies is absolutely essential, so I hope that in drawing up powers on victims’ rights, the Minister is equally mindful of the structures necessary to implement them. There should be constant monitoring to ensure that information is shared. Victims need to know when offenders are released so that they can take due care for their security and peace of mind if there is an outstanding problem. They have suffered one tragic blow; it would be unreasonable to expect them to suffer a second by not giving them the information that a perpetrator may be at large—albeit, we hope, after appropriate treatment, so that their condition does not recur.

On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the provisions and I am sure that the Minister will do all she can to ensure that they do not just go into legislation but are realistically put into practice as soon as possible, so that victims have long overdue support.

Mrs. Moon: I want briefly to express my gratitude for the acceptance of the new clause in the revised Bill. I welcome the particular help I received from the Zito Trust and Victims Voice in raising the issues in Committee.

18 Jun 2007 : Column 1122

I want to record my contact with the Morgan family in my constituency, who were eager that the victim’s voice be heard in the Bill. They talked to me of their ongoing distress about not knowing what had happened to the perpetrator of an incident involving their family. New clause 7 will alleviate their concerns and recognise their desire to have their voices heard and their continuing need for information.

It is easy to forget the victim as we concentrate on supporting the perpetrator, who becomes a patient, and helping them to get well. We need to remember that victims can be left with trauma and distress and that they sometimes have ongoing mental issues that may not warrant hospital admission but are none the less distressing and painful. There may be constant concern that a decision could be made to allow the perpetrator back into the community where there is a chance that the victim might have to meet them again.

I am particularly glad that victims have a choice. Not everyone will want to know what is happening, but the most important thing about the new clause is that it allows the victim the choice to know or not to know, depending on where they are and how they feel at the time.

I am pleased that professionals will have a responsibility to trace the victim and check whether their view has changed. There will not be a once and for all situation: victims will have the possibility of changing their mind about whether to be given information. That is welcome.

We must realise that it is not only people who are strangers to the patient and their families who are at risk, because professionals can be victims, too. That recognition is important and it is provided by the new clause.

Dr. Pugh: I join in the praise for the Zito Trust and all the campaigning organisations that will have helped put this provision into statute. We all feel the plight of those people who have been let down as much by services as by legislation. It is probably worth emphasising that such sad events are no more common now than hitherto, which is surprising in some ways, given the dispersal from the old hospitals, although perhaps we might have expected that with modern medicine they would be lower still.

As I understand it, a victim has rights if they are threatened by a non-mentally ill released prisoner or a mentally ill person convicted of an offence, but not if the mentally ill person is unfit to plead, is not convicted, or is detained and then released. Additional rights are not usually necessary, because the patient may be cured and come out with no intent of doing any malicious act, but occasionally it is a wise precaution to know and to tell, and to allow access to information, especially if the patient’s mental disturbance is focused on an individual or a family.

I accept that the matter is complex, but it is well worth the Minister and the Government pursuing the matter in legislation, and we welcome the change.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

18 Jun 2007 : Column 1123

New Clause 9

Transfer of prisoners to hospital

Next Section Index Home Page