Amendment 76

Part of Victims and Prisoners Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords am 6:15 pm ar 23 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Baroness Newlove Baroness Newlove Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 6:15, 23 Ebrill 2024

My Lords, I am using IT in this speech—trying to get trendy, as my daughters tell me to do. My apologies, as I have sausage fingers with arthritis.

First, I would like to speak to Amendment 85. In April 2018, I published a report highlighting the discrepancies between the treatment of those victims whose perpetrator was serving a sentence in prison and those whose perpetrator had been detained under the Mental Health Act. I pressed the Government for change. Dame Vera Baird, who followed me, also took up the cudgels on behalf of this too-often overlooked group of victims. Our argument was that the grief and trauma caused by serious violence and sexual crime was no less if the perpetrator was in a hospital rather than a prison. They all deserve support. They all deserve to have their voices heard.

When I returned to the office last October, there remained unfinished business. Victims of patients detained in hospitals still could not submit a victim’s personal statement to the tribunal when discharge was being considered. Neither could they attend the hearing to present. I am therefore delighted that, on this occasion, the Government and my noble friend the Minister have listened and acted. I welcome the government amendment, which will ensure that, at long last, there will be parity of treatment for this group of victims. I again thank the Minister and his team for bringing this about. I feel sure that it will be welcomed across the House.

I support of Amendments 87A and 88A, which would, if adopted, increase protections for victims of rape who are subject to requests for third-party material. Before turning to those amendments, I thank the Government for their thoughtful consideration of amendments tabled in Committee by my noble friend Lady Bertin. These sought to provide additional protections for victims around notes of therapy, measures which I truly support. I am delighted that the Government have agreed to change the legal threshold for this material, and I hope that they may be persuaded to provide greater protections around other forms of third-party material.

I turn now to Amendments 87A and 88A. The Government argue that their own amendment to the Bill will stop demands for personal and private information from rape complainants but, as they stated in Committee, their clauses do nothing more than consolidate the current legal framework—a framework which has not been followed. How can things change? The Home Office report to which my noble friend Lady Morgan already referred found that, in almost a quarter of these cases, credibility was specifically cited as the reason for requesting third-party material. While credibility can sometimes form a reasonable line of inquiry in investigations, it is most often used in rape investigations. That is because, in rape cases, it is the victim who is being investigated to see if they are believable or credible, not the accused. In no other crime type is the credibility of the victim so scrutinised. Victims must be properly protected from these intrusive demands, as they have been by the Government’s measures in the PCSC Act, which successfully curbed the ambiguous practice of digital download from complainants’ phones—the digital strip-search, as it was known. The Government could, as it did there, introduce a new regime that empowers and protects victims, but instead they are merely reiterating the current framework and hoping that guidance will elicit change. It will not. The officers making the requests referred to in the Home Office report were operating under the existing framework —the same framework that the government clauses will consolidate in this Bill.

The Government point to the defendant’s right to a fair trial as the reason why Amendments 87A and 88A cannot be adopted. But there are other legal mechanisms available to the police and prosecution to obtain this material if the complainant does not agree to access, so the right to a fair trial is not impacted. Additionally, these amendments would provide consistency with the framework around digital material. This consistency is good for the police, and it is so good for the victims.

I urge support for Amendment 87A and 88A, which, along with the Government’s own measure on digital material, and now on notes of therapy, make a significant difference to the victims of this horrendous crime. I also support Amendments 77 and 78, which both seek to provide rape victims with legal advocacy when their right to privacy is engaged by the system. The Government have promised on numerous occasions to explore this option, but they have yet to do so in a meaningful way. It is being considered as a recommendation to the Government by the Law Commission, precisely because of the huge invasions of privacy that victims experience if they report a rape. I urge noble Lords to support these measures.