Register for domestic abuse

Domestic Abuse Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 16 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

“(1) The Secretary of State must arrange for the creation of a register containing the name, home address and national insurance number of any person (P) convicted of an offence that constitutes domestic abuse as defined in section 1 of this Act.

(2) Each police force in England and Wales shall be responsible for ensuring that the register is kept to date with all relevant offences committed in the police force’s area.

(3) Each police force in England and Wales shall be responsible for ensuring that P notifies relevant police forces within 14 days if they commence a new sexual or romantic relationship.

(4) A failure to notify the police in the circumstances set out in subsection (3) shall be an offence liable on conviction to a term of imprisonment not exceeding 12 months.

(5) The relevant police force shall have the right to inform any person involved in a relationship with P of P’s convictions for an offence that amounts to domestic abuse as defined in section 1 of this Act.”—

This new clause would require that any person convicted of any offence that amounts to domestic abuse as defined in clause 1 must have their details recorded on a domestic abuse register to ensure that all the perpetrator’s subsequent partners have full access to information regarding their domestic abuse offences.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Karen Buck Karen Buck Llafur, Westminster North

With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 49—Monitoring of serial domestic abuse and stalking offenders under MAPPA—

“(1) The Criminal Justice Act 2003 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 325 (Arrangements for assessing etc risk posed by certain offenders)—

(a) In subsection (1), after ““relevant sexual or violent offender” has the meaning given by section 327” insert ““relevant serial domestic abuse or stalking offender” has the meaning given in section 327ZA;”

(b) In subsection (2)(a), after “offenders” insert “(aa) relevant serial domestic abuse or stalking offenders,”

(3) After section 327 (Section 325: interpretation) insert—

“327ZA Section 325: interpretation of relevant serial domestic abuse or stalking offender

(1) For the purposes of section 325—

(a) a person is a “relevant serial domestic abuse or stalking offender” if the offender has been convicted more than once for an offence which is—

(i) a domestic abuse offence, or

(ii) a stalking offence

(b) “domestic abuse offence” means an offence where it is alleged that the behaviour of the accused amounted to domestic abuse within the meaning defined in Section 1 of this Act

(c) “stalking offence” means an offence contrary to section 2A or section 4A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997.”

This new clause amends the Criminal Justice Act 2003, which provides for the establishment of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (“MAPPA”), to make arrangements for serial domestic abuse or stalking offenders to be registered on VISOR and be subjected to supervision, monitoring and management through MAPPA.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

The new clause calls for the creation of a domestic abuse register to ensure that greater and more consistent protection is provided for potential victims of domestic abuse from individuals who have a track record of abusive behaviour in relationships and whose potential for repeat violent actions warrants the threat of intervention.

A domestic abuse register would provide the vehicle for a shift in focus away from reacting to domestic abuse towards a more preventive approach. We know that repeat offending by perpetrators with violent and controlling histories of abuse is common. A 2016 report published by a Cardiff University professor of criminology states:

“Research demonstrates that the majority of male domestic abuse perpetrators are repeat offenders, with English research producing a figure of 83% within a six-year period.”

Data provided by the Metropolitan police to the London Assembly for its domestic abuse report showed that in the year up to September 2019, there were over 13,600 repeat victims of domestic abuse, and 21% of cases discussed at multi-agency risk assessment conferences in London in 2018 were repeat cases. This sobering fact warrants being addressed clearly in the Bill.

The domestic violence disclosure scheme, or Clare’s law, mentioned in a previous sitting, has been in place since March 2014. It is named after Clare Wood, who was murdered by her ex-boyfriend 11 years ago. It enables preventive action to be taken to protect potential victims of domestic abuse, but its use has been widely questioned by many domestic abuse charities such as Refuge. There are two elements to Clare’s law: the right to ask, which allows individuals or their families to seek further information about a partner’s past; and the right to know, in which the police offer to make a disclosure to an individual who they believe might be at risk through their relationship.

The Government’s 2019 review of the domestic violence disclosure scheme showed that only 55% of 7,252 right-to-know applications, and 40% of 6,196 right-to-ask applications, resulted in disclosures. Those are low percentages, and they give rise to the question: why are so many victims unwilling or unable to engage with the police? The same report revealed that seven out of 43 police forces made no right-to-ask applications in that year. That is problematic. Many abusers evade justice because the onus is on the individual to be suspicious about their new partner’s history. There is an implicit risk that if an individual is told that their partner has no record of domestic abuse, they might be reassured about trusting their partner, but it might be that their crimes were simply not recorded—in other words, that nothing was disclosed on asking.

Individuals with a history of coercive and abusive behaviour towards partners will seek out partners with whom they can repeat such behaviour. To speak plainly, it is predictable that their new partners will often not be people who will consider Clare’s law relevant to their immediate situation. Earlier, we referred to the fact that in a new relationship, people will not be receptive to asking whether their partner will do them harm, or to their mother asking that question of the police. They may very well not be receptive to the police knocking on their door to tell them this information. Although evidently Clare’s law is excellent in and of itself, it warrants our questioning its effectiveness. I am very interested in hearing what the Minister has to say about new clause 12, and about how they are considering how Clare’s law will work in future.

I hope all of us would endeavour to promote shifting the onus away from the victim to the perpetrator. That is precisely why a domestic abuse register is needed. New clause 12 demands that domestic abusers sign a register. This would ensure the wellbeing of victims, and place the responsibility on the offender—as they are on the register, they are of course a proven offender—and on the agencies that are meant to prevent abuse and protect victims from it.

The creation of a domestic abuse register would mean that perpetrators were monitored in the same way as sex offenders, paedophiles and violent offenders, which would allow the police to provide greater protection for victims via a similar process to that used in respect of the violent or sex offender register and the multi-agency public protection arrangements. New clause 49, which I support, proposes monitoring serial domestic abuse and stalking offenders via a register managed by MAPPA. However, importantly, senior police sources who gave evidence to the London Assembly raised concerns about the emphasis that the current register places on sex offenders over violent offenders. Before we shift more on to that mechanism, its effectiveness needs to be reviewed, because we could be looking to use mechanisms that are not proving effective. The point is echoed by the London Assembly, which agrees that a register could vastly improve the way that police officers are able to proactively track and manage the risks presented by the most dangerous perpetrators.

While it is, of course, welcome that the Bill strengthens existing powers with the introduction of domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders, which will give greater protection to victims, the onus remains on the victims, rather than the perpetrator or the authorities. A domestic abuse register would address that. It is not only political institutions, domestic abuse charities and campaigners that are calling for a domestic abuse register, but the very people who are affected by domestic abuse.

In closing, I will give one example. The mother of 17-year-old Jayden Parkinson called for such a register to be kept, in order to track the activities of domestic abuse offenders after her daughter’s former boyfriend, Ben Blakeley, brutally murdered her a day after she told him that she was expecting his first child. It emerged after her death that Blakeley was a serial abuser and had exhibited violent and controlling behaviour towards most of his girlfriends in the past, even pushing one of his former girlfriends down the stairs when she was seven months pregnant.

The case of Jayden Parkinson made it clear that the effective management of domestic abuse calls for a shift to greater proactive risk management. A domestic abuse register would place the onus on the most dangerous domestic abuse offenders to register with the police and to maintain up-to-date details, such as address and relationship status. I know that one of the police’s concerns is capacity—the numbers involved here. Surely, however, with a register and with the facilities enabled by technology, we would be able to reduce much of the pressure on the police in that respect. That would allow police forces to assess the threat posed by offenders in their communities and put in place the required level of proactive policing, or a lower level of monitoring through existing partnership arrangements.

Finally, there is a critical point to make. I referred to the London Assembly and the work being done by the Met, but that has only been done within some of the boroughs covered by the Met. We want a consistency of approach across England, across Wales, and across police forces, and, at the least, I would appreciate a comment from the Minister about a review of how consistency and the shifting of the onus on to the perpetrator and away from the victim can be managed consistently, across all forces and across England and Wales.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Llafur, Pontypridd

Diolch, Ms Buck. I will speak to new clause 49, if that is appropriate now, because it is grouped with the amendment.

Domestic abuse and stalking are the only crimes where a serial abuser is not proactively identified and managed. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the fantastic work of Laura Richards and others, for all their hard work, and their blood, sweat and tears, on new clause 49.

Hollie Gazzard was stalked and murdered by Asher Maslin. He had been involved in 24 previous violent offences: three against Hollie; 12 against an ex-partner; three against his mother; and four against others. Why was Hollie left at risk?

Kerri McAuley was stalked and murdered by Joe Storey. He broke every bone in her face. When she left him, he bombarded her with 177 calls. He had many convictions for abusing many women since the age of 14. Two women had also taken out restraining orders against him. Why were the risks not joined up?

Linzi Ashton was raped, strangled and murdered by Michael Cope. He had strangled two previous partners, but his repeated pattern of abuse towards women was not joined up. Why not?

Justene Reece took her own life. Nicholas Allen coercively controlled Justene and he stalked her relentlessly when she left him. Justene ran out of fight. Allen had been convicted for assault and harassment of other women. However, none of those offences were joined up. He was charged with coercive control, stalking and manslaughter after Justene died. Why?

We are currently in the middle of a global health pandemic, but we are also in the midst of another pandemic: the murder of women. These murders do not happen in a vacuum; these murders do not happen in slow motion. They drip, drip, drip over time on an escalating continuum. Since the lockdown began, 33 women and four children have been brutally murdered.

These offenders are not first-time offenders; no one starts with murder as their index offence. Currently, police rely on victims to report crimes and often it is the victims who are forced to modify and change their behaviour; they flee their homes and they disappear themselves in order to stay safe. This incident-led approach to patterned crimes such as domestic abuse and stalking must be stopped. Women are paying with their lives. It is clear that we need a cultural shift, through law, to ensure that the perpetrator is the focus, and that they must change their behaviour and take responsibility. Serial offenders should be the ones who are tracked, supervised and managed, not the victims.

The new clause is not about creating a new list of offenders. We simply need to build on and develop the multi-agency public protection arrangements with the Prison and Probation Service leading and chairing meetings, as well as the police. That is why MAPPA is the correct forum; but it must be enhanced to MAPPA-plus. Under MAPPA-plus, a new category should be introduced—category 4 serial and serious domestic violence and stalking perpetrators. Police, probation and prisons must actively identify serial perpetrators under that new category 4 and co-ordinate a risk management plan, to engage and solve problems, and/or target perpetrators.

Women are currently being failed and left at risk on a daily basis. We must push for a systemic change in the culture, and violent individuals must be held to account, and held responsible for their behaviour.

Photo of Victoria Atkins Victoria Atkins The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 2:45, 16 Mehefin 2020

I thank the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd and the hon. Member for Pontypridd for speaking to the new clauses.

We agree with the underlying objective behind new clause 12. It is of course vital to have the right systems and processes in place to identify and manage serial perpetrators of domestic abuse, and it is unacceptable that a domestic abuse perpetrator—particularly a known convicted offender—should be able to go on to abuse further victims. We therefore recognise the need for robust management of those dangerous offenders. However, we consider that the outcome can be achieved more effectively and, importantly, more safely through other means. As for new clause 49, we consider that existing legislation already provides for the management of the serial domestic abuse and stalking offenders we are concerned about.

Deputy Chief Constable Louisa Rolfe, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on domestic abuse, was clear in her oral evidence to the previous Public Bill Committee in October that better use of established police systems is the best way to grip dangerous individuals. She referred to the Bichard inquiry following the tragic deaths in Soham of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, which recommended that information about dangerous perpetrators should not be dispersed over multiple different systems. Her testimony was persuasive, and highlighted the fact that a new, separate register would introduce

“unnecessary complexity cost and, most importantly, risk.”—[Official Report, Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee, 29 October 2010; c. 27, Q48.]

Furthermore, several witnesses at an oral evidence sitting of this Committee also questioned whether the creation of a new bespoke register was the right way forward. Suzanne Jacob made reference to the recommendations of the Bichard enquiry and Ellie Butt pointed to the vital importance of multi-agency working to manage the risk posed by perpetrators. In addition, Dame Vera Baird advised:

“It is probably better to think in terms of an institution that is already present…than it is to invent another separate way of recording the fact that they are a perpetrator.”—[Official Report, Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee, 4 June 2020; c. 65, Q157.]

As the Committee will be aware, and as witnesses at the oral evidence sitting highlighted, the police already have systems in place for recording and sharing information about domestic abuse perpetrators. Offenders who have been convicted of stalking or domestic abuse-related offences are captured on the police national computer and, where appropriate, they will also be recorded on the ViSOR dangerous persons database, which enables information to be shared across relevant criminal justice agencies.

Section 327 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 already allows for those domestic abuse and stalking offenders who are assessed as posing a risk of serious harm to the public to be actively risk-managed under MAPPA. Individuals who commit offences listed in schedule 15 to the 2003 Act and who are sentenced to 12 months or more are automatically eligible for management under MAPPA category 2 when on licence. Those offences include domestic abuse-related offences such as threats to kill, actual and grievous bodily harm, and attempted strangulation, as well as stalking offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. When their licence ends, offenders can be managed under MAPPA category 3 if they are assessed as posing a risk of serious harm to the public. There is also discretion for other convicted domestic abusers who are assessed as posing a risk of serious harm to be managed under MAPPA category 3. Indeed, operational guidance makes it clear that this should be actively considered in every case.

The Government do, however, recognise the need to strengthen the use of current systems. Work is already under way to review the functionality of the violent and sex offender register, and the College of Policing has issued a set of principles for police forces on the identification, assessment and management of serial or potentially dangerous domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators. Work in this area will be supported by the provision of £10 million in funding for perpetrator interventions, which was announced in the Budget, to promote a better response to perpetrators across all agencies that come into contact with them.

The Bill also provides the police with an additional tool to help improve management of the risk posed by domestic abuse perpetrators. The police will be able to apply for a new DAPO that requires perpetrators who are subject to an order to notify the police of their name and address, and of any changes to this information. That will help the police to monitor the perpetrator’s whereabouts and the risk they pose to the victim. The Bill also includes the power for a DAPO to impose further additional notification requirements, to be specified in regulations that the court may consider on a case-by-case basis. The DAPO provisions include an express power to enable courts to use electronic monitoring or tagging on perpetrators to monitor their compliance with the requirements of the DAPO.

The aim of new clause 12 is to provide police with a statutory power to disclose information about a perpetrator’s offending history to their partner. However, Clare’s law already facilitates that. The domestic violence disclosure scheme relies on the police’s existing common-law powers, which are fit for purpose. The right-to-know element of the scheme provides a system through which the police can reach out proactively and disclose information to a person’s partner or ex-partner about that person’s violent or abusive offending history in order to prevent harm. As we have already debated, clause 64 places guidance for the police on Clare’s law on a statutory footing, which will help to improve awareness and consistent operation of the scheme across all forces.

I am very keen to emphasise—this is a concern that the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd has set out—that the burden should not be solely on victims. It is right that a victim can apply for a DAPO or can apply under the right-to-ask scheme, but the police can—indeed, are expected to—take the initiative in appropriate cases to apply for a DAPO or proactively make a disclosure under the right-to-know element of the domestic violence disclosure scheme, as I have just outlined. Given the views of the witnesses from whom we heard in oral evidence to this Committee and its predecessor, and the ongoing work to improve the systems and the MAPPA arrangements that I have set out, I hope hon. Members are reassured, and that the right hon. Lady will feel able to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

I thank the Minister for her detailed response. This is a probing amendment, which I am happy to withdraw. The only thing that I want to say comes from the London Assembly, and from cross-border issues arising within the boroughs of the Met. Dauntless Plus, which deals with 600 or so of the most dangerous repeat offenders in London, reaches 1% of repeat offenders. Present arrangements seem not to be achieving what I am sure we would all wish them to achieve. I hope the Minister will keep a close eye on their effectiveness in future. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.