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Obviously this is a discussion for those who are selected to serve on the Committee, but I suspect that, in part, the point is to be declaratory to individuals who commit domestic violence about how they are likely, for that reason, to be removed from the matrimonial home. However, I have a slightly different concern that I would like to put to my hon. Friend, who
has much greater experience, sitting on tribunals, than I do as an advocate. In the past, much would have been done by way of injunctive or other relief in the civil courts on behalf of the wife. The difficulty now is that it is almost impossible for people to get legal aid or, in market towns such as those that he and I represent, to find solicitors who still do matrimonial and family law, because of the attrition on legal aid. Thus, we are effectively in a situation where the only people who can protect and act on behalf of, usually, wives or partners who have been attacked are the police.
Mr. Malins: Indeed. My hon. Friend's experience will have led him to the absolutely sure conclusion, which we all share, that legal aid rates have been so dramatically cut that things are very hard. He has rightly said that what should be going through the civil courts in a proper manner is now, in a sense, being taken over by the police; and what is more, they are being given extensive powers under the Bill that we should query. The existing criminal law, including common assault, ABH, GBH, threats to kill, harassment and so on, covers a great deal.
Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): I am enjoying listening to the hon. Gentleman's contribution to the debate, but do the provisions in the Bill not answer my concern, which I have had for quite some time, that often the police will be called to attend premises where domestic violence is clearly taking place and yet the victim of that violence will usher them out and say, "No, please, go. I don't want to press any charges. I don't want anything to happen."? Often the police are frustrated, knowing that they will be called back time and time again, on subsequent evenings or possibly even the same evening, whereas the powers in the Bill give them the ability to ban the perpetrator from the premises concerned, so as to create a breathing space. Is the hon. Gentleman's view on that different from mine?
Mr. Malins: Very slightly. I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, because it is frustrating for the police to turn up and be told by, usually, the woman, "Yes, he thumped me, but I don't want to go ahead." However, the hon. Gentleman should know that even in those circumstances, where the police believe that an offence has taken place, notwithstanding the view of, usually, the woman, they can go ahead and make an arrest or bring a charge under the current law. The frustrations that exist in the scenario that he has outlined will be similar to those in the situation that is envisaged in the Bill, although I accept his general point.
The Government say that there is a gap in the protection offered to victims of domestic abuse in the immediate aftermath of a violent incident. That is a Government argument, but I do not think that it is right, because of the ability of the police not only to arrest and charge someone, but, as was pointed out in an earlier intervention, to impose exactly the same bail conditions on a proposed defendant as those proposed in the Bill, or even more stringent ones. There is plenty of time for an injunction.
When the Minister winds up, will he also set out the relationship between domestic violence protection notices and other non-molestation orders in our law at present? I refer in particular to orders under the Family Law Act 1996 and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004, which give identical powers to those proposed in the Bill. Is there a problem with those powers, or is there no problem with them? If there is no problem with them, what is the problem that we now need to address? Have those powers gone hopelessly wrong? Or is it-the Minister will intervene on me to clarify this-that one or more of those pieces of legislation have not yet been brought into play, like the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 on custody plus and custody minus? That was from 2003, when it was deemed terribly important to have new sentences through custody plus and custody minus. We debated them for months upstairs. It is now seven years later and none of those provisions has been implemented-what a waste of space that debate was-the reason being, of course, that there is no money to do it. Even today-I know that the Minister will correct me now if I am wrong-those provisions from the 2003 Act have still not been implemented.
Mr. Malins: The Minister is nodding-they have not implemented. So what about the provisions in the 1996 and 2004 Acts? Have they all been implemented? Would the Minister like to intervene and tell me?
Mr. Hanson: Let me try to be helpful to the hon. Gentleman, who I know takes such matters seriously. The points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) are the driving force behind the potential implementation, should the House agree, of domestic violence protection orders. The hon. Gentleman will know that it is proposed that they should act as a pilot, so that we can look at how they work and determine whether they are a helpful addition to other proposals that will reduce domestic violence and help the victim. I hope that he will support them this evening for those purposes. I am happy to reflect on the points that he is making in his constructive speech and respond later.
Mr. Malins: The Minister, for whom I have a great deal of respect, is clearly listening. Although many of the points that I am making would be better made in Committee-I think that I am old enough now to be released from Standing Committees; after a while one gets to that stage-I thank him for what he has just said.
However, the relationship between DVPNs and other parts of statute is quite important. Let us have a brief look at what is going on. Clause 21 says that a superintendent can issue a DVPN. Well, fine-the superintendent will issue it himself or herself, but on the basis of what a police constable says. So the police constable wanders up to the superintendent and says, "Now boss, will you please issue a domestic violence protection notice?" "Well," says the superintendent, "what do you think? Tell me what's going on." So then the policeman gives an account of what is going on. "Okay. I am satisfied," says the police superintendent. "I have reasonable grounds for believing that there has been violence or the threat of violence. I will issue a notice under subsection 2(a)" which he or she does. The
next subsection says that the superintendent must consider the opinion of the victim before issuing a DVPN, but oddly enough the next subsection suggests that he can ignore it completely if he wishes to, although he must consider it. That is just a little odd.
Then there is the notice. I assume that the Minister will confirm that some of it involves paperwork-I thought that we were trying to stop bureaucracy and paperwork, but there must be some. Presumably the constable will have taken a written statement from the lady concerned-the Minister really must confirm that, because there is no requirement, by the way, to take one, even though they must, otherwise it will be double hearsay and the application for the order, which comes later, could not possibly succeed. Anyway, the superintendent then issues a notice saying, "You must not molest"-it stops the party molesting. "Molesting" is one word, although it is used more in our civil law than in our criminal law, for the obvious reason that "molesting", properly defined by the Chambers and Oxford dictionaries, does not amount to a criminal offence. For example, molesting means to interfere with in a troublesome or vexing way, to annoy or to pester in a hostile way. That is not exactly a criminal act, but here again, in a criminal statute-
Here is the crunch. I am not entirely happy that the police constable-it says "superintendent", but it is really the police constable-has the power in a domestic violence protection notice to evict the so-called perpetrator from his or her home. That is a serious power. In my judgment, it is a very serious power to be used when no crime is committed or charged. There is a lesser standard of proof: reasonable belief rather than the balance of probabilities or certainty.
That is a major power to give to police constables. They will be able to serve me with an order saying, "Out of your house, under penalty." I do not like it. I do not mind the courts doing it, and I do not mind the police granting me bail subject to those conditions after they have charged me with a crime, but it is a big power to give a policeman on the basis of no more than a bit of hearsay evidence.
Mr. Malins: Yes, but I am thinking of the first 48 hours, not afterwards when I go to court and say, "Thank God, I've come before a tribunal. I've had two days out of my house with nowhere to go." That is a serious thing to do on the say-so of a policeman and no other tribunal. It is a worry.
"will be heard within 48 hours".
Now that is a funny one. Picture the scene: it is a Friday night, and there is possible violence. By some miracle, the constable has whipped round to the house, seen
what is going on, found a superintendent, got a DVPN and filled out the paperwork; it is probably Saturday lunch time by now. He whizzes round and serves the domestic violence protection notice on me, the perpetrator. Will it be heard within 48 hours? I do not see how a substantive hearing can take place within 48 hours. An interim hearing might, but we do not talk about interim hearings here. Frankly, most courts would want a little help and evidence when they first come to hear the case.
Imagine insisting that the magistrates court hear the application on the Monday morning. It is not possible. The courts will not do it. How could they? They are so clogged up and busy. They will say, "Come Wednesday." "I'm sorry, the notice says it must be heard." In goes the defendant, as I call him; it could be me. "Can I have my solicitor present? I wish to object. Am I denied my lawyer, or can I go get him for tomorrow or the next day?" A hearing within 48 hours is difficult.
Tony Baldry: There is also a logistical issue. My hon. Friend is doing the House a great service in drawing attention to the clauses. The Bill refers to a superintendent. In Oxfordshire at night, there is usually only one duty superintendent for the whole county. At the divisional level, there is a duty inspector, and most patrols in towns such as Banbury have a duty sergeant and constables. If someone is taken to Banbury police station under one of the orders, they will then have to be ferried to Oxford. Effectively, half the police officers patrolling Banbury on a Friday night will have to leave to ferry someone to Oxford simply to find a superintendent. It cannot be done properly over the telephone, because the individual concerned must have the opportunity to make representations to the superintendent.
Mr. Malins: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He makes a nuts-and-bolts point. The more such points are made in debates like this, the better. Where does one find a superintendent on a cold Friday night in Oxfordshire? So much for dealing with such cases with speed; it will be quite the reverse.
We move on to breach of a domestic violence protection order, assuming that an order is made after the notice. It says here that the defendant "must"-not "may"-be held in custody. Again, that removes a tremendous amount of discretion from those whose position it is to consider bail and somebody's liberty.
"the constable must apply for a domestic violence protection order".
What happens if circumstances change dramatically between the issue of the notice and the hearing of the order? The constable must still apply for an order, because it says so in the Bill. It is another troubling situation.
I asked the Home Secretary earlier about penalties for breach of an order. There is no reference whatever to any. However, the Home Secretary has not been long in the job, and I would not expect him to know the details of the Bill, although I am sure that his Ministers do. There is no provision for breach of an injunction. I assume that it is imprisonment, but the Minister will confirm.
Mr. Malins: I have a huge amount of time for the Minister, but that is the first time that I have been told that a penalty is in the Bill, asked the Minister where it was and been told that we do not know. Those in the Box will tell us, no doubt, as they have been listening. It must be in a clause that I have missed, but we shall come to it.
My advice to the Government is: do not just legislate. Think things through. Take on board the practical point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry) and do things in the criminal justice system that actually work. This is my final tip for the day: forget some of the old-fashioned initiatives such as the night courts at Bow street. When Mr. Blair was Prime Minister, he wanted instant justice and for people to come before the courts at Bow street straight away, so that was done as a pilot scheme. What a shambles. According to official answers, 97 per cent. of the defendants were drunk and could not be dealt with that night anyway, so the cases were adjourned for weeks. Eventually, after spending an absolute fortune on getting one guilty plea over three months, the night courts were abandoned.
The Government should forget all that and stick to what is real. When somebody in a domestic violence situation hits a woman so hard that damage-blood and a wound-is caused, make sure that the police charge them with actual bodily harm, because they do not do so at the moment. They charge common assault, because it does not go to the Crown court, so they get a quick guilty plea and a lesser sentence. Very nasty violence is not being dealt with in the courts as it should be due to under-charging. The problem is endemic among police forces in the south-east, as far as I can see. We need to stick to what works, and the Minister should know that I have my doubts about the efficacy of the new domestic violence protection orders.
Mr. Robert Flello (Stoke-on-Trent, South) (Lab): It has been an extremely interesting debate so far, and I hope to add to it. First, however, I will set in context how I think the Bill-and some amendments that I hope to table if the opportunity arises during its progress through the House-will affect my constituents.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne) discussed the vast amount of new legislation introduced over the past 12 or 13 years. That toolkit of measures has been extremely useful, but my concern is that, unfortunately, some councils, including Stoke-on-Trent city council, have been hesitant even to look into the toolkit, let alone take out the pieces of equipment inside. That has now improved. The situation is markedly different from what it was three or four years ago, when it was up to me as the local Member of Parliament to hold meetings to bring communities together and to get the agencies
into the same room to listen to the concerns of the communities about issues such as section 30 dispersal orders. It was a nightmare. Inspector Asha Kaur, who was the local neighbourhood police inspector at the time, had great difficulty in satisfying the local authority that the huge, 1-foot-thick volume of correspondence, information and statements was sufficient to get a section 30 order, but that situation has now improved.
We now have a much better situation in Stoke-on-Trent. We have police and communities together-PACT-meetings, for example, and we have police community support officers out there doing a fantastic job. Indeed, only recently a couple of PCSOs in the Longton area were on the front page of the local newspaper, The Sentinel, because they had given chase on their pushbikes to a criminal on a motorbike. They apprehended the criminal and justice was subsequently done. There have been some incredible improvements. Unfortunately, one of the issues for Stoke-on-Trent-and, I think, for much of the country-is that they are quite patchy, and there is still room to improve.
Some of the other local successes involve Inspector Sharrard-Williams, the neighbourhood inspector who covers the south-eastern part of the city. He has had some fantastic successes on Cornelius street, and I recently attended court to witness the closure order for the crack house. The legislation involved has been on the books for a while now, but that was the first instance of its use for that purpose in Stoke-on-Trent. That troubles me greatly. As I said, we have some great tools in the toolkit, but their use is very patchy. My thanks and praise go to Inspector Sharrard-Williams and the force solicitor for taking that case through to Fenton magistrates court and getting the job done.
The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) mentioned statistics. Some of the statistics for the south-east region of Stoke-on-Trent in the past five or six months speak for themselves. In that period alone, there has been a 43 per cent. reduction in serious acquisitive crimes, including robbery, theft of or from motor vehicles, and household burglary. That means there were 158 fewer victims in that period than in the same period in the previous year. Breaking down that figure, we see a 44 per cent. reduction in thefts from motor vehicles. That means there were 81 fewer such victims in that period than in the same period in the previous year. That is an incredible improvement for the 81 people who did not did not have to go through the trauma of waking up one morning to find that their car had been broken into, or who came back from the shops to find their car still intact. I could go on.
Customer satisfaction figures for that same period show that 94 per cent. of victims of antisocial behaviour said that they were either satisfied or very satisfied with the police response. I hope the Minister will pay tribute to all the officers in Stoke-on-Trent, and particularly to Inspector Sharrard-Williams and his team, for achieving such fantastic results.
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