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( ) The Secretary of State may exclude from publication any part of the report if in the opinion of the Secretary of State the publication of that part would be against the interests of national security.'.- (Mr. Hanson.)
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 21, in clause 25, page 73, line 25, after 'determined,', insert 'or for seven days if earlier'.
Mr. Flello: Amendment 1 relates to the welfare of children in domestic violence situations. I am sure that the whole House shares most people's revulsion at domestic violence generally. It is perhaps one of the most appalling breaches of trust to be involved in a relationship with somebody that leads on to violence in a situation where one party-the victim-is often almost exclusively under the control of the perpetrator of such acts. That control is exercised in a whole host of ways, be it through the violence, financial control or emotional control.
My amendment deals with how children fit into domestic violence situations. Sadly, far too often, children are involved through being upstairs listening to the shouts, the screams and the smashing of furniture. Perhaps their treasured toys are being destroyed in these acts of violence. Sometimes, even more frighteningly, the children themselves are caught up in the violence and are downstairs in the room while it is going on. They may try to intervene to save their loved parent from being caught up in the violence. Sometimes the
children are used as pawns when a threat is made against a child, either explicitly with the child present or as a way of controlling the victim in the domestic violence situation. Children will witness violence in the home when there are cuts and bruises, and perhaps broken furniture, when they go downstairs the next morning. Time and again, children are caught up in the terrible circumstances of domestic violence and become yet another innocent victim of this appalling crime.
Many children then grow up to lead healthy, good lives and are unaffected by the appalling things that have happened to them, but sadly, for far too many children, the scars stay with them for life. It may affect their own future relationships; it may affect their mental health in a host of ways or many other aspects of their lives. It may cause problems very early on in terms of their disrupting the classroom, through to adulthood and problems in later life.
I have great concern about how children are affected by domestic violence. Often, police officers are calling at the same addresses week in, week out, having being called by neighbours, by the victims, or by older children who phone for them to intervene in the situation. They see the damage that is caused to people's lives and to property, and, in the context of my concerns, the damage caused to children and their development.
I very much welcome the clauses that introduce protection notices, but I am seeking greater knowledge and recognition of the problems that children suffer in such situations. For that reason, my amendment is designed to ensure that their needs are taken into account by the officer attending the premises where the domestic violence is taking place, and subsequently by the courts. I would like a police officer to be able to turn up at a home with which they are probably very familiar, having been called there many times in the past, and issue the notice, not only because of the situation as regards the victim but because of its impact on the children. The amendment would allow them to intervene to protect not only the immediate victim but the children, and then subsequently, when the notice goes through to the court stage, the courts could take far more notice of the impact on those children than would otherwise be the case.
This issue has been well rehearsed; it was certainly discussed in Committee. Although that debate happened right at the end of one day's proceedings, it was an important discussion in which concerns were expressed by Members on both sides. I hope later either to put this matter to the House, hopefully for its agreement, or that the Minister will accept the amendments. I look forward to what I hope will be a short but important debate following my introduction of them, and to a situation in years ahead in which children will be protected to a far greater extent through these notices and orders as a direct result of the action that I hope is taken in the House this evening.
James Brokenshire: I congratulate the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Flello) on following up a number of the points that we discussed in Committee on recognising the impact of domestic violence on children. We touched on the intergenerational effects of domestic violence and the considerable impact that living in a disruptive home environment, in which there is violence, drug taking and complete chaos and disorganisation, may have on a young person. It is important that that is recognised.
Mr. Flello: I just wish to clarify something in the hon. Gentleman's opening remarks, and I look forward to the rest of his comments. He talks about chaotic lifestyles and drug abuse, but we should recognise that even some supposedly normal households, perhaps with extremely important professionals living in them and with a semblance of peace and harmony, can have pretty horrendous domestic violence problems.
James Brokenshire: The hon. Gentleman makes his point well about the insidious impact that domestic violence has on those who suffer from it. It can occur among those from all sorts of livelihoods and backgrounds, and I would not wish to give the impression that it is located only among certain groups or people from certain backgrounds. It is not, and the measures that we are discussing-domestic violence protection notices and domestic violence protection orders-are important in recognising that the problem touches people from all sorts of backgrounds. It is worth talking about the impact that domestic violence has on children and the fact that is not ring-fenced simply to partners or spouses. Its impact on children should be considered carefully, and the concept of having more formal recognition of the problem is one that we would consider carefully. We need to consider the best policy direction to take on this important issue.
More generally on the issue of DVPNs and their interrelationship with DVPOs, in Committee we raised a number of points about their potential impact and the time that might be taken between the receipt of a notice and the case going to court. The Bill is structured in a way that anticipates that if someone is in receipt of a DVPN, they will go to court within 48 hours. On Second Reading, questions were raised as to the reality of whether a substantive hearing could take place within that time, and the likelihood, given the complexity that may be involved and the need to take evidence, that the period needed might be considerably longer.
In Committee, the Minister emphasised that the process would take place quickly and that there would be a sense of urgency. However, as the Bill is currently framed, it appears that the period between a notice being issued and the substantive court hearing could be longer than the period of the order itself, which is stated as being between 14 and 28 days. The orders are intended to buy some breathing space to allow a potential victim of domestic violence to consider other options.
We understand clearly the concept of such "go" orders and how they have been utilised to positive effect in other jurisdictions, but we believe that some sort of backstop is needed to maintain the focus on the need for urgency and for a substantive hearing to take place within a reasonable period. Unless that takes place, it seems that the process could be open-ended. That is why, in our amendments, we say that a DVPN should last for a period of up to seven days. That would ensure that there was a substantive hearing and that an order was either granted or dismissed because the relevant evidence had not been given.
As the Minister has made clear, there will be an automatic requirement that once a notice is issued, the case will have to proceed to a substantive court hearing to determine how it should be disposed of. I know that
other Members may wish to take up that point in relation to other amendments. We believe that there is some merit in considering a backstop of seven days on the issuing of a notice, given the restrictions that are likely to apply, such as telling someone that they can no longer reside at a particular place that may be their home. We need to strike a fair balance between the relative interests and ensure that there is a focus on getting to court, disposing of the matter quickly and, if a substantive order is required, ensuring that it is granted. That is better than simply relying on having a notice for an extended period. We need to allow the matter to be determined by the court, rather than effectively being determined by the police officer who issues a notice in the first place.
Mr. Humfrey Malins (Woking) (Con): I should like to say a few words about domestic violence protection notices and speak to amendments 21 and 22. I begin by saying that this is a troubling night-I wonder whether other colleagues think so-in the sense that over the years, arguments have quite often been put forward by the Opposition or Government Back Benchers on Second Reading that require a Bill Committee to consider an issue carefully. The Committee meets, and perhaps a dozen, 20 or 30 amendments are tabled-all, I hope, well motivated, and sometimes with some merit.
Yet there has been a tendency for years now for Governments simply not to accept an argument or an amendment. Why? Are they fearful of doing so? Are they told by their civil servants that they cannot accept any amendments? How many hours of Committee time have been wasted over the past few years with arguments being put forward in the certain knowledge that the Government will not accept them, even if they are good arguments?
That troubles me, because there are men and women in this House who have actual experience of the world of the courts and justice-experience that, however clever some of these young civil servants are, they have never had. Indeed, some Ministers have not, although Ministers know a great deal. So many of the people who I think are pulling the strings behind Government Ministers are saying, "No Minister, you cannot accept this." "Why not? It seems reasonable." "Because we say so." But what is their real position? They have not got a clue about the real world outside.
That comes into play on the issue of domestic violence protection notices. As I said on Second Reading, the issuing of such a notice is a very serious matter, not least because it will give a policeman the power to throw a person out of their own home. I cannot remember such legislation coming before this House-it may have done, but I cannot remember it. It is extremely draconian. A policeman is a member of the public with a warrant to make an arrest, and in my judgment, "Don't give the police too many powers" is a very good motto.
"will be heard within 48 hours".
How on earth any policeman can say that the application for an order will be heard in 48 hours is absolutely beyond me. He can say no such thing! I am assuming that Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays do not count, but does the Minister-or, much more importantly,
any of his civil servants-realise how the courts work? One goes to a court to issue an application, and then gets a hearing date. The Minister is looking at his civil servants. They are desperately trying to write out notes to tell him what happens in practice, but I would be surprised if one of them knows.
If the applicant-the police officer-goes to a court on a Friday afternoon, who can guarantee that the application will be heard in the court on the Monday or Tuesday morning? The clerk of the court is not so bound by law. If the clerk is so bound by law, let someone tell me that. The clerk will in fact list the application at the first available opportunity, which might be two, three or four days. Even then, it might get only a 10-minute hearing date, because that is all the court is prepared to give. How does that tie up with a notice saying that the application will be heard in 48 hours?
Did the Committee really understand the difference-if there is one-between an interim and a final order? Did the Committee really understand what happens in practice if an application is before the court within, by a miracle, 48 hours? Does anybody understand that in practice-I do not expect any of the civil servants to have the slightest idea about this because they have probably never been in court-somebody stands up and the court says, "Is this a complicated matter?" at which point counsel for the husband or wife says, "Yes, it is, because I wish to fight this. We have to get evidence from the following 10 people and for our case to be heard. We wish to apply for legal aid. We have some work to do to check out the law"? The court is then duty bound in justice to adjourn the matter. What happens then? Does the domestic violence protection notice stay in force? Is the subject of the notice still thrown out of their house?
The barrister then asks the district judge, "How soon can you hear the application?" and the latter replies, "Three weeks on Tuesday. That's the first date we've got." Does anybody disbelieve me when I say that that is how the world works in practice? Is the order to continue delayed till three weeks on Tuesday? The district judge then asks the barrister, "How long do you want by way of an adjournment?" to which the barrister replies, "Oh. A fortnight should do, or perhaps three weeks, because I've got witnesses who are going to be away. In fact, can you list it for the month after next?" Where does that leave the court? Can the Minister tell me whether the domestic violence notice remains in force throughout? If it is in force, is that a great thing? Does the Minister intend a notice to remain in force for 36 or 48 days? It is all very well him looking at the civil servants to see whether that is his intention, but I do not know.
"or for seven days if earlier",
"If the court adjourns the hearing, the"
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