Violence against women and girls - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Integrated policies

1.  We commend the Government for having a violence against women and girls action strategy which appropriately links violence to gender and inequalities. We commend the Home Secretary's personal enthusiasm for it. However, we share witnesses' concerns about the effectiveness with which the Inter-Ministerial Group co-ordinates and secures actions across Government. (Paragraph 25)

2.   We commend the Prime Minister for retaining the position of Minister for Women at cabinet level albeit combined with a broader portfolio. We believe the position of Minister for Women requires such seniority. Whilst we are reassured by the efforts of the Home Secretary in this policy area, we remain confused as to which Minister has overall responsibility to address the perceived shortcomings in the Action Plan and Inter-Ministerial Group. Whilst the Home Secretary is an authoritative figure within Government, we recommend that the role of Minister for Women be more focused on the Government's strategy by becoming a joint signatory of the Action Plan and that the Minister explicitly be given responsibility for co-ordinating work across Government in this area together with the Home Secretary. (Paragraph 26)

3.  We recommend that the work of the Inter-Ministerial Group be broadened to include questions of asylum and immigration rules and practice as well as the compliance of devolved policy with the Istanbul Convention. (Paragraph 27)

4.  We recommend that the Minister for Women holds departments to account for delivering against the Action Plan within Cabinet meetings, supported by the Prime Minister, to display clearer leadership around this issue. This would send a strong message to all Cabinet attendees and departments regarding the Government's commitment to delivering the plan. (Paragraph 28)


5.  We commend the Government for the awareness-raising initiatives it has undertaken but note that evidence indicates that a lack of co-ordination across departments has reduced the potential reach, delivery and ultimately success of these initiatives. We recommend that the Inter-Ministerial Group monitor the success and effectiveness of the campaigns to ensure that future campaigns are evidence based. (Paragraph 45)

6.  We also recommend that campaigns sometimes need to be targeted and specific. This would help reach communities with particular needs—for example, people with disabilities or LGB&T people. We commend the This is Abuse campaign for raising awareness of the issue of consent and coercive control and recommend that it be extended further to focus on LGB&T relationships. We also recommend that the Government should support the charities and organisations that could raise awareness with women within communities rather than just targeting faith and community based leaders. (Paragraph 46)

7.  The Department for Education has committed itself under the Action Plan to pursue a range of channels for making suitable materials available to schools on violence against women and girls and related safeguarding issues. The Minister for Women told us that the Government has also committed the PHSE Association to producing guidance on education about consent. We have not heard evidence that the Government is pursuing channels to make materials available to schools, and the guidance on consent has not yet been published. We consider that this must be published before the UK is deemed to be fulfilling its positive obligations under the Istanbul Convention. We recommend that guidance from the Department for Education should go further than just consent and include other issues relating to violence against women and girls—for example, FGM, forced marriage, sexual exploitation and access to helplines. All forms of violence against women and girls affect school-age children directly and personally and normalisation of violence against women and girls occurs at a young age. (Paragraph 66)

8.  As a matter of practice, we also consider that the UK would be in a stronger position to say that it is fulfilling the requirements of Article 14 of the Istanbul Convention if all schools were required broadly to teach the same curriculum in relation to PSHE and we believe that this national curriculum should include issues relating to violence against women and girls. We believe this would also give Ofsted clear standards by which to assess a school. (Paragraph 67)

9.  We also consider that higher education establishments, not student unions, should be responsible for reinforcing this education within the higher education system and therefore encourage these establishments to follow the lead of those that already have. (Paragraph 68)

10.  We welcome the requirement for judges who hear rape cases to have been trained to do so but believe that there is scope for the judiciary to educate themselves further by establishing separate training for those who deal with cases involving domestic violence. Given that family law is dealt with in the civil courts and cases involving domestic violence are heard in magistrates' courts, this training should be available to both criminal and civil judges and magistrates. (Paragraph 74)

11.  We were greatly disappointed that our publicly funded national broadcaster, the BBC declined all invitations to give evidence to this inquiry. (Paragraph 84)

12.  The Istanbul Convention invites the media to self-regulate to help prevent violence against women and girls. Whilst current regulatory standards may be appropriate, there are clear examples where reporting of such violence has not been sensitive or appropriate. Practice is falling short. We encourage editors to take a proactive approach to educating their teams about sensitively reporting violence against women and girls. (Paragraph 86)

13.  We recommend that regulators have the confidence to use their powers to sanction, where necessary, broadcasters or press who have fallen short of the Ofcom Broadcasting Code or the Editors' Code of Practice. (Paragraph 87)

14.  There are currently a number of different media or press regulators. It is not easy currently for victims to understand their rights and the correct routes for redress. We recommend that community liaison officers be trained in this work so that they can explain these rights where necessary. (Paragraph 91)

15.  We commend the supermarket chains, Tesco and Waitrose, for responding to a campaign to remove the images and headlines from certain newspapers from the eye-line of children and call on others to follow this lead. (Paragraph 99)

16.  We also commend the Government for taking action to encourage the private sector to undertake initiatives to help promote positive role models for girls—for example, the body confidence campaign. (Paragraph 99)

Protection and support

17.  The Convention requires adequate provision of refuge spaces. Local authorities have been reluctant to provide the number of places for women required partly due to a misinterpretation of the law on equality particularly in relation to gender-based services. We welcome the ring-fencing of funds for support services and we recommend that the Government issue guidance to all local authorities on the correct application of the law on equality to the services required under the Istanbul Convention. (Paragraph 113)

18.  We are very concerned that the number of refuge spaces per head in local authority areas is unknown and we are unclear as to how local authorities can claim that there does not seem to have been a reduction in "the number of bed spaces available". We recommend that the Local Government Association be given the resources to analyse and monitor the number of refuge spaces to ensure adequate provision across the country which fulfils the positive obligations of the Istanbul Convention. (Paragraph 114)

19.  The Government argues that the localism agenda enables local authorities to determine and provide for the needs of that area. Women will however often need to seek services outside their own local authority area because they need to put distance between themselves and the source of violence or to access specialist services. We therefore recommend that the Government consider enabling local authorities to cross-charge for providing these services to non-constituents. (Paragraph 118)

20.  The new localism model for commissioning services may have had unintended consequences which have disproportionately affected the provision of refuge services for women from specific groups with very special needs. The Government should collate data on the national coverage of specialist services and take responsibility for ensuring that specialist support services remain available to all, regardless of their area. (Paragraph 125)

21.  We recommend that the Government should exclude sanctuary scheme properties from the size criteria of the Spare Room Subsidy. If the Government is unwilling to do this, we recommend that all local authorities should exclude sanctuary scheme properties in its area from the size criteria and make Discretionary Housing Payments for sanctuary scheme properties affected by the Spare Room Subsidy. (Paragraph 129)

Substantive law

22.  We commend the Government for undertaking work to raise awareness of coercive behaviour as a form of abuse. If Parliament approves the Government's proposed specific criminal offence regarding controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship, we are not convinced that this alone will lead to a change in culture within the criminal justice system and the wider public and instead may lead to unintended consequences that work against victims of violence. We urge the Government to consider the use of an awareness-raising campaign and a review of training for the criminal justice professions to accompany any change in legislation. (Paragraph 140)

23.  We welcome the provision that those who can provide evidence of domestic violence continue to have access to legal aid for civil cases because this enables access to the family and other civil courts. We have concerns, however, about the problems some women face in providing such evidence, and the feasibility of victims of coercive control or women who may find it difficult to get out of the immediate community being able to provide such evidence. We recommend that before the proposed new offence of coercive control comes into force the Ministry of Justice review the requirements for evidence of domestic violence for access to legal aid. (Paragraph 150)

24.  At a time when the Home Office is keen to raise awareness of coercive control, and noting the requirement of the Istanbul Convention for coercive control to be criminalised and victims protected, we recommend the Government look again at the payment of Universal Credit to couples. (Paragraph 156)

25.  In our December 2011 Report we recommended that the Welfare Reform Bill, now the 2012 Act, 'be amended to allow payments for children to be labelled as such and be paid to the main carer'. (Paragraph 157)

26.  We do not accept the Minister's assurance that the situation is satisfactory because problems have not yet emerged during the early roll-out of Universal Credit. The roll-out has only recently been extended to couples with children, the group arguably at greatest risk. On the principle that prevention is better than cure, we do not believe that the 'wait and see' approach that the Minister recommended is a responsible one, given the concerns raised by women's organisations about the possible risk to some women. We therefore recommend that the Department for Work and Pensions use the remainder of the roll-out process to test a number of different payment methods (such as automatic split payment to each partner in varying proportions) so as to assess which best protects the financial autonomy of women in couples, thereby strengthening their position should domestic violence occur. We also recommend that all relevant Department for Work and Pension officials be given domestic violence training so that they are better placed to handle sensitively situations of known or suspected domestic violence. (Paragraph 159)

27.  We welcome the stance of the Government in tackling these crimes and attitudes. We believe it is right that a multi-cultural society in the UK should still respect equally the need for adherence to the law of the UK. We agree with our witnesses that it is essential that these attitudes are tackled, at an early age and across communities, within schools, (Paragraph 166)

28.  We recommend that the issue regarding the role of women, and equality between the sexes, across many cultures in the UK today needs further investigation. We have concerns about the status and treatment of women in deeply patriarchal, structured communities. We believe women in these communities face barriers to accessing help which can include language, community pressure, gender inequality, the teaching of beliefs which may challenge Convention rights, or coercive control. We do not believe the Government has succeeded in reaching these women or tackling the cultures which do not treat women as equal to men. We recommend that a standalone inquiry into these issues is necessary. (Paragraph 167)

Investigation, protection, procedural law and protective measures

29.  We believe that the evidence we received during this inquiry demonstrates a lack of cultural literacy amongst some frontline police officers in responding to domestic violence cases. This is one of the areas where guidance is good yet practice and delivery of training is not. Chief Constables need to do more to educate frontline staff and training needs to include all types of abuse, including financial or coercive control. Chief Constables should also urgently address concerns that specialised units are not adequately resourced. (Paragraph 175)

30.  Immediate response and risk assessment and management are the responsibilities of the Chief Constables. We look forward to the publication of a best practice toolkit. Recent developments in case-law suggest that the courts are increasingly willing to award compensation for serious harm where police investigations have been deficient.  In view of these legal developments, claims against the police for compensation for negligence might be more likely to succeed in the Courts if the police's response to requests to deal with an allegation of domestic violence, rape or other serious allegations of violence against women does not sufficiently improve. (Paragraph 182)

31.  We recommend that judicial training for judges who participate in violence against women cases should include the application of Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, which protects complainants in proceedings involving sexual offences by restricting evidence or questions about their previous sexual history, subject to exceptions. (Paragraph 187)

32.  Failure of the police competently to carry out the initial response following a report of violence against women and girls means that the Crown Prosecution Service could be left unable to proceed with evidence-led prosecutions, as required by the Istanbul Convention. We recommend that, if the pilot proves successful, the use of body-worn video cameras by frontline officers in responding to domestic violence cases should quickly be extended to all police forces with national guidance on their appropriate use. (Paragraph 193)

Immigration and asylum

33.  We are concerned that, during the time it takes for a spouse suffering from violence to regularise their immigration status, they are very often left facing destitution or having to remain in a violent relationship. We find it worrying that current Home Office policies leave people destitute during the asylum and immigration process and that this in itself leads to women being at a greater risk of being a victim of violence. This is in contrast to funding being provided by the Department for International Development to post-disaster zones which looks specifically to address such survival strategies used by women. We believe that this demonstrates the need for better co-ordinated domestic and international policies across Government department on asylum and immigration processes. (Paragraph 201)

34.  We also recommend that the Government address the issue of who bears responsibility for providing refuge space for women and girls who are victims yet may not be entitled to benefits. We also recommend that the Government ensures that sufficient financial provision is given to supporting these victims. (Paragraph 201)

35.  Despite the Minister's assurances, we are disturbed by the evidence we received that the routine use of male interpreters, the operation of fast-track detention system and the reported culture of disbelief within the Home Office all result in victims suffering further trauma whilst seeking asylum or immigration to the UK. We find this unacceptable. (Paragraph 220)

36.  Given the nature of the concerns raised during our inquiry by NGOs and the medical profession regarding the detention of victims, we are concerned that those who allege that they are victims of violence against women and girls are being detained through the fast-track process and recommend a review of the screening process for this as a matter of urgency. (Paragraph 221)

37.  We recommend the Government amends the guidance for interviews to raise the importance of making female interpreters available for cases of violence against women and girls. The current state of using them when 'operationally possible' is not satisfactory and means that their provision is not high enough a priority. The Government should also amend the guidance to make the responsible authorities have a responsibility to provide crèche type childcare at venues where screening takes place. Through the Inter-Ministerial Group, the Government should monitor the training, the number of reversals of decisions made, and the extent to which the guidance for immigration officials is properly followed to ensure a change of culture. (Paragraph 222)


38.  We are concerned by the Government's lack of engagement with devolved administrations regarding the ratification of the Istanbul Convention because they are responsible for implementing the same positive obligations in their territories. This strengthens our earlier recommendation that the work of the Inter-Ministerial Group should be broadened to include questions of compliance of devolved policy with the Istanbul Convention. (Paragraph 229)

39.  We are concerned that the delay in ratifying the Istanbul Convention could harm the UK's international reputation as a world leader in combating violence against women and girls. We acknowledge that, if the devolved administrations need to take further legislative steps, there may be a delay in ratifying the Istanbul Convention. We recommend, however, that the Government bring forward the necessary primary legislation regarding jurisdiction before the end of this Parliament, and that the devolved administrations also bring forward any legislative measures that they consider to be necessary, so that the goal of ratifying the Istanbul Convention can be given the priority it deserves. (Paragraph 230)

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 19 February 2015