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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, in rising to support the amendment I would like very much to reiterate the words of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, in regard to the opt out provided in the proposed new clause, which counters the arguments made by the Minister at Report stage.

The noble Baroness also argued that Sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 already enable victims of domestic violence to have access to special measures where a court decides that it is appropriate. That is the sticking point and the reason that we are being so tenacious in again bringing forward the amendment. We feel that it is always appropriate at least to offer these measures to victims of domestic violence. As we have heard, the victim may reject the measures for his or her own reasons; he or she would have a right to do that.

We are concerned that there may be situations where the court may not allow special measures when it would be appropriate to do so. The nature of the

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power relationship is not always reflected by the seriousness of the particular assault that brought the parties to court on the day. That means that the court may not feel that the assault is serious enough to require the special measures to be made available to the victim. But the court cannot see into the mind of the victim; it cannot know how demoralised is the victim of the assault.

We want vigorous, good-quality evidence, given with the kind of conviction that will convince the court. A woman who is cowering in fear of her assailant will not be in a position to give that good-quality evidence—and on that good-quality evidence depends the justice that will result from the hearing on the day.

It is for that reason that we vigorously support the amendment. We hope that it will find favour with the Minister. We all want exactly the same thing; that is, that genuine perpetrators are brought to book and that women are given the courage to come forward and complain about domestic violence.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I absolutely agree with the last statement of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. We all agree about that. There has never been a murmur of dissent among any of us in terms of our aspirations in regard to what we wish to make available to victims.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred to the comments that I made on Report. I am grateful to him for that. It is right that we should look at each case on its merits. We agreed during the Report stage that where there is clear evidence of the victim being too frightened or distressed to give evidence, special measures are available; and that Section 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 already enables victims of domestic violence to have access to special measures where the court decides it is appropriate. So we think the amendment is unnecessary. However, I understand the difference in emphasis that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, seek to make.

As the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, said, Section 17 states that the court must take into account, among other things, such factors as the domestic circumstances of the witness, any behaviour towards the witness on the part of the accused and the nature and alleged circumstances of the offence. The noble Lord said at Report that he was aware of magistrates who were unwilling to give special measures because they had been applied for only on the day of the trial, and representatives from Victim Support, who met my officials this week, were concerned that the courts were not always willing to allow victims of domestic violence access to special measures. The organisation did not say on how many occasions that happened, but even one occasion is one too many.

Of course, leaving an application for special measures until the day of the trial cannot be good practice. The way that we set these things up now is that there should be good preparation for these hearings and such applications should be made at an early stage. It would indicate, perhaps unfairly, a lack

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of preparation of the case, and would take up valuable court time. Applications should be made at the pre-trial hearing because, if nothing else, that would provide a greater degree of certainty to the victim about how they will give their evidence at the trial.

We should all accept that these measures are still relatively new, and access in the magistrates' courts has so far been limited to child witnesses. It is important that we do not act hastily but instead wait for the findings of the independent evaluation of special measures which will report in the summer, which is quite soon. We would aim to address any teething problems through training and guidance, rather than automatically consider the legislative route. The Government do not believe that legislation is the cure to all ills. Some people say that legislation can be the opposite. I will be meeting Victim Support shortly to discuss the Bill as a whole and I hope we can reach a common understanding about how it will support vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, victims in general and domestic violence victims in particular.

As I said in the debate last time, I expect courts to be sensitive to the needs of victims of domestic violence and grant special measures when appropriate. I also hope that the rules of court that we are putting in place make it clear that proper applications should be made to prepare for these cases so that when the vulnerable person comes to give evidence they know that they will be properly accommodated during the proceedings, and will be best able to describe what happened to them.

For those reasons, I hope that noble Lords will understand that I cannot accept the amendment and that they will not press this matter today. I hope that they will accept the assurance that we will do all that we can to ensure that these issues are accommodated in a proper way.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for supporting this amendment and to the Minister for the limited assurances that she has given us. Only this morning I received further brief from Victim Support that paints an unsatisfactory picture of the working of the special measures in the courts, probably largely through ignorance. I have not had time to digest it all, but I will read two comments from its members. The first says:

    "Victims are often terrified at the thought of seeing their abuser. It would be helpful if they knew that they would be protected from view by screens".

The second is:

    "I believe that a number of clients who refuse to give evidence would be willing to go ahead with cases if they have a screen or video link. Many get here and then refuse to give evidence. It is important that the witness knows"—

I repeat knows—

    "what to expect before they arrive".

We will take up this point in another place during the passage of the Bill there, so I shall not divide the House today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Clause 31 ["Victims" and "witnesses"]:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 15:

    Page 18, line 23, at end insert—

"(c) the offence was one of trafficking people into the United Kingdom for exploitation."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this is a probing amendment. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for adding his support to the amendment. It would make it clear on the face of the Bill that the clauses relating to the functions of the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses should apply as much to the victims of illegal trafficking as to anyone else in this country. I tabled the amendment to ask the Government to clarify the position of those people who are trafficked illegally into the UK for either sexual or non-sexual exploitation.

We have welcomed the measures both in the Sexual Offences Act and in the current Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Bill with regard to closing down any opportunity for such illegal trafficking. However, will the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses be under an explicit duty to promote the interests of these victims? During Second Reading of the asylum Bill last week, I pointed out that the victims Bill before us today makes no specific reference to support for victims of trafficking. I am trying to ensure that they are included within its protection. I beg to move.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I was happy to agree to add my name to the amendment. We ought not to be in any doubt at all that people who have been trafficked into this country are definitely victims. They have normally suffered from fraud, deceit, coercion and so forth, and they do not arrive here with their full consent. They may have been transported by various means over hundreds or thousands of miles before they arrived here. I hope that the Government will look with some sympathy on this amendment. I have drafted an amendment to the recently published asylum Bill that is intended to secure proper treatment and protection of victims of trafficking once they are here.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for indicating that this is a probing amendment which seeks to add to Clause 31(3) so that the needs of the victims of human trafficking are brought within the remit of the Commissioner for Victims and Witnesses.

Given the already substantial scope of the commissioner to consider the needs of various victims, I will resist this amendment on the basis that it is already part of his powers to make recommendations to the Government about this group of victims. But I welcome this opportunity to associate myself with the comments made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and to inform the House of the steps that we have already taken to offer support to such a vulnerable and exploited group of victims. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that we do indeed see this category of people as victims.

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Since 2002, the Home Office has been working in partnership with the voluntary sector to put in place provision for those who have been trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation. In March 2003, we launched a pilot project to provide safe accommodation and access to health and other support services for female victims who have been trafficked into prostitution. The victims were given the opportunity to make informed choices about whether, and to what extent, they were able actively to assist the authorities. An additional aim of the pilot, therefore, was to enable UK enforcement authorities to gather information on and take action against the traffickers. It became apparent towards the end of the initial six-month pilot period that further time was required to ensure that robust evaluation evidence on its impact could be gathered.

The pilot period was therefore extended for a further three months to December 2003. The formal pilot phase has now concluded but feedback from key stakeholders such as the police, local healthcare professionals, the immigration service and non-government organisations has been very positive.

Early evaluation findings also support the continuation of the project and, pending full evaluation and to ensure continuity of service provision for this extremely vulnerable group of victims, we will maintain the project at its current level. We are continuing to monitor the numbers of and outcomes for victims entering the scheme. This information will also feed into the evidence base for future service developments. We expect the final evaluation report on the pilot phase to be available during the summer of 2004. We will use the period up to April 2005 to consider in detail the evaluation evidence and to take decisions as to the type and extent of support needed in the future.

At the same time, we are currently looking at the issue of provision for victims of people-trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation—another issue in which I know noble Lords have been interested. We want to gauge the scale of the problem and to see what scope there might be for identifying and providing support also to victims of this form of exploitation. The needs of victims of all types of trafficking are likely to be firmly within the vision of the new Commissioner. The Bill as currently drafted allows him or her to make recommendations to Government on what other or further action we need to take.

I therefore very much welcome this opportunity to outline what we have achieved so far. I am very grateful for the support that the House has given in the past and for the implicit support given by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, to these efforts. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will not be surprised to hear that I will nonetheless be resisting their amendment. However, I hope that they will fully understand why the amendment is not necessary.

2.30 p.m.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I am indeed grateful to the Minister and I accept her argument. I

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am pleased to hear that her opening remarks were firmly that such a concern for the victims of trafficking would be part of the Commissioner's powers. It would be good to have that on the record.

I was also very grateful to her for putting on the record in a fair amount of detail the work that has been carried out with regard to trafficking and those who are subject to sexual exploitation. We certainly await with interest the further evaluation of that pilot as it is maintained. We would also welcome any work that could be done to look at those who are exploited for non-sexual reasons.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 7 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

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