Baroness Deech debates involving the Home Office during the 2019 Parliament

Thu 12th May 2022
Wed 17th Mar 2021
Mon 15th Mar 2021
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage & Lords Hansard
Wed 10th Feb 2021
Domestic Abuse Bill
Lords Chamber

Committee stage:Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Abortion Clinics: Safe Access Zones

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Monday 20th November 2023

(3 months, 1 week ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made towards the implementation of safe access zones around abortion clinics as legislated for in section 9 of the Public Order Act 2023.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government will issue non-statutory guidance to ensure that law enforcement agencies have a clear and consistent understanding around enforcement, and that abortion service providers and protesters are clear as to what is expected under the new law. The Government will launch a public consultation on the contents of the guidance at the earliest possible opportunity, and following consultation we anticipate commencing Section 9 in the spring of 2024.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, there is a great deal of foot-dragging in this. Both Houses supported the Public Order Act six months ago, which was to protect women accessing legal healthcare for their necessary rights. Yet in these months the most cruel demonstrations are going on outside clinics—for example, people wearing bodycams and holding out posters saying that babies are being murdered there. I do not see that a consultation is necessary; I urge the Minister not to delay the will of Parliament any longer but to get on with it and protect women from these very cruel demonstrations.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Policing of Marches and Demonstrations

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Monday 13th November 2023

(3 months, 2 weeks ago)

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Asked by
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the policing of recent marches and demonstrations.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, the police are operationally independent: it is their decision how they choose to police a protest and they are accountable for that. The Metropolitan Police used a range of powers to minimise disruption and disorder. On Saturday police made 145 arrests, most of which were linked to the counterdemonstration; however, the police continue to investigate other offences. The police have the Government’s full backing to use all the powers at their disposal to ensure that the perpetrators face the full force of the law. As is right, the Government will continue to hold the police to account. I think it is also right to acknowledge that Remembrance Weekend events passed without disruption.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, freedom to speak and to march and police discretion are all pillars of our constitution, but I have never before in my lifetime seen mobs marching through the streets alongside some who call for violent jihad and the death of Jews and waving swastika signs. Once the Saturday march was under way, why were the police posing with a child dressed as a terrorist while protesters rampaged threateningly outside a synagogue? Many of us call on the police to apply the law to those who are guilty of offences under Section 5 of the Public Order Act aggravated by religious and racial hatred, public nuisance and glorifying terrorism. It is a worldwide problem. Anti-Semitism is on parade. Jews cannot fix it on their own; we need people with us. Does the Minister agree that we need a cry of solidarity?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I wholeheartedly agree, and I was very emphatic on that point at the Dispatch Box last week. We saw vile examples of anti-Semitism by a minority at the pro-Palestine march. The fears that our Jewish community has experienced over the weekend and the days leading up to it are shocking and disgusting, as I said last week. There is no place for hate on Britain’s streets, and the police have confirmed that investigations are ongoing.

Ports and Airports: Queues

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 28th March 2023

(11 months ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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Well, I thank the noble Lord for his generous remarks about the effectiveness with which the contingency plans to deal with strikes in the Border Force succeeded in ensuring adequate—indeed, efficient—flow through the border. I can reassure him that there are certainly no plans, in a non-strike scenario, for members of the Armed Forces to replace members of Border Force. It might assist the noble Lord to know that we have in place plans to further digitise and automate the border, such that in due course the operation of e-gates will be completed solely by facial recognition and there should be no need to place your passport on the e-gate. Ultimately, we wish to simply use facial recognition alone, without the need for an e-gate. But these are, of course, all in the future.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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A week ago, I suggested to the Minister that a short-term fix, at least, would be to have a separate fast-track queue for British citizens, as distinct from EU citizens. The Minister said they were included because they were “our friends”. However, the friendship is not reciprocated, and we have many friends around the world. I put it to the Minister again: why can we not have a separate fast-track line for British citizens?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As I say, and as I said to the noble Baroness on the last occasion, we take the view that it is more efficient in terms of flow for all the categories that are allowed to use the e-gate to do so. That includes our friends in America, the Five Eyes nations, Japan, Singapore and South Korea. They may all use the e-gates and this accelerates the flow through our airports. There is nothing to be gained in the view of the Home Office by providing lanes on the basis that the noble Baroness adumbrates. I can reassure her that we are not in the business of retaliating when countries wish to include British nationals in a separate queue.

UK-EU: Revised Passenger Requirements

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Tuesday 21st March 2023

(11 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. Let me explain. The European Union has chosen to implement something called the European Entry/Exit System. This replaces passport stamping and requires non-EU nationals entering and exiting the Schengen area to provide a digital photograph and fingerprints on entry and exit. That is different from the electronic travel authorisation that the UK will be implementing in due course; that requires only a digital photograph. That is what will accelerate the rate at which people pass through passport controls into the UK, over which we have control. We have, sadly, no control over passport controls into the EU, and the EES will apply in that sphere.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister explain why, when British people travel abroad, they are put in a queue with all the non-EU people but when they come home to Heathrow and elsewhere, Europeans and the British are in the same queue? Why are the Europeans not separate, and can that not be used as some sort of leverage?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I understand that the United Kingdom has always taken the view that the Europeans are our friends and we treat them in the same way we always did. That, sadly, has not been the approach adopted by some of our European and EEA colleagues.

Domestic Abuse Victims

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Wednesday 8th June 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right; I have said that before and I will say it again. People should be treated first and foremost as victims. She will know that no recourse to public funds is linked to someone’s link to this country. We will not change that policy, but I absolutely agree with her that if you are a victim of domestic violence, you should be treated as a victim of domestic violence first and foremost.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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Does the Minister agree that a contributing cause of domestic abuse is the teaching of some religions and cultures that women are inferior, and that it is time for us to focus on the perpetrators of abuse and how they are educated? If so, what can we do about it?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The causes of domestic abuse are multifactorial. There is no simple answer to why someone decides to beat someone else, deprive them of finances or coercively control them. The noble Baroness has a point in some ways, and it is incumbent on schools, through PSHE, to teach the values of respectful relationships so that our young boys will grow up into men who do not think it is acceptable to beat a woman.

Queen’s Speech

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Thursday 12th May 2022

(1 year, 9 months ago)

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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, the Queen’s Speech quite rightly declared:

“Her Majesty’s Government will ensure the constitution is defended.”


I do not propose to address the substantive issues that will arise in future Bills. Instead, I want to put forward that the crumbling infrastructure of our legal system and its governance is an impediment to the proper delivery of the constitution and the upholding of the rule of law. If there are insufficient courts and judges, if the lack of legal aid makes access impossible and causes barristers to strike, and if there is no champion of the legal system and a constant succession of downgraded Lord Chancellors, we can have no assurance that the rights that people have can be enforced and protected. Justice delayed is justice denied.

There is such a backlog of cases that victims are being failed. The longer they wait, the more likely it is that the case will collapse. Even the funding that has been provided to reduce the backlog will still leave it too high. We do not have enough judges, lawyers and staff to support the criminal courts. The courthouses themselves are in a poor condition, as has been pointed out by the Lord Chief Justice. Magistrates have had their sentencing powers doubled in an attempt to reduce the backlog, but it has been suggested that this may lead only to more appeals to the Crown Court, which already has a number of outstanding trials. The criminal law barristers have started industrial action over concerns about legal aid funding. They demand—and should get—a 15% rise in rates for legal aid. The number of judges is insufficient. Despite the highest ever recorded number of rape offences, there have been only 1,557 prosecutions—fewer than in the previous 12 months—and prosecutions have fallen by 70% over the past four years.

To rescue the system there needs to be long-term planning and exploration of the assistance that might be rendered by data collection, technology and mediation, as well as, of course, the recruitment of more judges and proper support for barristers working in the criminal and family law fields. Looking back, one can see that none of the goals of the Legal Services Board in 2009 relating to legal aid and access has been achieved—now there is a quango ripe for abolition.

Family law in particular has suffered during the pandemic. I note that the time taken to deal with financial remedy cases in London is now at an intolerable level: two to three years. Judges’ time is used on helping self-representing litigants, which is not the right use of their time.

The situation will be exacerbated by the introduction of no-fault divorce, which has already led to a sharp rise in cases. Advocates of this new law like to paint the system as smooth and amicable but, as has been widely pointed out, the most bitter and litigious elements of it are arrangements for children and for the resolution of financial splits. Couples will therefore pass swiftly through the divorce portal only to grind to a complete halt when it comes to finance and children. Mediation costs are subsidised when there are children and money disputes but this is no remedy for a thoroughly bad law on financial provision, so stereotyped, expensive and uncertain that it encourages litigation and dispute and leaves England out of line with the rest of most of Europe and the US.

For years I have pleaded for reform and, with the noble Baroness, Lady Shackleton, introduced Bills to do just that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, promised a review of the law, to be completed within three years—and that undertaking was given over two years ago. There has been no progress so far, but the only opponents of reform are the lawyers, who do so well out of the costs. It is shameful that this reform is not being undertaken immediately, and I look for an assurance from the Minister. There is an enormous challenge to be faced in view of the number of broken marriages and abandoned children. Making financial provision law a bit more no-fault and understandable would be the key.

At the root of all these problems lies the position of the Lord Chancellor. Before the reform of that post by Prime Minister Blair, whereby the Lord Chancellor became a Minister of Justice, the Lord Chancellor had been a senior figure with judicial experience, who had no more to prove, who was not seeking a higher office, who commanded the respect of the profession and the Cabinet, and who protected the judiciary and the entire legal system. That reform is now widely known to have been a mistake. We have had eight Lord Chancellors in the last 10 years; they move on so fast that they cannot be immersed in the job, and the legal profession, the constitution and the rule of law have no champion. In this House we have lost the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, and the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, from their key positions. I say: bring back the old-style Lord Chancellor.

Tabled by
87C: After Clause 72, insert the following new Clause—
“Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse
(1) This section applies where there are two or more joint tenants under a secure or assured tenancy and the landlord is a local housing authority or a private registered provider of social housing.(2) If one joint tenant (“A”) has experienced domestic abuse from another joint tenant (“B”) then A may apply to the county court for an order that B is removed as a joint tenant, such application to be on notice to B, any other joint tenant, and the landlord.(3) For the purposes of subsection (2) it is sufficient that the domestic abuse was directed at A or to anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with A.(4) On such an application, the court must take the following approach—(a) the court must be satisfied that the tenancy is affordable for A, or will be so within a reasonable period of time;(b) if the court is so satisfied, then—(i) if B has been convicted of an offence related to domestic abuse against A or anyone who might reasonably be expected to reside with A, the court must make an order under this section;(ii) if B has been given a domestic abuse protection notice under section 20, or a domestic abuse protection order has been made against B under section 26, or B is currently subject to an injunction or restraining order in relation to A, or a person who might be reasonably expected to reside with A, the court may make an order under this section;(iii) if the application does not fall within sub-paragraph (i) or (ii), then the court may make such an order if it thinks it fit to do so; (c) for the purposes of subsection (4)(b)(ii), the court must adopt the following approach—(i) if B does not oppose the making of such an order, then the court must make it;(ii) if B does oppose the making of such an order then it is for B to satisfy the court that, as at the date of the hearing, there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the only way to do justice between A and B is for the order to be refused.(5) Where A has made such an application to the court, any notice to quit served by B shall be of no effect until determination of A’s application or any subsequent appeal.(6) Notwithstanding any rule of common law to the contrary, the effect of an order under this section is that the tenancy continues for all purposes as if B had never been a joint tenant, save that B remains liable on a joint and several basis for any debts, arrears or penalties accrued prior to the making of an order under this section.(7) For the purposes of this section, an offence related to domestic abuse includes, as against A or anyone who might be reasonably expected to reside with A, an offence of violence, threats of violence, criminal damage to property, rape, other offences of sexual violence or harassment, coercive control, breach of injunction, breach of restraining order, or breach of domestic abuse protection order.(8) In section 88(2) of the Housing Act 1985, after “section 17(1) of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 (property adjustment orders after overseas divorce, &c.)” insert “, or section (Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021,”.(9) In section 91(3)(b) of the Housing Act 1985, after sub-paragraph (iv), insert—“(v) section (Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;”.(10) In section 99B(2)(e) of the Housing Act 1985 (persons qualifying for compensation for improvements), after sub-paragraph (iv) insert—“(v) section (Transfer of joint tenancies and survivors of domestic abuse) of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021;”.(11) This section comes into force on a day appointed by the Secretary of State in regulations.”
Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, relying on the Minister’s very constructive commitment that there will be a consultation in the summer, followed by action as speedily as possible and legislation if appropriate, this amendment is not moved.

Amendment 87C not moved.
Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con) [V]
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My Lords, when we finished our proceedings last Wednesday, I had just spoken to a previous amendment that raised the issue of acknowledging local connection for those victims of domestic abuse who require housing. As we finished—it was rather late—I thought that my Amendment 66B, which I tabled subsequently to address the issues that my noble friend raised about social housing, was not going to be reached. However, by some quirk of luck, I find myself able to talk to it now.

Previously, I raised the potentially discriminatory way in which local authorities use local connection restrictions when responding to victims of domestic abuse who present as homeless or at risk of homelessness. My noble friend’s answer the other evening, and indeed in Committee, again focused on the fact that existing guidance should prevent this happening. However, evidence from domestic abuse services shows, sadly, that this is just not the case. I am particularly grateful to Women’s Aid for helping me and showing me examples of where this does not work. The guidance is exactly that and it is not producing the results that I think we all would like.

This new amendment addresses this issue of victims being denied social housing allocations because they have no local connection. Often, women who have escaped to a refuge need to resettle in a new area or a neighbouring one as they are still at risk in the area they fled. Women’s Aid estimates that

“over two thirds of women resident in refuge services in England had come from a different local authority area.”

Again, there is government guidance. It makes clear that

“those who have fled to a refuge in another local authority area are not disadvantaged by any residency or local connection requirements”

when accessing social housing. However, I contend that domestic abuse services continue to report that local authorities require a woman to have a local connection with their area to apply or be prioritised on letting systems.

The Government already require local authorities, when allocating housing, to make exemptions for certain groups from these local connection requirements or residency tests; this includes members of the Armed Forces and people seeking to move for work. I remember well from my caseload as a constituency MP that these exemptions exist. I am asking the Government and my noble friend: why is the same exemption not in place for victims of domestic abuse relocating for the purpose of safety? I acknowledge that there is guidance, but there is not the requirement.

It is also critical to recognise that, when women and children escape to a refuge, they start to build connections and support networks in that new area; these are vital for their ongoing recovery. After experiencing unimaginable trauma and the uprooting of their lives, children will have started to settle into nursery and school. The inconsistent way in which these survivors are then treated when seeking to access long-term housing leads to further disruption and insecurity. Again, the guidance is not doing enough in this area, I am afraid. It is vital that this law sends a clear message that local connection rules or residency requirements must never apply to allocations of social housing for victims of domestic abuse.

I want briefly to draw attention to a case study from a Women’s Aid member service that highlights the urgency and importance of my amendment:

“A has experienced domestic abuse for the last 10 years from two partners as well as witnessing domestic abuse perpetrated by her father against her mother growing up. She has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety and PTSD. After fleeing her abusive partner with three children, she moved into a refuge in a London borough to be near her mother, who was her main source of support. She was only able to find a refuge in a different borough to her mother, and after six months she was required to leave that refuge. She presented to the borough her mother lives in, but she was informed she was not entitled to be housed there as she did not have a local connection. The local authority stated she had a local connection to the borough she had been living in for six months. This is despite her being a survivor of domestic abuse, having no option other than to live in the first borough where a refuge space was available at the time of fleeing and the fact that she felt at risk from the perpetrator’s extended networks there.


The borough her mother lived in then housed A and her three children, who were all under 14, in one room in mixed-sex temporary accommodation. This was extremely distressing for her. She describes feeling retraumatised from the experience of being forced to live alongside men she did not know. She also felt scared for her children, who did not feel safe in the mixed-sex hostel. The room was highly unsuitable as the entire family lived in it and were required to cook in it, which is of course unsafe for a toddler. Another child had ADHD, so A struggled to provide them with any quiet time and appropriate support. This experience also exacerbated her PTSD, depression and anxiety, and she reported feeling low and stressed regularly due to feeling unsafe in the accommodation. She is now having to live there indefinitely while the boroughs have been assigned an arbiter to decide who has a duty.”


I do not think that anybody could agree that this is a satisfactory situation. I urge my noble friend and Her Majesty’s Government to seek to put an amendment such as mine in the Bill to ensure that these sorts of examples do not occur again.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 87C, which I may press to a Division.

Last week, public discussion following the tragic death of Sarah Everard tended to emphasise that it is not for women to limit their freedom because there are violent men around—rather, that it is men who should change their behaviour and be educated into civility.

This amendment has a similar bent. It too is about shifting the burden of suffering from abusive behaviour away from the victim and on to the perpetrator. We are all agreed on the principle and I am grateful to the Minister for meetings and correspondence. The principle is that of ending the tenancy enjoyed by the perpetrator in social housing and leaving the victim in occupation, with that tenancy vested in her—if it is “her” because obviously this works both ways.

The only remaining issue is how best to draft this. It is common sense to leave the victim, possibly with children, in her home and make the perpetrator leave. It is cheaper too because rehousing the abused parent could cost from £3,000 to £11,000. We know that women’s refuges are overcrowded and short of funding. The pressure on them would be infinitely less if the woman could stay at home and not have to run away. This scheme is being tried out in Scotland and already operates in several Australian states. The Renting Homes (Wales) Act 2016 provides for the transfer of the interest from one joint tenant to another. The amendment says that if the victim applies to the court, the perpetrator may be removed as a joint tenant, provided that the tenancy is affordable for the victim. The tenancy shared by the victim and the perpetrator would be severed and the perpetrator’s tenancy would vest in the victim and any other joint tenant. The tenancy would continue in the name of the victim, but the perpetrator would remain liable for rent arrears incurred before the eviction.

Social housing providers can support the victim in managing debts, and they might even consider it right to rehouse the victim immediately in other suitable property. In the rare case where there are other joint tenants, their interests need to be considered, for their share of the housing costs might rise. The change in tenancy should have no effect on the landlord, but he or she could make representations to the court during the application process. No objections have been received so far from landlords who have been consulted by domestic abuse support organisations. Indeed, this amendment has been welcomed by the domestic abuse commissioner, the Local Government Association, Women’s Aid and related organisations.

The drafting needs to ensure that the perpetrator retains liability not only for rent arrears before he loses his tenancy but, for example, for damage he might have caused to the property. I respectfully disagree with the Minister’s concern that common law stands in the way of reassigning the property and the liabilities, because the statute would override common law. There are no human rights concerns as mentioned by the Minister. Protocol 1 of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects property enjoyment, is subject to the right of the state to interfere when necessary in the public interest. Indeed, it is the property enjoyment rights of the victim that would be interfered with if she is driven out by the violence of the perpetrator. Article 6 provides that there should be a hearing before deprivation of a civil right, and so there will be, because the perpetrator has the right to representation in the court proceedings.

Moreover, it has been possible for a long time for an English court to act ex parte; that is, on hearing only one side where there is an urgent case. When no-fault divorce comes into force this autumn, one of life’s most important civil rights, that of staying married, will be terminated at the will of one party with no right for the other to defend or have any say in it. That has been accepted as legitimate—rather surprisingly. A rather lesser upheaval, in this case eviction, can be managed safely without any infringement of human rights, as can any fears about Article 8—the right to a private and family life. It is the victim’s rights that have been disrupted and that article goes on to say that the right may be interfered with in order to protect other people’s rights or in the public interest.

I will give noble Lords chapter and verse. Article 3 of the human rights convention prohibits “degrading treatment”. The European Court of Human Rights has held that the state had failed to provide the victim with immediate protection against a husband’s violence in a case concerning Slovakia, and that offended against the prohibition of degrading treatment. On Article 8—the right to family and private life—the European court held that this had been breached by Bulgaria and Ukraine, among others, because the state had not helped the victim. It is the victim’s right to family life which the perpetrator has destroyed. In a 2010 case involving the United Kingdom—JD and A v the United Kingdom—the court held that the victim’s property rights were violated and that she should stay put. This was about Protocol 1—the right to property. The Government themselves do not consider that there is any Article 6 breach, covering the right to trial, in their Explanatory Memorandum. That is because the perpetrator has the opportunity to make representations at a subsequent hearing. That was in a case called Micallef v Malta. All human rights as listed are subject to interference in the public interest and proportionality, so there need be no concerns at all about human rights. Let us remember that it is the victim’s human rights that have been violently disrupted.

Lord Mackay of Clashfern Portrait Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I first came across the problem with which Amendment 1 deals when I was promoting the divorce Act in 1996 and I was assisted in great measure by my late friend Lord Jakobovits, who was then the Chief Rabbi.

The problem arises, as has been explained, for a person of the Jewish faith who is married and then decides to seek divorce. If she is female, she may get a decree of divorce in the English courts, but the Jewish law to which she feels bound requires that she cannot be divorced under that law without the agreement of her husband. Some husbands who have been divorced by the English courts decline to agree that the wife should be allowed to divorce under the Jewish law which they have both agreed to follow. In that situation, the husband is able to hold the wife into the marriage which she has made clear she wishes to leave.

The exercise of power by the husband is a controlling or coercive power within the meaning of Clause 1(3) of the Bill. Since they are both over the age of 16 and have been personally connected within the meaning of Clause 2(1)(a) of the Bill, it is clear that the husband is showing what under the Bill is described—and this will shortly become law—as domestic abuse towards the wife and therefore is subject to the remedies for her provided in the Bill. No distinct amendment is required in order to bring the wife into the situation where she can receive the help that the Bill will provide when it becomes an Act.

I agree that there is a problem which cannot be solved by us about a get having to be voluntary. The use of one of the remedies may be easier than another in that situation, but one thing I am sure of is that it does not do any good to alter the provisions in Clause 1 of the Bill by these amendments, at least in respect of everything except the Serious Crime Act—but I do not think it requires anything to be done in that place, either. Adding things such as “reasonable” and “unreasonable” and so on is a mistake and the proper thing to do is to leave Clause 1 as it is, because it undoubtedly carries with it the implication that the refusal of a get is domestic abuse.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, the Ministers involved have done a great service by listening to the Members who have put forward these amendments. I am pleased to support all the amendments in this group, to which I have put my name.

By accepting the need to stigmatise husbands who behave unreasonably in not giving a get, the Government are sending a signal to spiteful men and to fossilised religious authorities that compassion and secular standards have to prevail. I support the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, in all that he has said about this. The ability to refuse a religious divorce provides abusive husbands with power to control and to subvert conditions relating to the divorce, by, for example, demanding that the divorce settlement be repaid. The refusal can have a grievous effect on a woman’s entire life. She may be prevented from remarrying while still of childbearing age and there is concern for the status of children that she may have in future.

I am not defending the religious law underlying this, and it is not confined to Judaism. Nevertheless, it is accepted by some women here, and by millions around the world, but it is time for the secular law principles to prevail, all the more so since from this autumn, we will have no-fault divorce, a system which does not allow the unwilling spouse to defend a divorce at all—it must be accepted. The guidance, which I hope will contain these provisions, is a good example of how British law manages to encompass a diversity of views within its system. A man who refuses a get unreasonably in the future may even be found guilty of a criminal offence of coercive and controlling behaviour, under the Serious Crime Act 2015, because this Bill clarifies that domestic abuse provisions apply to former couples, even after separation. Nevertheless, this provision would work more effectively as a threat than an actual imprisonment, because the get must be granted by the husband without direct coercion. The clarification in the statutory guidance which we hope for will mean that this is a good day for women and a step closer to equality in religious law.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, I speak personally in this debate. It is a privilege and a pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, because I remember 1996. I was in the Chamber as a newly appointed Peer and remember very well Lord Jakobovits, who was quite a close friend.

I come from an orthodox Jewish family and I am an orthodox Jew. My grandfather was an orthodox rabbi. He taught me Hebrew and Aramaic from the age of six or seven, and his wife, my maternal grandmother, was very concerned about the problem of get. She used to try persuading the rabbinical authorities, including my grandfather, who was not a dayan—a judge—of the rightness of the cause. She remained, throughout her life, from the First World War onwards, an activist on this. My grandfather supported her with a smile, but he recognised that the Jewish courts were rather reluctant to move forward.

My mother travelled around the world trying to persuade the rabbis of the problem faced by the agunah. She spoke to American, Israeli and Australian rabbis—for example, the Chief Rabbi of Israel—and those in parts of Europe. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who will be speaking in this debate, can testify to how frightening my mother was. Unquestionably, many strictly orthodox rabbis appeared to be persuaded. She was always greeted with polite acquiescence, but nothing has happened, and one of the problems is that there are many different courts, so-called batte din, around the world. There is more than one in this country and they have been reluctant to work collectively in any way.

Another reason for being personally interested in this debate is that this is the week of my 48th wedding anniversary. My wife is not listening to what I am saying about divorce, by the way. Judaism differs from many other faiths because religious law is based on Talmud, which dates back to the Mishnah from the second century and the fifth century. It is a huge and remarkable compilation of discussions by the rabbis, who, of course, disagree with each other. Jews always disagree, and the Talmud is one of the few books of law of any kind which is almost entirely a matter of questions. One rabbi asks a question and another group of rabbis answers with a question. That is how the Talmud has built up. It has left Judaism almost unique in its religious format. It is not pyramidal—there is no one central authority. There is no supreme court in Judaism. I suspect that a supreme court would be in the world to come, not in this world. That has been a major problem for a few issues, particularly this issue of the chained woman.

It is embarrassing for someone such as myself to try persuading an English Parliament, to which I am absolutely committed, to help with Jewish law. I would also say that these instances of irreligious men hiding behind their religious cloak is much rarer than one might think, but none the less, there is this very important case for a few people where the future happiness of a woman, her freedom and, to some extent, the possibility of her having children is so important to her and to the community. It would at least prevent this shocking instance, so I am delighted that the Government are minded in some way to help us. I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, feels that the amendment to follow, to which I will listen with great care, will help to sort this matter out. I congratulate her on bringing forward this important matter, which affects a number of Jewish families.

Domestic Abuse Bill

Baroness Deech Excerpts
Committee stage & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 6th sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 10th February 2021

(3 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB) [V]
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My Lords, I am proud to stand with the other signatories to the amendment, which is eminently sensible. Sadly, our discussions on the Bill have uncovered the nasty elements of the ways in which one human being can behave towards another. This is another example.

Stereotypically, it is the mother with children most in need of staying put, housing and avoiding children changing school. It is much more difficult to rehouse her if he causes her to flee. We must therefore remove the power of the abuser who is a joint tenant to remove the victim. The amendment would allow the victim to apply for a tenancy transfer, even if she has already been forced to flee. He, the perpetrator, could potentially cause rent arrears and damage to the property, for which she would be responsible.

It is a shame that the amendment cannot apply to private tenancies. Are there no alternatives? At the moment, a victim might obtain a temporary court order, such as a non-molestation or occupation order, but they are time-limited and could cost up to £5,000 at legal aid rates—more if there is no legal aid. The perpetrator might return. He may well not consent to a tenancy transfer and there is no guarantee that the landlord would grant a sole tenancy to the victim in the alternative. He, the perpetrator, might vindictively give notice to end the tenancy. Therefore, if there is a temporary eviction, it would have to be followed up by a transfer of tenancy action, again costing thousands. A married victim who is seeking a divorce could apply for a tenancy transfer under the Matrimonial Causes Act or Section 1 of the Children Act. This is all slow and expensive.

We need to avoid those complications and expenses that mean that the victim has to become homeless and start finding a home all over again. In the case of social housing, the provider can evict the perpetrator only after the victim has left the shared property. Again, she is put in a position of rendering herself homeless and hoping that someone will take care of her immediate housing needs. That is just not good enough because it is all disjointed and no-one has pulled together all the strings and pieces of legislation that might protect the victim, albeit imperfectly.