Amendment 67

Victims and Prisoners Bill - Committee (3rd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:00 pm ar 5 Chwefror 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Baroness Thornton:

Moved by Baroness Thornton

67: Clause 15, page 12, line 12, at end insert—“(c) independent stalking advisors.”

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

My Lords, I will speak also to Amendment 69 in my name, and I have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, whom I thank very much. The Government also have an amendment in this group, which I will comment on when we reach the end of the debate and I have heard what the noble Earl has to say about it.

We are in that part of the Bill that is concerned with the issue of stalking—indeed, in the group that we have just discussed I had my name to Amendments 54 and 81, alongside the noble Lord, Lord Russell. It is important to say that we are indebted to Laura Richards, the founder of Paladin, and the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, for their relentless work to have the vicious and pernicious crime of stalking recognised, acted on and integrated into the legal framework tackling violence against women and girls—and for us that includes this victims’ Bill.

I am aware that we have to ensure that stalking is dealt with across all the criminal justice legislation that we are dealing with, so that there is a read-across with MAPPA and the issues that we will be discussing later in the Bill, not just for this Bill but for the Criminal Justice Bill, which we know is coming down the track. Can the Minister assure the House of that legislative coherence? For too long we have been waiting for there to be legislative coherence that can be enforced for the crime of stalking—its recognition and dealing with it.

The context is that women, children and men are being failed and not protected. There is no compulsion on the police to automatically identify serial domestic abusers and stalkers, so they do not—of course they do not. So, for example, although the application of Clare’s law is not in the scope of the Bill, it is the lack of that application across all police forces which means that there are victims in the criminal justice system who need not have been there. This amendment seeks to address that issue of recognising the particular needs of victims of stalking.

We should recognise that a lot of work has been done on this over the years. These two amendments are quite simple. Independent stalking advocates should exist, and an independent stalking advocate means

“a person who provides a relevant service to individuals who are victims of criminal conduct which constitutes stalking”.

That means creating what are called ISACs in the Bill—independent stalking advocacy caseworkers.

I was interested in one of the briefs I read, from Laura Richards, which said that she designed and undertook some of the early training of Paladin ISACs and other specialists—and, since then, hundreds of ISACs have been trained. They are vital to the system because they

“put the voice of the victim first and they ensure they are not alone and that their voice is heard”.

This is a life-saving service that is absolutely important, because the statistics show that

“2 in 5 victims who were supported by an ISAC said they helped them report to the police … 1 in 3 saw their stalkers charged compared to 1 in 435 nationally … 1 in 4 saw their stalkers prosecuted compared to 1 in 556 … 1 in 4 saw their stalker convicted compared with 1 in 1,000”.

The case really makes itself.

I realise that in his amendment the Minister will be changing the clause that we would amend here. However, that does not undermine the case for what these two amendments seek to do. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Russell of Liverpool Lord Russell of Liverpool Deputy Chairman of Committees 6:15, 5 Chwefror 2024

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for speaking to these amendments.

We return to stalking; stalking is stalking us yet again, as I am afraid it will continue to do through time immemorial, and until and unless we really grab hold of this. The case for independent stalking advocates is fairly undeniable. One can scarcely imagine what it must feel like when you do not know where to turn, you do not really understand what is going on, and the people that you are turning to for help clearly do not really understand what is going on either. It must be a pretty horrendous state to be in, and the independent stalking advocate can and does make an enormous difference. They can undertake risk assessments and work with the different authorities to ensure that safety plans are put in place to protect victims—and, importantly, where children are involved, those around them—from further harm.

The research that has been done by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust indicates that: 77% of stalking victims are not able to access an independent stalking advocate; 69% could find no advocacy support of any kind whatever; only 4% access support from a non-specialist service; and only 15% of victims were referred to an independent stalking advocate by the police. So even the police themselves, in 85% of cases, failed to point the potential stalking victim in the direction of help.

The demand for such stalking advocates far exceeds current capacity. National stalking services supported a combined total of just under 12,500 stalking victims in 2021, and there were 1.5 million stalking victims in total. Noble Lords can do the maths; that is not a highly impressive percentage. In some parts of the country, there are effectively no local specialist supporting services whatever.

I mentioned earlier that I had the privilege of speaking with Gracie Spinks’s father, Richard Spinks, a couple of weeks ago. One of the extreme examples of the more than 40 reports that Gracie made to the police over an extensive period was a case when, after she had pointed out that she was again being threatened, the police undertook a search in the vicinity of where she lived, and they found a bag of weapons—knives, hammers and so on. What did they conclude from having found that cache of weapons? They told Gracie that they were probably theatre props. Clearly, the officers involved had undergone extensive training, but probably in how to supervise playgroups, rather than in helping victims of crime. That shows the gulf between the sort of support, help and advice that one might expect as a victim of stalking and what actually happens.

As we mentioned on earlier groupings, at the end of 2022 the Suzy Lamplugh Trust submitted a super-complaint against the police, outlining systemic issues such as those that we have talked about in previous groups. One of the recommendations was that the College of Policing

“mandate that all officers that deal with cases of stalking complete training by a specialist stalking training provider, in order to adequately identify, investigate and— this is very important—

“risk assess cases of stalking”.

We referred earlier to the pilot that the Suzy Lamplugh Trust ran in Cheshire. I conclude by giving some quotes from the senior police officers involved in the study and what they observed happening through the results of this programme. One front-line officer said:

“It’s an injustice that in nearly half of all stalking cases unrelated to prior intimate relationships, victims must rely on luck for access to specialised, local advocacy—something that should be a non-negotiable right. Including Independent Stalking Advocates … in the Victims and Prisoners Bill isn’t just an option; it’s an imperative step towards rectifying this imbalance.”

Finally, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Cheshire said:

“Cheshire’s example shows that multi-agency working delivers results for victims and it benefits all agencies involved. The impact of ISAs”— independent stalking advocates—

“here is clear to see, and I believe it would hugely enhance our collective ability to deliver justice for victims of stalking if they were to be included in the Bill”.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I support all the amendments. Listening to stories of stalking, we realise that it is just one simple word but it has a huge impact, including, sadly, loss of life. Before we start talking more about it, it is important to say that, as legislators in the House of Lords, we have done enough talking; we need now to put in legislation support to protect families who have lost loved ones through such horrendous acts.

I welcome government Amendment 74. Since my appointment as Victims’ Commissioner, my feet have not touched the ground. I have met over 20 different victim organisations to discuss this Bill. Many raised concerns about placing advocates, or advisers—whichever the Government want to choose—in the Bill. I know that the judiciary gets a bit twitchy when we mention advocates; for me, it is all about what the victim gets from this person who helps them tremendously. These concerns were set out very clearly by the VAWG sector in particular. I hope that Amendment 74 will alleviate concerns when the Government come to explain it. It provides the flexibility to include as many or as few advocates as they see fit, working, I hope, in close collaboration with the relevant stakeholders in the victims sector. However, I would welcome an assurance from the Minister that the Government will consult extensively with all stakeholder groups before finalising the guidance.

I have also received a briefing from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust. I feel that we are on a carousel now—none more so than the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who has worked tirelessly, having been a victim of stalking herself.

I agree about the collaboration in Clause 12, because it is extremely important to ensure that we have multi-agency working. I also agree on mandatory training for police; that goes without saying. I work with trainee police students to ensure that they understand the victim’s journey, but, again, it is about breaking down the culture.

I have lots of briefing here, and I would like to thank many of the organisations. Laura Richards, who I work closely with, has given me tons of briefing, because she has worked in this area for so long. She must feel like a parrot, but she does it so elegantly. I will pull out bits from the briefing that people really need to understand.

Stalkers do not play by the rules. Restraining orders and other pieces of paper do not protect the victims. There is still no stalkers register, which would mean the perpetrator’s history would have to be checked. Sadly, though we still hear about Clare’s law, it has not been put into practice. Yesterday, I heard a victim who was desperate for Clare’s law, but the police did nothing. Even as we speak, I am still helping and supporting somebody.

My friend the noble Lord, Lord Russell—not the Earl—emphasised how tragic the murder of Gracie Spinks was. Similarly, when I was working on the Domestic Abuse Bill, I had the honour of talking about Georgia’s story. She was 14 years old, and watched her mother being murdered. I will never forget that.

For me, the solution is amendments to prevent and protect, saving lives and saving money. The same tactics must be applied to serial and dangerous domestic violence perpetrators and stalkers as to organised criminals and sex offenders. That would cut off opportunities for them to cause harm, and ensure that they faced the consequences of their actions. As we discussed in the context of anti-social behaviour, more and more the police report such actions as individual crimes. They do not join the dots, or “flag and tag” serial high-risk perpetrators. Instead, they focus on the victims. The victims do not know what happens on any other crime, so they feel that they are constantly going back and back.

Stalking is not like having a broken leg, where people can see it; it is like having a chronic invisible illness. Because people cannot see anything they think everything is okay—again and again, it is all down to the victim.

I finish with a recommendation from Laura Richards, who recommends a consistent national and collaborative multi-agency approach, led by statutory agencies, with specialist domestic abuse and stalking professionals round problem-solving tables. That would save lives and money. It would not be a talking shop; they would know what they are doing and would be professional, and they would make better policies.

In this Chamber, we are all so passionate about this, but we really have to do something to protect victims of stalking. We cannot keep doing the talking and then reading in the media about these horrific offenders. Even this weekend, we have more victims, because the police and the agencies are not joining the dots. I am sick and tired of inquiries and “lessons learned”. This is about lessons learned now, to protect the victims of stalking and give them the advocates that they rightly deserve and must have in the future.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I signed Amendments 67 and 69, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. She was right to talk about a strategic perspective over the whole of the legislation coming through from both the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office. Once again, the debate we are having about stalking advisers is because other parts of the system are not working.

I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for laying Amendment 74. However, it is not specific to stalking, and talks about the importance of having a range of advisers. I do not disagree with that at all, but, for reasons I shall go into when I say more about why stalking advisers need to be visible in the Bill, there are very particular issues relating to stalking that mean that we must ensure that people get the best support they can.

I also thank the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and Laura Richards, not just for their briefing but for the phenomenal work they do every single day. It is extraordinarily difficult work and, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Russell, it is only a drop in the ocean given the number of victims of stalking now. In an age when people can use mobile phones and apps, stalking is becoming all the more prevalent.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, cited the benefits of an independent stalking adviser. From my perspective, most victims of stalking arrive at the beginning of a journey through the criminal justice system knowing nothing about it, let alone about any stalking experience other than theirs at that point—which may not be the last point of the crime of stalking against them. We need training for police officers, community officers, call centre staff and those in the education system to be able to recognise it and know when they need to get help.

Once cases are referred to detectives, as mine was, it is no good having generalist detectives who do not understand the issues. When you explain to them the nature of a whole series of incidents, they look at you as if you have gone slightly mad. It takes some time for them to begin to understand that this is a game being played by a criminal who wants to unnerve you, and that as it progresses it gets more serious. We need detectives who have been trained and who understand stalking, that stalkers are manipulative and coercive, and that the behaviour of not all but some stalkers becomes increasingly serious and is likely to become violent.

We also need to ensure that the post-parole and release system knows and understands how to handle stalkers. She does not talk about it very much but Claire Waxman, the London victims’ commissioner, is herself a victim of stalking. In 2022 her 20-year stalker was jailed again, for breaching a lifetime restraining order for the sixth time. Because he had already been on remand for 16 months, he was released immediately, but Claire did not know. This character’s habit is to hang about near her place and do constant Google searches to try to get near her. This time he made false claims about her to her employer, the Mayor of London.

When we talk about manipulative behaviour, people who are listening to this for the first time may think that is extreme. It is not. We do not hear about most of the cases that go on, with the really sad perpetrators who cannot let go of the idea of the person they are targeting. Increasingly we are seeing more about personalities. I worry greatly for well-known personalities who have to make enormous security provisions, but it also happens to private individuals. We need stalking advisers to help guide them through the process, from the first day that they think something is happening, when they first go to the police, and as they then go through the police system, because they might see two or three different teams of people. What happens when they get to the courts? What happens if their stalker is jailed? What happens after they are released? What do you do if it starts all over again? That is a specialist training.

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:30, 5 Chwefror 2024

There is an important point about parole. I know that parole is in the Bill later, but I cannot wait. What people do not understand is that if there are exclusion zones, the offender knows where you are yet the victim does not know where they are because the victim is not allowed. We need to protect victims even more when the stalker comes out because they will carry on, and the exclusion zone gives them an idea, even though it is there to protect the victim.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that very helpful intervention.

At the end of the debate on the previous group, I asked the Minister how we can get into the culture, focusing on the things that need to be looked at in stalking cases. Stalking advisers would be key to that. They would not just support the victim but know and understand the local people in their system and the criminal justice system; they would talk to them and ask them to look out for things. I hope the Minister can give a positive response. From our Benches, we support these amendments.

Photo of Baroness Meacher Baroness Meacher Crossbench

My Lords, I will speak extremely briefly, because others have spoken at great length, to support very strongly Amendments 67 and 69 and to applaud the noble Baronesses, Lady Thornton and Lady Brinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for seeking to ensure that the Secretary of State provides guidance for stalking advocates along with guidance for domestic abuse and sexual violence advisers.

As we know, stalking all too often ultimately leads on to criminal violence against women. An important measure ultimately preventing violent crime against women is to provide this support and advice for stalking advocates. It is far better than waiting for violence to occur before intervening. These are much more important amendments than they might appear.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, government Amendment 74 has been tabled to place a duty on the Secretary of State to issue guidance about victim support roles specified in regulations and to give the Secretary of State a power to make regulations that specify those roles. This replaces the current Clause 15, which specifies that guidance must be issued about independent sexual violence advisers and independent domestic violence advisers.

Through the Bill’s passage to date, we have carefully listened to concerns that naming particular roles in the Bill could be misinterpreted by funders as the Government prioritising these roles above others. We remain clear that ISVAs and IDVAs are only two roles within a rich and diverse support sector, meeting a range of victim needs, and that the right mechanisms are in place to ensure that funding for services is determined on the basis of local need for a resilient and cost-effective support offer. But we are conscious that the debate about naming certain roles in the Bill risked overshadowing the purpose of the clause, which is simply about improving a consistency of certain roles. While we know that this is not an issue or intervention wanted or needed for all support roles, we have also listened to arguments put forward that there are other support roles that might benefit from the improved consistency provided by national statutory guidance.

Therefore, this amendment avoids naming any victim support roles in the Bill. It instead provides the more flexible mechanism afforded by regulations to set out the relevant roles for which guidance must be issued, for use now and in the future. We intend to still use this only in cases where consistency of service provision is of sufficient concern to warrant national statutory guidance. This of course remains the case for ISVAs and IDVAs.

I am pleased to announce today that following constructive debate and engagement, the Government agree that such guidance is warranted for independent stalking advocates. They do vital work to support victims of these terrible crimes, as highlighted in the coroner’s report following the inquest into the tragic death of Gracie Spinks. Clear national guidance on the role of independent stalking advocates will be an important step in improving support for stalking victims. In response to my noble friend Lady Newlove, the Government can of course commit to consulting thoroughly with all stakeholders. We will require guidance to be issued on support services named in regulations. We will shortly publish draft regulations that will list independent domestic violence advisers, independent sexual violence advisers and independent stalking advocates. We have therefore heard the point on the value of ISAs and will require guidance to be issued.

I offer my thanks to the Victims’ Commissioner, my noble friend Lady Newlove, and the domestic abuse commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, for their engagement on this clause, to the National Stalking Consortium, convened so well by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, and to the wider victim support sector, which is assisting the Government in developing the relevant guidance.

Turning to some of the points that have been raised in this helpful debate, I hope I can reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. The Criminal Justice Bill does not have any stalking-related measures, but stalking victims have further been supported by the following legislation since 2012. The Stalking Protection Act 2019 aimed to protect people from the risks associated with stalking. Stalking can fall within the scope of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 where the perpetrator and victims are 16 or over and personally connected. With the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Act 2023, if someone commits an offence under existing Section 4A of the Public Order Act 1986, and does so because of the victim’s sex, they are liable for a higher maximum penalty. Finally, the Online Safety Act 2023 names Section 2A and 4A offences as priority offences.

I turn to some of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool. The Government of course recognise the value of ISAs—and I have recognised it in this amendment today—and have provided additional funding to stalking charities to help support victims, including funding specifically for advocacy. The Home Office part-funds the National Stalking Helpline, run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, providing £160,000 annually between April 2022 and 2024.

Through the Government’s up-to £39 million domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention funds, PCCs for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Cheshire, Kent, Sussex and the West Midlands are delivering interventions for perpetrators of stalking, and support for victims. An evaluation partner has been appointed so that we can develop an evidence base from this fund that works to protect and support victims. It is fair to say the Government can always do better, and we welcome a response to many of the points that have been raised and any dialogue between the department and interested parties.

In response to the noble Lord’s point about the Suzy Lamplugh Trust’s super-complaint to the police, we recognise the devastating impact stalking can have and expect the police to take reports seriously and to take swift action. We thank the trust for submitting this complaint—the Government will follow its progress with interest and have already provided relevant information about some of the issues to the investigating organisations.

To, I hope, reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, we have been engaging with stakeholders about the inclusion of ISAs throughout the passage of the Bill, and we are pleased to be able to confirm that we intend to specify in regulations that ISAs are included in the duty of the Secretary of State. As I mentioned earlier, our point is that these advocates are of equal status, and we do not want to create a hierarchy, so inclusion puts them on the same level as ISVAs and IDVAs.

On the points about information and how these offences are treated, stalking is an offence that often escalates over time—as we have heard earlier in this debate. That is why it is important to take preventative steps to protect victims of stalking at the earliest possible opportunity. In January 2020, the Home Office introduced stalking protection orders, which aim to address perpetrators’ behaviours before they become entrenched or escalate in severity. The Government have also awarded up to £39 million, as I mentioned, for the domestic abuse and stalking perpetrator intervention funds. Finally, victims can access support at any stage of their journey through the National Stalking Helpline, which is run by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and funded by the Home Office.

As we are bringing forward this amendment, and intend to specify ISAs in regulations, I urge the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, not to press her amendments requiring guidance to be issued for independent stalking advocates. I hope that this demonstrates that the Government are committed to ensuring that victims of these terrible crimes receive the right support.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

Before the Minister sits down, he said there is no need to add or specify independent stalking advisers because there is no other specific reference, but in Clause 15(1) there is a reference to “domestic violence advisors” and “sexual violence advisors”. That is the problem, because some advisers are named and, unfortunately, stalking advisers are not. If they are not in the Bill, they will not go down—right the way down to the front line—as people who need to be approached.

Photo of Lord Roborough Lord Roborough Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Baroness for her point. While we are clear that there should be no hierarchy of support, and we know that ISVAs, IDVAS and ISAs are most effective when part of a wider support network, I will take that point away and consult the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Thornton Baroness Thornton Shadow Spokesperson (Equalities and Women's Issues), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport)

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive remarks and for his explanation about why Clause 15 is being replaced. I sought advice from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and from other organisations which I knew had been in discussion with the Government. I am advised that the reason the Government have put forward their amendment is that they have met stakeholders and that the original plan to place ISVAs and IDVAs in the Bill was a concern that came from the violence against women and girls sector and was shared by the children’s sector and modern slavery and stalking charities. There was a concern about creating a hierarchy and, therefore, I understand the Government’s motivation for replacing Clause 15.

The point that I will make echoes that from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The Minister needs to understand that there is scepticism in this Chamber about whether things are going to move and work. We need to be sure that all those issues—and stalking—will have the power of compulsion that we need them to have to make the Bill work. The test we might have at the next stage is how we can be sure that the regulations and guidance will do what we want them to in all these important areas. While the Minister listed all the things that have been done about stalking, the truth is that it has not worked yet, and so we have to be coherent.

I am not one for placing bets about things on this side of the Chamber. However, I think the Minister might find some stalking amendments coming down the track in the justice and crime Bill that is coming after this—I may even have seen a draft of one. That is because there is a need to address all the bits of the criminal justice system to do that.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Meacher and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, for taking part in this debate, which I think was useful. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 67 withdrawn.

Amendment 67A not moved.