Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Twentieth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Thursday 24th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I thank the hon. Member for Stroud for moving the new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling. The hon. Member for Stroud has done the legal bit, and I am going to do the emotional, child abuse bit.

I think all hon. Members know who Tony is, because he is on BBC Breakfast a lot. He is a little lad. I do not know how old he is now—probably about eight. His legs are amputated, but he has been doing a walk around his local park every day to raise money for the NHS. I did not realise until very recently that he was the Tony this law is named after. It was only when I saw him and his adoptive parents on BBC Breakfast making the argument for this that I thought, “This is an obvious legal change that clearly needs to be made.”

Under current law, 10 years is the maximum sentence that judges can impose when someone has been convicted of child cruelty, causing harm or allowing a child to die or suffer serious physical harm. It is just madness! Someone who is guilty of intentionally causing grievous bodily harm to an adult can face a life sentence in the most severe cases, so I do not know why this cap of 10 years is in place. Surely, for offences that result in severe physical harm to children and lifelong harm, which will be much longer than lifelong harm to an adult, courts ought to be able to impose the sentence that they think is most fitting.

The proposed change to the law follows the tireless campaigning by the adoptive parents of Tony Hudgell. As the hon. Lady said about the injuries inflicted on Tony, it is truly unimaginable that someone could consciously do that. A change in the law would give the judges the discretion they need to pass longer sentences, including in the most horrific cases such as Tony’s. We are thankfully talking about a relatively small number of cases. In the past five years, there were an average of 68 child deaths a year caused by assault or undetermined intent. Child homicides are most commonly caused by a parent or step-parent. Children under the age of one are the most likely group to be killed by another person.

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children analysis of police data from across the UK shows that there were 23,529 child cruelty or neglect offences recorded by the police in 2019-20. Although there are significant variations among regions and nations, it is extremely concerning that the police-recorded child cruelty and neglect offences have risen by 53% in the past three years. I am perversely curious to see the data that comes out of this past year, because anecdotally I understand, from my police force and from what we are reading, that the levels of child abuse have escalated under lockdown. That should not come as a surprise, but it is deeply chilling to all of us.



The latest ONS figures available for England and Wales are from 2018: 500 offenders were sentenced for offences of cruelty and neglect of a child; 114 of those offenders received an intermediate custodial sentence; and 220 received a suspended sentence.

Over the past year, the NSPCC has seen the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on physical abuse, as I mentioned. Calls to its helpline surged through the pandemic to record numbers. Tony’s case represents the most severe form of physical abuse. However, while extreme, it is not an isolated example. There have been a number of court cases and serious case reviews containing disturbing details of how children have been severely physically abused, often over a prolonged period. Alongside that, it is important that we see wider changes, including greater public awareness, so that adults can spot the signs of abuse and reach out if they have concerns about a child, and additional resources for local authorities, so that early intervention services and children’s social care can respond effectively when they think a child is at risk.

Cuts to funding and the rising demand for support has meant that local authorities are allocating greater proportions of their spending to late intervention services, while investment in early intervention is in many cases just not there. Early intervention is my personal crusade because, surely, prevention at the earliest possible time is what we all ought to strive for. We need to see a child-focused justice system that does not exacerbate the trauma that young victims and witnesses have already experienced. Positive experience of the justice system can help them move forward, but negative experience can be damaging and, for some children, retraumatising.

We need increased capacity and investment in the criminal justice system, so that policy and procedures may progress cases efficiently and delays may be reduced. Children need to have access to specialist assistance measures in court, such as assistance from a registered intermediary who can support a young victim or witness in giving evidence. Therapeutic support for children who have been experiencing abuse and neglect needs to be universal and easily accessible. That is vital to enable children to process the trauma that they have experienced, to begin to heal and to move forward.

I understand and know that the ability to impose a stronger sentence is not the panacea, but it is really important that at the very least, child abuse is on a parity with adult abuse in terms of sentencing. I hope that the Ministers will support the new clause and, by doing so, show their dedication to tackling child abuse and to proportionate sentencing for that horrendous crime.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The case of Tony Hudgell is truly heart-breaking. The abuse that he suffered at the hands of his birth parents is shocking beyond expression. In fact, I met his adopted mother, Paula, only a few months ago. We discussed the case and what happened at some length. It is something that I have become personally acquainted with not so long ago.

It is worth making it clear that where it is possible to prove who specifically inflicted the abuse, these offences do not need to be charged and instead the more usual offences can be charged, such as grievous bodily harm with intent, which carries a maximum sentence of life. The problem that arises in cases like Tony Hudgell’s is where it is not possible to prove specifically who it was who carried out the offence. He had two birth parents and it could have been either of them.

As I understand it from that case, there was no way that the court, the prosecution or the police could prove which of the two birth parents it was. That means they could not be charged with the regular offence—such as GBH with intent—that would have carried a life sentence. Instead, therefore, they fell back on the other offence, which we are debating now: causing or allowing, in which it cannot be proved that someone actually did it, but we can say they allowed it. If people cause or allow the death of a child or vulnerable adult, the maximum penalty is 14 years or, in the case of causing or allowing serious physical harm to a child or vulnerable person, a maximum of 10 years. That was the offence charged in the Hudgell case.

I have been informed that we have conducted a review of charges under the clause, and my understanding is that the only instance where the judge went all the way up to the maximum of 10 years was in that case. It is clear from the sentencing remarks that the judge would have gone further, but I think it is the only case where the judge has gone to the maximum.

Even though the case is the only one, it is so appalling, and I have discussed it with the Lord Chancellor, who will look at it again. It is a delicate area of law to pick through because it cannot be proved that it was the particular person who has been convicted—it could have been one of two—and it therefore requires a bit of thought.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I am listening intently to the Minister. Is it his assumption that the Lord Chancellor will look at this before Report?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Honestly, I would not have thought so. That is only a week and a half away, but I will pass that representation on. I know hon. Members want to hear at an early stage, such as Report.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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It is only so that we do not lose the legislative opportunity.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I understand. I will convey the hon. Lady’s point. As I have said two or three times previously, there are several other Bills in this Session that might be suitable for reform. This is not a “one chance and it is gone” situation. My main purpose in speaking today was, first, to pay tribute to Tony’s adoptive parents and to Tony for his bravery, having suffered such appalling abuse, but also to tell the Committee that the Lord Chancellor is actively and seriously considering this important area.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Seventeenth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. I am fully supportive of new clause 3, because I think it addresses a rather patriarchal approach that is going on and needs flushing out. The all-party parliamentary group on women in the penal system recently released its third briefing report, “Arresting the entry of women into the criminal justice system”, and its key finding was that 40% of women arrested resulted in no further action. That figure is even higher for women who are arrested for alleged violence.

That shows to me that women are being arrested and put into custody disproportionately, without the necessary due process in terms of what the outcome is likely to be. This creates a drain on police resources and, to be quite honest, is a waste of time, as arrest is not an appropriate response to women showing challenging behaviour. We need a more nuanced approach. Many officers arrested women for fear of criticism from more senior officers if they did not, and black women are two and a half times more likely to be arrested than white women, which raises concerns. Officers need to realise that turning up in a uniform can actually make a situation much more tense, and many women are arrested due to their response to the police turning up, not necessarily because of what the police were called in for. Frances Crook of the Howard League put it very well when she said that these women are annoying, but not necessarily dangerous.

I am interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on Lancashire police, who have started a pilot through which they bring independent domestic violence advisers to the scene where domestic altercations are going on. Officers are reporting that they have found that incredibly useful in de-escalating the situation, rather than just going straight to charging or bringing the woman in for their own protection. The new clause raises the points that first, there is a problem with the system, and secondly, more creative approaches can be used, so I am very interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on it.

Chris Philp Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Chris Philp)
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As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Charles. New clause 3 seeks to remove the provision in the Bail Act 1976 for a defendant to be refused bail where the court feels it is necessary for their protection—or, in the case of children, their own welfare—that they are remanded in custody. It is extremely important to make clear to the Committee that this provision is used very rarely. It is considered to be a last resort, and it is only used when there are no alternatives, so we should be in no doubt that this is an unusual provision to use.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I fully support new clause 4. It links very tightly to my new clause 20, which I would like to speak to. New clause 20 would mean that once a witness was determined to be eligible for special measures, they would be informed of all provisions and able to decide which option suited them best, rather than the onus being on the court to decide which ones they were allowed. Special measures are an absolute lifeline for many victims giving evidence in court against their abuser. Navigating the criminal justice system can be incredibly challenging, and the idea of giving evidence as a witness against your own perpetrator is extremely distressing. Cross-examination causes re-traumatisation for victims and special measures are vital for reducing the impact on their mental wellbeing. Special measures include screening the witnesses from the accused, giving evidence by a live link and in private, and video- recorded evidence. Currently, victims of child sexual abuse are eligible for special measures in court when giving evidence as a witness. However, delivery of the provisions remains inconsistent and victims often have trouble accessing the measures to which they are entitled.

The onus is currently on the court to offer the provisions to the victim if it believes it will

“improve the quality of evidence”

by witnesses—so is not about the survivor’s mental wellbeing and abilities. An APPG on adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse survey found that 44% of victims were not offered the opportunity to give evidence remotely or behind a screen.

This new clause would amend the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act to ensure that once a witness was determined as eligible for special measures by the court, they would be informed of all options and could decide which measure or measures suited them best. It is worth saying that some survivors I work with actually want to be in court and face their abuser—but it is up to them to make that choice.

This amendment will provide what is best for the witness’s wellbeing, rather than if the judge thinks it will improve the quality of evidence. There was support for this proposal in the Bill Committee’s evidence sessions. Phil Bowen, Director of the Centre for Justice Innovation, said:

“Yes, I think a presumption would be useful, but I think it also requires attention to implementation and delivery issues. Special measures should already be used in specialist domestic abuse courts across our magistrates court estate and, in many cases, domestic abuse victims are without access to those measures, for want of anyone who asked.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 43.]

Adrian Crossley, Head of the Criminal Justice Policy Unit at the Centre for Social Justice, said of special measures:

“I think it makes a massive difference to the view of the complainant and, unfortunately, it would also make a massive difference to the view of some defendants, who may face the reality of the evidence against them earlier. It may encourage pleas that should have happened earlier.”

“Sometimes the implementation of special measures and, certainly, the pragmatics of what happens in court are not there and the stress that that puts witnesses through is absolutely huge.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 18 May 2021; c. 46.]

As we have seen too vividly with the rape review findings, lack of support for witnesses and victims in court proceedings has a genuine impact on the justice process. More than a quarter of child sexual abuse cases did not proceed through the criminal justice system last year because the victim and survivor did not support further action. One of the main reasons was that the victim worried they would find the legal process too upsetting.

The Minister may say that we should keep the law so that it is the quality of evidence that remains, because that matters the most. I say to the Government that it is obvious that when we prioritise the wellbeing of victims and survivors—the people giving the evidence—the conviction is more likely to be secured because they feel more able to speak. If the victim assumes that they will be re-traumatised in the court proceedings, why on earth would they even try to secure justice? If that is the assumption, more offenders will walk free.

Dame Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, also agreed with this proposal. In her view, the problem begins

“with the fact that the needs assessment is not done clearly by a single agency.”––[Official Report, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Public Bill Committee, 20 May 2021; c. 113.]

It needs to be carried out as part of the witness care unit, rather than across the Crown Prosecution Service and police, as it currently does. Dame Vera Baird also said that the measures that may best suit the victim are not always available. Special measures are not consistently available across the country.

What will the Minister do to ensure that resources and funding are sufficient to support victims giving evidence? Some witnesses who gave evidence have claimed that special measures should remain available at the discretion of the judge. The Minister may use that argument in the Government’s response to my new clause. However, we know that the current system is letting victims down, and something needs to be done so that it is legally required that they have these options available to them. The majority of court proceedings have taken place via a live link since the pandemic began. What reason is there to refuse the same provision to vulnerable witnesses? Let us be frank: the court is not always functioning with the victim’s best interests at the centre of its decisions. This change would grant vulnerable witnesses much more autonomy over their experience in court, rather than the courts relying on who and how they are able to give evidence—the same courts that have let so many down.

If it were better for special measures to be left to the flexibility of the court rules, we would not have a situation where victims wait years to give evidence, and often then face their abuser in court. Additionally, under this new clause, the court would still be included in the decisions. It would still have to ensure that the measures or measures provided

“do not inhibit the evidence of the witnesses being effectively tested by a party to the proceedings.”

As the Victims’ Commissioner said, it should be the default position that victims, if they choose, can pre-record their video evidence weeks, months or years before the trial takes place. Not only would that be less traumatic for them, but it means the recollections are more current and therefore more reliable.

Cross-examination can also take place on video under section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act. This is particularly useful to reduce the huge backlog that the courts currently face, and these measures already exist. We just need to make sure that victims can access them as they should. The Government need to ensure that implementation is effective, and that the courts are fully resourced for it. More funding must be given to courts to provide places for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence securely, and ISVAs must also be available and dramatically expanded, so I am glad that the Minister has said that as part of the review she will actively look to employ more ISVAs.

I hope the Government listen to this argument and address the issue urgently, so that no more victims have to suffer the traumatising process of giving evidence without access to special measures.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I am grateful to the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Stockton North, and the hon. Member for Rotherham for raising this important issue. Clearly, all hon. Members from across the House would want victims of these terrible crimes to be supported at what are often traumatic court hearings, and the Government have certainly been working hard on it.

Reference was made to the rape review published last week. As the hon. Member for Rotherham suggested, it contains a range of measures designed to help support victims of these terrible crimes, not least a provision for more ISVAs, as she said in her remarks. It also asks the police to take a better, more proactive, faster, more comprehensive approach to the investigation of rape. No victim is to be left without their phone for 24 hours; digital material will be requested only where strictly necessary and proportionate to the line of inquiry; and there will be better joint working between the police and the CPS and so on. So numerous measures were announced last week, all designed to help improve the situation in the area that we are discussing. In all frankness, it certainly does need to be improved.

Specifically, the clauses mention pre-recorded evidence permitted under section 28, as we have heard. It is worth saying that for vulnerable witnesses we have already fully rolled out the availability of section 28 pre-recorded evidence; that was completed in November last year. Vulnerable witnesses include all child witnesses, and also witnesses whose quality of evidence is likely to be affected because of a mental health disorder or some form of physical disability. The measure has already been implemented in every single Crown court across the country.

On intimidated witnesses, as the shadow Minister said we are already piloting the use of section 28 evidence for intimidated witnesses in three early adopter Crown courts—Leeds, Kingston upon Thames and Liverpool. That means that victims of those crimes have access to this measure and are able to pre-record their evidence, cross-examination and possibly re-examination via video early in the process, outside of the courtroom environment. That, for reasons we have discussed, is often of significant benefit to the victim.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I am very heartened by what the Minister is saying. One problem that keeps getting raised with me is that if victims choose to go down the live link route there must be authorised sites, but there are so few in the country, and they have backlogs and so on. There is a resourcing issue. However, it is my understanding that a lot more live evidence has been given by video link during the pandemic. Surely we have had a year of piloting this, as well as the specific pilots that the Minister is doing, so is he now looking at rolling back the opportunity to give evidence via live link, in order to wait for the pilot?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Giving evidence by live link in proceedings is obviously different from section 28, which applies to pre-recorded evidence and cross-examination. In answer to the question about live links, no, there is no intention to try to influence the judiciary to use live video links less than they have been doing so. Generally speaking, it has worked very successfully. Each week there are 20,000 court sessions across all jurisdictions—criminal, civil, family and tribunals—using video technology, and there is no desire on the part of the Government to see that reduced, should the judge and other participants want to continue with it. That option is available. All Crown court rooms have the cloud video platform installed in them, which will remain the case.

A new system is coming in that will improve things further, but there will be no removal of remote capability from Crown court rooms. They will have the ability to take live evidence by video link. Every cloud has a silver lining, and one of the silver linings has been the fact that every Crown court room now has that capability.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My new clause shifts the choice to the victim rather than the judge. What the Minister is saying is great, but will he support my new clause, so that the victim is able to choose whether to give evidence by live link?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Having spoken to new clause 4, let me turn now to new clause 20. As the hon. Lady says, it moves the discretion away from a judge and makes it the witness’s choice whether the section 28 recording is conducted. We want to encourage as many eligible people as possible to make use of the special measures that are available, and we have taken a number of steps to ensure that objective. For example, the revised victims code, which came into force just a few weeks ago, on 1 April, focuses on victims’ rights and sets out the level of service that victims can expect to receive from criminal justice agencies. The code also enshrines victims’ rights to have their needs assessed by the police or a witness care unit in order to determine whether they are eligible to give evidence using special measures and would benefit from doing so, to help relieve some of the stress involved in giving evidence. We want to ensure that every single eligible witness is identified, and that the matter is actively considered.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Clearly the victims code, published a few weeks ago, is designed to help victims in many of the ways that the hon. Lady described. I will come on to the specific question of who makes the decision in a moment. In addition to the victims code, however, we are doing more work with important agencies such as the police and the CPS, drafting guidance to share with victim care units and making sure that the understanding of the special measures, such as section 28, is as high as it possibly can be. We are also looking to maximise the use of section 24 and to improve the use of remote link sites—the point that the hon. Member for Rotherham made a moment ago—again to help victims.

On the question of empowerment, which the hon. Member for Garston and Halewood just asked about, there is clearly a balance to strike. Obviously we want to ensure that victims are protected and looked after, and that we minimise the trauma that may follow from reliving the experience. We should also be aware, however, that these are court proceedings, designed to determine guilt or innocence. The consequence of a conviction in such cases is, most likely, a long time in prison—rightly so. We therefore need to ensure that the interests of justice are considered, as well as the interests of the victim, which are also extremely important; they are both important.

Ultimately, the judge decides whether a live link may be used or the other special measures may be activated for someone who is eligible. The reason for that is that it is for a judge to make a determination in an individual case on how that case is managed and conducted, having regard to all the particular facts in the case—the circumstances, the victim and the nature of the victim, the nature of the questioning or cross-examination that might need to take place.

The concern of the Government is that if we simply legislate to remove that judicial discretion, saying that the judge cannot decide and what happens is automatic, it means that the judge will in some sense lose control of how the proceedings are conducted. There may be circumstances in which that undermines the delivery of justice.

We hope that judges listen to our proceedings—I am sure they do—and hear the very strong emphasis that we in this House give to victims. The judges are aware of the victims code and the strengthened rights that it gives victims, and they will keep that at the front of their minds when they make such decisions. I hope that they will make them—they normally make them and I hope will continue to do so—in a way that is sympathetic and sensitive. To wholly extinguish judicial discretion, however, would go a long way.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I appreciate the Minister’s giving way. I am not entirely convinced that his civil servants have read my amendment. After proposed new paragraph (b) in subsection (2), the new clause states:

“so far as possible ensure that the measure or measures provided for do not inhibit the evidence of the witness being effectively tested by a party to the proceedings.”

It explicitly gives the ultimate call to the judge. We would be giving the victim the right to have a choice, but if the judge believes that it in any way discredits the evidence that they are able to give, the judge has the right not to allow it.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The drafting is:

“Provided that a direction under paragraph (b) shall so far as possible ensure that the…measures provided for do not inhibit the evidence”.

As far as I read it, it does not give the judge the power not to make the order; it simply states that they must make the order in such a way as not to inhibit the evidence being given

“so far as possible”.

My understanding of the words on the page is not that the judge has an ultimate veto; they must simply exercise a direction in that way.

Furthermore,

“so far as possible”

is not a high test when it comes to justice being done and ensuring that evidence is given fairly. When we are potentially convicting someone and sending them to prison for a long time, ensuring that justice is done

“so far as possible”,

intuitively, does not feel like the standard is quite high enough.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I am happy to work with the Minister to get the wording exactly right, so that it does exactly what I think we both want.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The Government’s position, in conclusion, is that it is very hard to sit in Parliament and legislate definitively and bindingly—

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We do it every day.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Let me finish the sentence—for all the circumstances that may arise in an individual case. Therefore, although we have guidelines, procedures and so on, ultimately, the management of any particular case, including things such as the use of live links and proceedings in the courtroom, are a matter for the very experienced judge who is looking at the case, the defendant and the witnesses in front of him or her, the judge.

That is why, ultimately, judicial discretion is required. However, we agree with the direction of travel. I have already mentioned some of the things that we are doing to push things further. I am certain that judges looking at our proceedings will respond accordingly and will take a positive, constructive and accommodating view where the issues arise. In fact, they already have a duty under section 19 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 to take into account the views of the witnesses in making their decisions. We feel that that strikes the right balance.

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I completely agree with the hon. Member. Yes, of course, we need robust data to be able to do that. We are in a chicken-and-egg situation because, as the hon. Member highlights, different police forces record different things, so it is hard to grasp the problem. The thing that I am most mindful of is that the opportunity to make changes to the legislation are slight in Parliament, but the Minister has an opportunity now, so I urge him to grasp it.

Does the Minister agree that the punishment should outweigh the potential rewards for stealing pets? At the moment, people receive tens of thousands of pounds for stealing dogs, but they are not given a sentence if they are convicted. I completely understand the work of the taskforce, but we need a positive response, which campaigners and pet owners have called for. There have been some really disturbing cases, with increasing violence used in dog thefts. That is another reason why I want the Government to send a strong message that that is not acceptable and is punishable.

A dog owner was knocked to the ground and punched in a  terrifying attack by two men trying to steal her pet. Allie Knight, 22, was attacked near Mutley Plain, Plymouth, as she walked her pug, Paddy. Mike Jasper was walking his dog Ted—this was awful—a sprocker spaniel, in south London in December after visiting his allotment when he was brutally attacked by two men wearing face masks and Ted was taken. “BBC Breakfast” raised this case, and it highlighted the depth of the loss that someone feels when their pet is taken. A 50-year-old woman was attacked and had her dog stolen while she was out walking in Moira Road in Woodville, Derbyshire. One man pushed her to the floor, and grabbed her two-year-old dachshund called Minnie, while the other held his fist to her face.

Police forces need sufficient resources and training to be able to deal with pet theft in a sensitive manner and highlight resources where owners can turn for support. Blue Cross strongly supported the recent decision of Nottinghamshire police to appoint Chief Inspector Amy Styles-Jones as the first specialist dog-theft lead in the country. Having a dedicated dog-theft specialist in each police force would make a huge difference, and would address the point made by the hon. Member for Stroud about the disparities across the country.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Once again, I am grateful to the shadow Minister and his colleagues for raising an extremely important issue: criminals seeking to profit from the theft of a pet. Sadly, it is a growing trend. Dog owners do not feel safe or comfortable very often, and it can be heartbreaking when a much-loved family pet is taken. Recognising that, the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs have recently created a new taskforce to investigate the problem end to end and find solutions—not just in relation to the criminal offence, which we will come on to in a moment but in relation to prevention, reporting, enforcement and prosecution of the offences. It will make clear recommendations on how the problem can be tackled. We have seen in other contexts—for example, there was a problem a few years ago with scrap-metal thefts from church roofs—how an end-to-end approach can have an effect. We should not look simply at one element of the problem but at the whole thing end to end, and that is what the task force is urgently doing, as well as taking evidence from experts. The Minister for Crime and Policing is also involved, to make sure that police investigation is what it should be.

As we have heard, the theft of a pet is currently a criminal offence under the Theft Act 1968, so the question arises of why we need a new offence. The first thing I would say is that the maximum sentence for the new offence proposed by the new clause is only two years, whereas the maximum sentence under the Theft Act is seven years. The new clause, if adopted, would reduce the maximum penalty available for stealing a pet from seven years to two years, which strikes me as incongruous, given the purported objectives of the new clause.

The shadow Minister made some points about whether the emotional value of the pet was recognised and accounted for. I draw his attention, and the Committee’s attention, to the Sentencing Council guidelines on theft, which are used by judges when passing sentence for theft up to the seven-year maximum. Under the guidance, which judges are bound to use, harm includes the emotional distress caused by the theft. The guidance also talks about the value to the person who suffered the loss, regardless of monetary worth, so the emotional distress and the non-monetary value are baked in already, in black and white, in those Sentencing Council guidelines. Indeed, the table specifying the level of harm sets out that emotional damage and harm to the victim cause an escalation in the sentence, over and above what would be the case based simply on monetary value.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Eighteenth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

There is a lot to speak to in this group of new clauses, all of which cover the extremely serious question of the evidence given by rape complainants and other victims of sexual violence before the court and the need to make sure that they are properly looked after and that no one is deterred from coming forward with their claim. It would be terrible if people had an allegation and did not feel able to make it because they were concerned about the issues that we have talked about this afternoon.

I will take each new clause in order. New clause 57 talks about the rules around the disclosure of counselling or therapy sessions in some circumstances. It is important to set out how the law currently stands. There are already significant safeguards, and it is worth going through them. First, the police may request advice from prosecutors on whether something might be a reasonable line of inquiry. If they believe that medical notes might be a reasonable line of inquiry, they are allowed to approach the counsellor. They are not allowed to approach the counsellor simply because they believe such notes exist; that is allowed only if they believe the notes would support a reasonable line of inquiry.

If the notes do exist and if there is a reasonable line of inquiry, the police may approach the therapist to ascertain the situation, and the therapist may confirm or not confirm that there is a reasonable line of inquiry to pursue whether the notes do or do not exist. If they do exist, and if there is a reasonable line of inquiry, the therapist or counsellor does not disclose the relevant notes unless the victim gives their consent. The victim can withhold their consent and say, for whatever reason—understandably, in many cases—“I am not comfortable having that disclosed.” Unless there is a court order compelling disclosure, which is a significant process that involves going to the court to get an order, the notes are not disclosed.

If the victim agrees that the notes can be disclosed, that does not mean they will necessarily be produced in evidence or disclosed to the defence. That will happen only if there is material capable of undermining the prosecution or, conversely, capable of assisting the case for the defence. So there are several steps to go through before very sensitive, private and personal information gets disclosed, one of which is the victim’s own consent. That can be overridden only by an order of the court.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate how sensitively and proactively the Minister is responding. The problem seems to be the perception as opposed to the reality on the part of the victim and also on the part of the police who, from my constituents’ experience, were routinely saying, “Unless you give us that information, we cannot proceed with the case.” That has a chilling effect, which is why I am pushing for clarity and also a change in the law so that the guidance that should be there now would necessarily flow from that change in the law.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I accept the point that there are instances, such as those that the hon. Lady referred to in her speech and I am sure exist more widely, where victims have had things said to them that are basically not appropriate and that either misrepresent the law as it currently stands or have the effect of deterring someone who would otherwise want to proceed with a case. That is probably one of the things that contributes to the unacceptably low level of rape prosecutions at the moment.

Paragraph 20 of the rape review report explicitly includes working with the police and getting them to take a different approach, frankly, to the one that the hon. Lady described in her speech and intervention. That will avoid the chilling effect. A moment ago, I laid out the law as it stands: it provides significant safeguards, including the victim’s own consent. The issue is not the law, but how the law is being described to victims. That is why this issue is not so much for legislation but for the police and others to communicate more appropriately with victims. I assure the Committee that that is absolutely at the heart of the Government’s agenda for the rape review and other work.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

We do recognise that there are challenges in making sure that offenders leaving prison are given access to the services they need, so that they can get their lives back on track. However, Friday is a working day, and we would prefer to focus our efforts on making sure that those services are available on Friday, rather than on excluding Friday as a release day and therefore concentrating all the releases on just four days—Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday—which, by definition, would mean that release numbers on those days were 25% higher than would otherwise be the case.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear what the Minister says, but the new clause would mean that we could address any issues on a Friday and before the weekend, when no staff are available.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

In terms of ensuring that people have access to the necessary services—we recognise that that needs to be done—significantly increased investment is being made to address the concerns that the hon. Lady has just raised. For example, in January this year—just a few months ago—the Government announced a £50 million investment to reduce crime and tackle the drivers of reoffending. That included work to help develop the Department’s approved premises—those are obviously important when somebody is coming out of prison—to provide temporary accommodation to prison leavers at risk of homelessness in five key probation areas. In addition, earlier this year—again, I think it was in January or February—an additional £80 million was announced, which was aimed at expanding substance misuse programmes. Those two initiatives, funded this calendar year with £50 million and £80 million, are aimed at tackling prisoner homelessness issues and, separately, drug addiction problems, so there is a real commitment to do more in this area.

I would like to turn to the question of Scotland—the shadow Minister’s native home. As he said, it legislated in 2015 to allow release not five days earlier, but up to two days earlier. A Freedom of Information Act request made just a few months ago uncovered the fact that over the six years that Scotland has had this provision, only 20 people have been released early under it, so it has not had an enormous effect in Scotland.

We would like to focus our efforts on making sure that when people are released on a Friday they are properly looked after, instead of increasing the numbers on Monday to Thursday—

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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am listening intently to everything the Minister and his colleague are saying, which is great, but does the Minister understand that we have been promised all this for a long time? Although we are hearing his promises, we are awaiting the outcomes of reviews for which we are not given dates. Women are being murdered and abused.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

My colleague, the safeguarding Minister, tells me that the refreshed VAWG strategy will be published this year, in less than six months. I hope that gives some reassurance to the hon. Lady. If she is asking for action, I would point to the extra £25 million VAWG-specific funding, the new offences created in 2012 and the doubling of sentences in 2017. Those are not promises for the future, but actions that have been taken. She should also note that three quarters of those convicted of the offence get immediate custody, and that immediate custody of 16.9 months is more than three times longer than the minimum proposed in the new clause.

We want to make sure that those found guilty of those bad offences, which are terrible in themselves and can lead to escalation, are getting appropriately punished. But we are trying to strike a balance between that and the need to give the judge the ability to consider the individual case on its merits. That might include, for example, the perpetrator having mental health issues, where treatment might be more appropriate than custody. We need to tread carefully in striking that balance.

Given the action that has been taken and that three quarters of the offenders get immediate custody for a term much longer than the minimum proposed in the new clause, we are trying to strike a balance, which is not easy. There are good arguments on both sides of the issue, but we feel that the current sentencing laws make sense in this context. We have made a commitment to keep this under ongoing review and there are other legislative vehicles that could reconsider the issue. I am sure that the VAWG strategy, which my hon. Friend the safeguarding Minister is overseeing, will consider all the issues in the round, when it reports a little later this year.

These are difficult issues and difficult balances to strike, but I hope that I have explained why I believe the Government’s approach strikes that balance.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I will follow your direction, Sir Charles, by saying just a few words on this clause, which is relatively straightforward and, I think, pretty inoffensive.

Clause 130 simply creates a requirement for probation officials to consult key local and regional stakeholders on the delivery of unpaid work. Unpaid work—or community payback, as it is sometimes known—combines the sentencing purposes of punishment with reparation to communities. We believe that, where possible, unpaid work requirements should benefit the local communities in which they are carried out. Nominated local projects are already popular with sentencers and the public, but there is currently no requirement for probation officials to consult stakeholders on the design or delivery of unpaid work, so members of communities and organisations within particular local areas that are best placed to understand the impact of crime and what might be useful in the local area do not necessarily have their say.

Clause 130 simply seeks to address the gap by ensuring that key local stakeholders are consulted, so that they can suggest to the probation service what kind of unpaid work might be useful in their local area. We hope that local community groups and stakeholders come up with some good ideas that the probation service can then respond to. That seems to be a pretty sensible idea. The probation service in some areas may do it already. This clause simply creates a proper duty, or a requirement, for the probation service to do it. Of course, if we understand the needs of local communities and their thoughts, we can improve the way unpaid work placements operate to support rehabilitation and also help the local community. If the local community can visibly see offenders doing unpaid work in their local area, whether it is cleaning off graffiti, cleaning the place up or whatever else it may be, that will, we hope, demonstrate that the programme is giving back to and improving the local community, but delivering a punitive element as well.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I was about to conclude, but of course I will take the intervention.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I used to run a children’s hospice, we had offenders under probation supervision come in. They were meant to be doing gardening at the children’s hospice, but instead they sat around smoking cigarettes. We kept on raising that with the probation worker, because we had invited the offenders there to give them a second chance, to help with their rehabilitation, to enable them to contribute to the community and so on. But the probation officer said, “What do you want me to do? I can’t beat them; I can’t make them work, but they have to come on these schemes.” Could the Minister give some examples of how the probation service will have the resources and the influence to ensure that people who are out in their local community are actually—

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise, Sir Charles.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. First, I am extremely disappointed and somewhat shocked to hear that people who were supposed to be doing work at a hospice in Rotherham in fact sat around smoking cigarettes. That is obviously shocking and not what the orders are supposed to be about. The hon. Lady says that the probation officer shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, what can I do about it?” Of course, if the person, the offender, was not doing the work that they were supposed to be doing, that would amount to a breach of the unpaid work requirement, and they could be taken back to court to account for their breach, so I am extremely disappointed by the attitude of the probation officer that the hon. Lady just described.

The hon. Lady asked about resources. Extra resources are going into the probation service for it to supervise exactly these kinds of activities, and I would expect them to be supervised and policed properly. I will certainly pass on her concern to the relevant Minister. I have already made contact about fixing a meeting for the hon. Lady and the Prisons Minister that we talked about in this morning’s session, in relation to victims being consulted about probable decisions. The same Minister, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, is responsible for the probation service as well—I am just adding to his workload. I will raise it with him, but I would certainly urge the hon. Member for Rotherham to raise this issue in the same meeting, because I know that the account she just gave will concern my hon. Friend as much as it concerns me.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Thirteenth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Building an extra 10,000 prison cells is very costly. Does the Minister agree that investing more in rehabilitation and preventive programmes might be a better use of the money?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

Of course, we do believe in rehabilitation and prevention, and a lot of work is going on in that area, but we are talking about people who have been convicted of offences such as rape and murder. On Second Reading, Members made the point about making sure that particularly sexual offenders, including rapists, spend longer in prison. There were different views on how that could be achieved, but there seemed to be broad unanimity across the House that such offenders should spend longer in prison, and the clause does exactly that. However, it in no way detracts from the importance of prevention and rehabilitation that the hon. Lady mentioned a second ago.

I should say that caught in this clause are not just sexual offenders who commit offences, including rape, with a life sentence, but also the most serious violent offenders, which includes those who commit manslaughter, attempted murder, soliciting murder, and wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, so I think our constituents up and down the country will welcome the fact that these serious offenders will spend two thirds of their sentence in prison and not just a half.

Provision is also made in this clause for the two-thirds release requirement to apply to those under the age of 18 who were given a youth standard determinate sentence of seven years or more for a sexual offence with a maximum penalty of life, and for the other very serious violent offences just referred to. The changes are made by inserting new section 244ZA into the Criminal Justice Act 2003 to make the necessary provisions. The measures will ensure that the proportion of the sentence reflects the gravity of the offence committed, and are intended to address long-held concerns, both in Parliament and among the public, about the automatic halfway release for serious offenders.

The two-thirds point also aligns with the release point for offenders found to be dangerous and therefore serving an extended determinate sentence, whose eligibility for release by the Parole Board commences from the two-thirds point, so it introduces consistency and coherence into the sentencing regime as well. On that basis, I commend this very important clause to the Committee.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

Let us move on to clause 108, which relates to a new power for the Secretary of State to prevent the automatic release of offenders serving a standard determinate sentence, where release is ordinarily automatic, and instead refer them to the Parole Board in certain, very limited circumstances.

With a standard determinate sentence at the moment, there is automatic release at either the halfway point or, for more serious offences, at the two-thirds point, as per clauses 105 and 106. Clause 108 creates a new power to allow the Secretary of State to refer a prisoner who is in custody and assessed as dangerous to the Parole Board, to decide whether or not they are safe to release. Prisoners who are serving a standard determinate sentence, for any offence, who have become dangerous or who are identified as being dangerous while they are in prison get this referral.

To be clear, we are not creating a new kind of indeterminate sentence like the old imprisonment for public protection sentences, created in 2003, in which the sentence could carry on forever if someone were considered to be dangerous. The maximum sentence originally passed by the court on conviction and sentencing still applies.

We are not overriding the sentence of the court, but we are saying that if an offender is identified as dangerous they may continue to serve their determinate sentence until its end, unless and until the Parole Board, after the release point, decides that they are safe to release. It means that if someone becomes dangerous, they do not automatically get released early.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister will see from an upcoming amendment that I am interested in this clause. Can he give some clarification? Will he define “dangerous”? I assume that is within the prison context, as opposed to the crime being served for.

Will the Minister give some details on when and why the Secretary of State might intervene? At the moment, depending on the Parole Board’s decision, the Secretary of State already has 21 days to intervene. Will he explain what the clause will bring to the table?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I am happy to answer all those questions, which are good questions. The 21-days provision that allows the Parole Board to think again has nothing to do with this; it is completely separate. It is a live issue in the terrible Pitchfork case, which Members will be aware of.

The provision in which the Parole Board takes a decision to release and the Secretary of State may ask it to think again, within 21 days, applies to any Parole Board release and is a matter currently being considered. That is wholly separate from this provision. It relates to any Parole Board release decision and was prompted by the awful Worboys case two or three years ago.

Here we are talking about where a prisoner is serving a standard determinate sentence and would ordinarily be released automatically without any Parole Board involvement at all, and the Secretary of State says, “Well, I think actually they are now dangerous”—I will come on to what that means in a minute—“and instead of automatic release, can the Parole Board look at the case and decide whether they are suitable for release, once their release point is passed?” That is different from the 21-days reconsideration.

The hon. Member for Rotherham asked for the definition of becoming dangerous and whether it means dangerous in a prison context. The answer is no. It does not mean dangerous in a prison context; it means dangerous to the public. One might ask what “dangerous to the public” means. The definition of “dangerous” in this context has a high threshold—we anticipate this provision will be used extremely rarely; it is not going to be a commonly used provision. It is that an offender is at “significant risk” of causing “serious harm” to the public by committing murder or one of the serious offences listed in schedule 18 of the Sentencing Act 2020, such as manslaughter, rape or terrorist offences, and that the risk cannot be sufficiently managed through the use of licence conditions.

If a referral is made, the Parole Board will consider it. It may say, “We will release them anyway” or, “We think there is a danger; we are going to keep them inside.” It can only keep them inside prison until the end of the original sentence that the court handed down.

I will give an example not caught by our new provisions. To take the example the shadow Minister used, let us say there is a six-year sentence for kidnapping. Currently, there would ordinarily be automatic release after three years. If for some reason there is evidence that the person who has been committed for kidnap might commit a terrorist offence or might kill someone, the Secretary of State can refer and the Parole Board will then consider, “Are they dangerous? Can we release them?” If it decides to keep them in prison, they can be kept in prison up to the six years of the original sentence, but no later. During the final three-year period in my example, the Parole Board will look at the case periodically.

If, after reference to the Parole Board, the prisoner thinks there has been an unreasonable delay—“I should have been released after three years, but it is now three years and six months and no one has looked at it; this is unreasonable”—they can refer the matter to the High Court to get it sorted out. There is a safety mechanism so that there cannot be an unreasonable delay.

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I will take that as a check on the reins. I have nothing further to say on amendment 145, Sir Charles.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s comments. I have worked extensively with the Government’s victims team and it is fantastic. The victims code is great, but only if it is implemented. The problem we find is that people are not notified when the offender is coming up for parole consideration, so their rights are not activated because they do not know that that situation is occurring.

I accept his generous offer of meeting the hon. Member for Cheltenham, which I will take up. With that reassurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I beg to move amendment 132, in clause 109, page 99, line 11, leave out

“resulted from a clear mistake”

and insert

“it would not have given or made but for an error”.

This amendment ensures that the language used in the new provision about when the Parole Board can set aside decisions aligns with a recent High Court judgment which ruled on the circumstances when a Parole Board decision can be revisited and makes a drafting clarification.

I am sorry to have spoiled the anticipation by jumping early. May I speak to clause 109 as well?

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Fourteenth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Tuesday 15th June 2021

(1 year ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I will follow your direction, Sir Charles, by saying just a few words on this clause, which is relatively straightforward and, I think, pretty inoffensive.

Clause 130 simply creates a requirement for probation officials to consult key local and regional stakeholders on the delivery of unpaid work. Unpaid work—or community payback, as it is sometimes known—combines the sentencing purposes of punishment with reparation to communities. We believe that, where possible, unpaid work requirements should benefit the local communities in which they are carried out. Nominated local projects are already popular with sentencers and the public, but there is currently no requirement for probation officials to consult stakeholders on the design or delivery of unpaid work, so members of communities and organisations within particular local areas that are best placed to understand the impact of crime and what might be useful in the local area do not necessarily have their say.

Clause 130 simply seeks to address the gap by ensuring that key local stakeholders are consulted, so that they can suggest to the probation service what kind of unpaid work might be useful in their local area. We hope that local community groups and stakeholders come up with some good ideas that the probation service can then respond to. That seems to be a pretty sensible idea. The probation service in some areas may do it already. This clause simply creates a proper duty, or a requirement, for the probation service to do it. Of course, if we understand the needs of local communities and their thoughts, we can improve the way unpaid work placements operate to support rehabilitation and also help the local community. If the local community can visibly see offenders doing unpaid work in their local area, whether it is cleaning off graffiti, cleaning the place up or whatever else it may be, that will, we hope, demonstrate that the programme is giving back to and improving the local community, but delivering a punitive element as well.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I was about to conclude, but of course I will take the intervention.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

When I used to run a children’s hospice, we had offenders under probation supervision come in. They were meant to be doing gardening at the children’s hospice, but instead they sat around smoking cigarettes. We kept on raising that with the probation worker, because we had invited the offenders there to give them a second chance, to help with their rehabilitation, to enable them to contribute to the community and so on. But the probation officer said, “What do you want me to do? I can’t beat them; I can’t make them work, but they have to come on these schemes.” Could the Minister give some examples of how the probation service will have the resources and the influence to ensure that people who are out in their local community are actually—

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I apologise, Sir Charles.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

The hon. Lady makes a very good point. First, I am extremely disappointed and somewhat shocked to hear that people who were supposed to be doing work at a hospice in Rotherham in fact sat around smoking cigarettes. That is obviously shocking and not what the orders are supposed to be about. The hon. Lady says that the probation officer shrugged their shoulders and said, “Well, what can I do about it?” Of course, if the person, the offender, was not doing the work that they were supposed to be doing, that would amount to a breach of the unpaid work requirement, and they could be taken back to court to account for their breach, so I am extremely disappointed by the attitude of the probation officer that the hon. Lady just described.

The hon. Lady asked about resources. Extra resources are going into the probation service for it to supervise exactly these kinds of activities, and I would expect them to be supervised and policed properly. I will certainly pass on her concern to the relevant Minister. I have already made contact about fixing a meeting for the hon. Lady and the Prisons Minister that we talked about in this morning’s session, in relation to victims being consulted about probable decisions. The same Minister, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, is responsible for the probation service as well—I am just adding to his workload. I will raise it with him, but I would certainly urge the hon. Member for Rotherham to raise this issue in the same meeting, because I know that the account she just gave will concern my hon. Friend as much as it concerns me.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Eighth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Thursday 27th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister’s speech is incredibly reassuring, and I am glad that it will now be in black and white in the transcript, because it gives the comfort that we need. However, hearing everything that he is saying, is there any objection to putting the words “online” or “international” in the Bill, just for clarity and just because there is a change? The likelihood of people reading through all the guidance when they are making a decision is slender, whereas they will go to the Act and it would be there in black and white, which would give a lot of comfort.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. My clear understanding is that the police already prosecute for these offences. I will go away and double-check with colleagues to make sure that there is no scope for misunderstanding by law enforcement authorities: the police; the National Crime Agency; and the Crown Prosecution Service. Having investigated that question further, I will write to her with the reply to her question. The law permits it, and the law is being used. However, I will just seek that assurance that there is no misunderstanding by practitioners. My understanding, as I say, is that they are prosecuting and getting some convictions, but I will double-check her point and get back to her in writing.

I think that speaks to the issues raised in new clauses 40 and 41. In relation to new clause 39, I think that the essence of what the hon. Lady is seeking to achieve is delivered by clause 44, as it is drafted, by making the maximum penalty the maximum sentence for the underlying act that is committed. To take the most extreme and distressing example, if someone is being raped and that has been incited, facilitated or arranged online, that facilitation will now—if we pass this clause—lead to that maximum sentence applying. It will be the underlying offence that triggers the maximum sentence, which I think addresses the point that she is quite rightly making in new clause 39. I believe that clause 44 addresses that issue.

Finally, there is the question of new clause 37, which is concerned with double jeopardy. I completely accept, and I think the Government accept, that this is an incredibly difficult area, where a very difficult balance has to be struck, because on the one hand we have long-standing interests of natural justice, which say that someone can only be tried for a given offence once for reasons of fairness, natural justice and finality, but on the other hand there are the points that the hon. Lady has very powerfully made concerning these very distressing offences.

As the hon. Lady said, this issue was looked at by the Law Commission in the early 2000s and then legislated for via the 2003 Act. In fact, the Law Commission initially only recommended that the exemption to double jeopardy should apply to murder. However, when Parliament debated this question, it decided to expand the range of exemptions, which were covered in schedule 5 to the 2003 Act, to cover, in addition to homicide, other offences, as she said, such as rape, penetrative sexual offences, kidnapping and war crimes. Such offences are generally punishable by a term of life imprisonment, or in one or two cases by the exceptionally high standard determinate sentence of 30 years.

A line has to be drawn as these things are balanced, which is an extremely difficult line to draw, because there will always be offences that are just over the non- exception side of that schedule 5 line, which are very grave offences. The hon. Lady very powerfully described why those offences are so appalling, offensive and terrible. She is right—they are—but we have to try to strike a balance in deciding where that line is drawn. Clearly, offences of rape and sexual assault involving penetration are exempted—they can be tried again—but those that do not involve penetration are not in schedule 5, so the rules on double jeopardy apply.

The Bill does not change that, and there are no plans to change where the line is drawn. As the hon. Lady raised the question in such powerful terms, I will raise it with more senior colleagues in Government to test their opinion—I can make no stronger undertaking than that—to ensure that her point, which she articulated so powerfully, gets voiced. I will let her know the response. I do understand her point, but there is a balance to be struck and considerations of natural justice that need to be weighed as well.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I appreciate what the Minister is saying. In that discussion, will he throw in the potential of another review? In relation to this crime, things have moved on so much, not in the last 20 years, but in the last five years, so it would be good to hear his colleagues’ thoughts on that as well.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

Well, I have reached the end of my remarks—

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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I think that was the constituency case raised by the hon. Member for York Central. In that case, the victim alleged rape—she was saying that there was no consent—and in cases where there is no consent, it is obviously appropriate that it is investigated as rape and prosecution is sought for rape. The legislation we are discussing today deals with cases where there is consent. I do not know the particulars of the case—the shadow Minister said that it was not subsequently proceeded with—but that is a non-consent case. We are discussing cases where, even with consent, it is still held that an offence has been committed.

I think we are agreed about the need for reform. We have listened carefully to the cases that have been made, and have made these proposals. The shadow Minister and the hon. Member for Rotherham have raised a number of questions through their amendments and in their speeches, the first of which is, “Why shouldn’t this be much broader? Rather than specifying sports and religion, why not—as amendment 7 does—have a very broad clause that says

‘if A is regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of B’?”

That is an extremely broad set of definitions, and it is not completely clear from that very broad drafting who might or might not be included in them. The shadow Minister asked, “Why be specific? Why not be general?” The first reason for wanting to be specific rather than general—specifying these two roles, religion and sport, to start with—is so that people have certainty about which side of the line they are on. If the clause is drafted very broadly—“caring, training, supervising”—supervising is an extraordinarily broad term, so it would not be immediately obvious who is included and who is not included. One of the features of good law is that the people who might be subject to it have some pretty good degree of certainty about whether they are going to be affected or not. The Government’s concern about terms as broad as “supervising” is the question of what is covered by them. What is included, and what is excluded? There are a lot of things that could be covered by the term “supervising”.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As I am sure the Minister is aware, amendment 7 is a direct lift from the Sexual Offences Act 2003, so the definition that he is pulling apart now is already law. The bit that we are challenging is adding the specific job titles to the legislation, which I think is already fit for purpose.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
- Hansard - -

I understand the hon. Lady’s point. However, the point about providing some degree of certainty for someone in a particular role in this context, which is at the edge of the law—where the law is evolving—none the less has some validity.

Having said that we want to be specific rather than general for the reason just outlined, the question that then arises—which the shadow Minister and the hon. Lady have asked—is, “Why these two roles? Why sports and religion to start with?” I stress the words “start with”. The reason is twofold: first, those particular roles carry an unusual degree of influence.

Religion is a powerful force. Ministers of religion or people who lead religious congregations often wield very extreme and high levels of influence over their congregations and their followers. It therefore seems appropriate to recognise the high degree of influence that flows from that particular religious context.

In the case of sports coaches, there is clearly a degree of physical proximity. In fact, the shadow Minister, powerfully and eloquently illustrated in describing the case of Hannah—the case of the swimming coach—how it is that sports settings are so easily abused. That is why sport was selected as one of the two specific areas. It also flows from the data. In fact, the shadow Minister referred to the January 2020 report of the all-party parliamentary group on safeguarding in faith settings, chaired by the hon. Member for Rotherham. It analysed the 653 complaints mentioned by the shadow Minister and, in 495 of those, the type of role that the person was discharging was identified. The figures I have are slightly different from the shadow Minister’s—they are broadly similar, though—and the top two categories were sport, at 31%, and faith, at 14%. Therefore, the two roles here are the two top roles revealed by that survey. Of course, there were other roles with smaller percentages.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The frustration of wearing a mask is that the Minister cannot see that I am smiling. He is quoting back all the arguments I have been making for the last five years—I am grateful that they have sunk in. He is right that we went for the most obvious and biggest offenders, but that is now. As I said in my speech, I am concerned that in five years it may be counsellors, whom we have not mentioned today but have a huge influence over the people they support, or an online form that turns online grooming into real abuse. I completely agree with him, but this measure needs to be future-proofed so that we do not keep having the same arguments as the professions and influences change.

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I pay tribute again to the work done by the hon. Member in this area over many years and the work done by her all-party parliamentary group. I am glad that we agree on the starting point, because she has called for it and the data of her all-party parliamentary group points to it as well. The question is how it is best future-proofed and whether one tries to do so with the general provisions in amendment 7, which would run the risk of giving us a lack of clarity and potentially inadvertently criminalising some situations that hon. Members may not feel appropriate, or with the other approach of starting with these two specifics—I think we agree they are the right starting point, because the evidence points there—and adding further positions as the evidence base develops. That is what proposed new section 22A(4) of the 2003 Act will do: it will give the Secretary of State power to add other specific roles as that evidence base develops.

--- Later in debate ---
Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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The criteria are not specified in subsection (4), which simply says:

“The Secretary of State may by regulations amend subsections (1) and (2) to add or remove an activity in which a person may be coached, taught, trained, supervised or instructed.”

However, providing the profession or category of person being added is involved in coaching, teaching, training, supervision or instruction—provided they do one of those things—they are capable of being added.

On the criteria that might be applied, that would be for the Secretary of State and a Delegated Legislation Committee to determine. I suggest that what would make sense is for the criteria to consider two or three things: first, the degree of influence that the person has—that case has been met in the case of sports’ coaches and religious ministers or practitioners—and, secondly, that there is an evidence base to demonstrate that abuse of that position of authority is occurring. Again, that case has been made for sports and ministers or practitioners of religion, because the data that the APPG received shows that.

I suggest to the Committee—this is not in the legislation—that if those two criteria are met, it might be appropriate to make further additions, but that would be for the Secretary of State and a Delegated Legislation Committee to decide, case by case. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Rotherham, the APPG and others will make that case. The mechanism is there to add things pretty quickly from month to month, or year to year, as the cases get laid out.

In conclusion, it strikes the Government that the provision is the best way of protecting vulnerable people—we have started with sports and religion—but we have also created the facility to expand the list quickly and easily by delegated legislation, as the case gets made by campaigners over time. On that basis, I hope that the Committee will be content to see clause 45 stand part of the Bill. I hope that the provisions that I have been explaining mean that amendment 7 does not need to be pressed to a vote.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have heard everything that the Minister said. I 100% put on the record my gratitude that our work to research and prove the case around faith leaders was heard and listened to. However, my concern is the clarity. No legislation is effective unless it is out in the public domain, whether that is for the professionals who need to use it or, for example, the victims or families who need to know it is there.

As the Bill stands, my concern is that, were we to go to for the

“regularly involved in caring for, training, supervising or being in sole charge of”

persons as the definition that means it is a crime, any parent or individual would know what that meant. I do not want to press the amendment to a vote now, but I will reserve the right to later, because 21 MPs spoke on this in the Chamber, so I think it needs to be heard by the Minister. We need that clarity so that any parent or child knows what their rights are. Just having certain professions defined muddies the waters further rather than a blanket definition based on role and responsibility. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have had a fairly thorough debate, so I am not sure there is any need for a clause stand part debate.

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46

Criminal damage to memorials: mode of trial

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Seventh sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Thursday 27th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I hear everything the Minister is saying and it is very plausible, but I want to challenge her assertions on necessary, proportionate and clear lines of inquiry, based on the answer I received to a written question to the Home Office on 11 November. I asked about the process of extracting mobile phones. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Croydon South replied:

“Immigration Enforcement search all migrants”—

at this point, “all migrants”, so we do not know yet whether they are an asylum seeker, being trafficked or are here for nefarious purposes—

“upon arrival at the Tug Haven at Dover. In the event that a mobile phone is discovered it will be seized as part of an investigation into the organised crime group involved in the facilitation.”

Again, we do not know if they are a criminal or a victim at this point, but the phone will be seized regardless.

“The migrant will be informed verbally that the phone will be kept for evidential purpose for three to six months. They are provided with a receipt and contact details. Attempts will be made to communicate this in their first language, although this can be challenging due to external factors.”

So people arrive here, immediately their phone is taken away from them and they might not even know why. It is great that within “three to six months”, they are meant to have that response—

Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Because they are here illegally.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Sorry, Minister? I do not think that the reality on the ground—the reality that the Home Office acknowledges—backs up what the other Minister is saying about reasonable, proportionate and lines of inquiry, because it is happening to every migrant coming into this country.

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill (Fourth sitting)

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Thursday 20th May 2021

(1 year, 1 month ago)

Public Bill Committees
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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Thank you.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Ellie, I asked you earlier whether you had any concerns about the Bill putting additional pressure on the judicial system. Does the Law Society have any other concerns about the Bill that you have not already mentioned?

Ellie Cumbo: No, I think I have had the opportunity to cover most of the things that the Law Society would want to. Perhaps I should have added into the conversation about pre-charge bail that we take the same view in relation to the removal of the presumption against bail: we understand the aim, but do not think this is the best way of achieving it. We would like to retain that presumption on the basis that it is still perfectly possible to use bail, but it can only be used where it is appropriate and proportionate to do so. We think that is an important safeguard.

Serious Criminal Cases Backlog

Debate between Chris Philp and Sarah Champion
Wednesday 20th January 2021

(1 year, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Philp Portrait Chris Philp
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I say to victims: we are there to support you, to hear you and to seek justice for you. As my hon. Friend knows, we are hiring 20,000 extra police officers to keep victims safe. We are keeping the court system running in these difficult circumstances. We are getting back to a period in which magistrates courts are clearing the backlog and, I believe, the Crown court shortly will do so. So I say to victims: justice will be done. Your voice will be heard. Come forward. We are here for you. Do not hesitate—we want to hear your story. We will listen to it, we will act and we will make sure justice is done.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab) [V]
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Shockingly, only 1.4% of those reporting rape secure a conviction, and that figure was before the news of deleted police records and the covid court backlog. For the last 10 years, this Government have run down the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, courts, prisons and probation, so what confidence can the Minister give to victims and survivors of sexual violence that they will be able to secure justice?