Female genital mutilation: follow-up - Home Affairs Contents

2  Prosecuting FGM

5. In our Report last year we concluded that a number of successful prosecutions would send a clear message to practising communities that FGM is taken seriously in the UK and will be punished accordingly.[5] We also noted that the first prosecutions were announced in a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) press release in March 2014, only a matter of days before the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) appeared before the Committee.[6]

6. On 4 February 2015, Dr Dhanuson Dharmasena (together with another defendant) was found not guilty of performing FGM on a patient at the Whittington Hospital in north London. Dr Dharmasena, an obstetrics and gynaecology registrar, was alleged to have performed reinfibulation on a woman after she had given birth. Dr Dharmasena said that he had never before treated a woman who had previously undergone FGM, nor had he received any relevant training. He performed a single suture to stop postpartum bleeding. The woman herself made no request for Dr Dharmasena to be prosecuted.

7. The prosecution of Dr Dharmasena has attracted much criticism in the media. While we do not question Dr Dharmasena's innocence, the fact that the first ever prosecution for FGM resulted in acquittal is disappointing for FGM campaigners. Leyla Hussein told the Committee that the publicity generated from this prosecution sent out a very strong message to the practising community that the UK takes FGM very seriously. However, she thought the outcome of the case could discourage victims from coming forward if they thought it was unlikely to result in conviction.[7]

8. On 16 February, we received a response from Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, to a letter from the Chairman which explained some of the details of the case. The letter refutes the claim that the first FGM prosecutions were brought only because of external pressure to be seen to be taking action:

    the only reason that any prosecutions would be brought and are brought by the CPS is because the full Code test is met, and in this case, I was satisfied that there was both a realistic prospect of conviction and that it was in the public interest to prosecute … I can confirm that the evidence … was carefully reviewed at every stage of the CPS conduct of the case. …

    Once all the evidence is received and the Code Tests satisfied, it is the duty of the CPS to authorise prosecution. We are not entitled to wait for a case in which the evidence is stronger … nor could we wait until a "classic" case was submitted … We of course knew this would be a difficult case as the first FGM prosecutions but we do not shy away from bringing such prosecutions, provided the Code test is met.[8]

9. The DPP also explained that increased prosecutions and convictions for FGM could only be secured by greater multi-agency collaboration and more referrals to the police. The CPS work closely with the police in relation to potential FGM cases, liaising regularly to discuss and advise the police on the steps they are taking to identify and investigate such offences. The CPS has set up a network of lead FGM prosecutors to ensure that experience is shared nationally. The DPP has also suggested possible changes in the law to reflect the particular problems in such cases relating to jurisdiction, parental liability and mandatory reporting, which she hoped would increase referrals to the CPS.[9]

10. The Committee welcomed the first prosecution under the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 brought by the DPP a few days before she was to appear before the Committee as part of our first report into FGM. The first prosecution under the Act was a problematic case: it was not a "classic" example of primary FGM involving a child, and the defence argued successfully that the defendant's actions were clinically indicated and were in the best interests of the patient.

11. In Heartlands Hospital in Birmingham alone, 1,500 cases of FGM were recorded over the last five years, with doctors seeing six patients who have undergone the procedure each week. There seems to be a chasm between the amount of reported cases and the lack of prosecutions. Someone, somewhere is not doing their job effectively. The DPP informed the Committee that she could only prosecute on the basis of evidence, the police said that they could only investigate on the basis of referral, and the health professionals told us that they could not refer cases because their members were not fully trained and aware of the procedure. While agencies play pass the parcel of responsibility, young girls are being mutilated every hour of every day. This is deplorable. We wish to see more prosecutions brought and convictions secured. This barbaric crime which is committed daily on such a huge scale across the UK cannot continue to go unpunished.

5   Home Affairs Committee, Second Report of Session 2013-14, Female genital mutilation: the case for a national action plan, HC 201, para 35 Back

6   "First prosecutions for female genital mutilation", Crown Prosecution Service press release, 21 March 2014 Back

7   Qq5-6 Back

8   Letter from Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, to the Chair of the Committee, 16 February 2015 (FGM0001). The Full Code Test is set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors (Crown Prosecution Service, January 2013). Back

9   Letter from Alison Saunders, Director of Public Prosecutions, to the Chair of the Committee, 16 February 2015 (FGM0001) Back

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Prepared 14 March 2015