All 5 Elliot Colburn contributions to the Victims and Prisoners Bill 2022-23

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Tue 20th Jun 2023
Victims and Prisoners Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee stage
Tue 20th Jun 2023
Tue 27th Jun 2023
Thu 29th Jun 2023
Mon 4th Dec 2023

Victims and Prisoners Bill (First sitting) Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Victims and Prisoners Bill (First sitting)

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I am chair of the all-party parliamentary group on restorative justice.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler (Aylesbury) (Con)
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I would like to declare, in the interests of full transparency, that prior to my election I was a non-executive director of what was then Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and a member of the Sentencing Council. I was also a magistrate for 12 years and previously a member of the independent monitoring board of HMP Young Offenders’ Institution Feltham. I hope that covers the full gambit.

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None Portrait The Chair
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If Ellen comes back online and we have time, I will bring you back in, Jess.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Q Dr Siddiqui, at the beginning of your evidence to Jess you mentioned that there was no mention or support and nothing included in the Bill for women with protected characteristics. I should declare an interest as a member of the Women and Equalities Committee. Can you expand a little more on what you mean by that, and on what you would like to see included in the Bill to better support women—black and minoritised women, LGBT+ women and so on—that is not currently included?

Dr Siddiqui: There is a duty to collaborate, but there is actually a lot of collaboration at a local level with funding agencies at the moment, but unfortunately they do not support migrant victims or victims from black or minority communities sufficiently to provide adequate services. You cannot have a duty to collaborate without having a duty to fund community services. More specifically, you need to fund specialist “by and for” services that are at the frontline in the community, providing services to enable migrant and other minority women to access mainstream services, including the criminal justice system.

There is also a need to change the law. The Bill on its own will not do it. You need to be able to remove the no recourse to public funds requirement for victims of domestic abuse so that they are able to come forward to and present themselves at the police, social services and elsewhere for help and support. At the moment, they cannot do that because they are frightened of being destitute or being treated as immigration offenders and deported. If you are going to look at protected characteristics, you have to look at migrants, at their specific experiences and at how they cannot use the criminal justice systems and local services. There is a need not only to improve funding for services, but to change the law.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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In the interest of time, I will cede the floor to my colleague.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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Q Thank you. I have a couple of questions and the first is for Jayne. The Government have come forward with some guidelines on counselling records. Do you think they go far enough? What do you think could be in the Bill to strengthen the use of—or lack of use of—counselling records in such cases?

Jayne Butler: The announcement made in the Bill does not specifically mention counselling material. In our opinion, it does not bring about any new protections, but just effectively reinforces what already exists in law around the Data Protection Act.

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Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby
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Q You said that experience with the police can make children feel like they are criminals. What needs to be changed or amended in the Bill, or added to it, to address that?

Dame Rachel de Souza: First off, and it is the point I made before, it is about recognising in the definition of victims children who have been criminally exploited; that comes up time and again. If I had more time, I could give you pages of quotes from children who, because of their experiences—whether it was being strip-searched or something else—have spent years feeling that they were in the wrong when they were actually the victims. That definition would be protective in itself, to start.

However, we also need to recognise that children get very worried if they have not come forward to the police to say they have been victims. We need to make sure that they are recognised in the victims code as well. I think that would help and I have some definitional changes and some word changes that I can write to the Committee about, which I think could help there. Often, it is about just two or three words, but it could make that work.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Q Briefly, you said in relation to the duty to collaborate that there should also be a duty of accountability. Following on from my colleague Rob’s line of questioning about the distinct nature of youth justice and youth crime, who should be responsible for overseeing that duty of accountability? We heard from the Domestic Abuse Commissioner that it should be the Ministry of Justice, but in the case of children do you think that should be your office or another body, or should it be the MOJ?

Dame Rachel de Souza: We heard a lot from the people before me about how services really are not set up for children, and we have started to talk about how they can be set up to deliver for children. Ultimately, of course, Government and Government Departments have a responsibility, but I think it is about ensuring accountability at local level as well. It is always going to have to be multi-agency, because there are different strands of support for children, but we need to find a way, and with children it is probably in relation to the victims code. There is some value in focusing on youth justice holding that, but we need to try to go for the holy grail, which is to make multi-agency support work. I do not want to sound like a broken record, but I think that looking at how the Lighthouse has done it in Camden, where it has drawn together the different strands of health, social care, policing and youth justice, and actually made that work, can give us a blueprint for how to go forward.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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Q Children of paedophiles really suffer adversely. Should they be regarded as victims in terms of the definition in the Bill, so that they can get the information and support services they need?

Dame Rachel de Souza: Yes. I was so delighted during the passage of the Bill that Daisy’s law was taken seriously; we worked with Daisy. I think that is a really important step forward, and I feel similarly about children of paedophiles, because it will be the same argument.

Victims and Prisoners Bill (Second sitting) Debate

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Victims and Prisoners Bill (Second sitting)

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Jess Phillips Portrait Jess Phillips
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Q For example, we already made a duty on the local authorities: unitary, tier 1 local authorities had the duty to offer refuge accommodation to victims of domestic abuse, and had to give priority to victims of domestic abuse in housing. In reality, that priority means that a person is almost certainly on a waiting list for a year—in fact they would be lucky if it were a year. Similarly, there is access to children’s services. The two biggest areas of victims’ lives—in the case of the duty to collaborate, which is only for domestic and sexual abuse—are housing and children’s services. The vast majority of this will fall to the local authority. Once you have this duty, is there any sense that it will not just be another thing that creates long waiting lists?

Cllr Bell: The pressure will increase. I was the previous cabinet member for community safety, which included housing, domestic abuse services, homelessness, asylum and refugees, as well as community safety and our band A properties, which are for most urgent need. Domestic abuse is in that band A category. A person could still be waiting for a minimum of a year.

Ultimately, our refuges fill up very quickly. They remain at capacity and that can be seen right across the country. That is not specific to my authority either, so you will see it right across the landscape. There are not enough houses being built to provide accommodation that is safe for people. I know that that is not necessarily what we are here to talk about today, but you do have to address that. That is why I have a concern about the duty to collaborate. Obviously, I want it to work. I want us all to work together, but I just do not think that the duty alone is enough.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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Q I will stick with the theme of duty to collaborate, and I should probably declare an interest as a former local government councillor and a paid employee of an integrated care board in the past. We know full well from the example of the integration of health and social care how even getting the NHS and local government to work closely together has been a challenge. In fact, that is still a challenge even to this day. Catherine, where do you think the responsibility should lie for overseeing the implementation of this collaboration at a local level? Should it be police and crime commissioners, the NHS, or the councils? Where do you think that it would be best placed?

Catherine Hinwood: I am going to talk to you about the implementation of the serious violence duty and the way in which that worked, and some of the lessons that I think we should learn from that. Under the serious violence duty, police and crime commissioners were given the responsibility of overseeing the implementation of the duty and overseeing all of the funding for labour costs, which were given to responsible authorities for the set-up of the duty, as well as allocating the money for commissioning costs, which, again, were given once a new duty was put on responsible authorities.

What we saw with the way in which PCCs have taken that responsibility is that it has had a very justice-focused lens in the way that they decided to distribute labour costs. We know from the Home Office’s implementation work that a significant amount of money that ought to have been spread evenly across responsible authorities has not gone to ICBs. A significant number of ICBs did not receive their implementation costs.

What we have learned from the serious violence duty is that if you want to have some kind of equality of arms across responsible authorities to be able to ensure that they are all implementing the duty— I think that it is a great point about wanting to see ICBs much more in this space; they are talking about the fact that they want to be more in this space. If you put a PCC, for example, as the lead body—the convener—in relation to this, then the implementation of it needs to be done in a way that you are ensuring that funding is distributed equally and that responsibilities are clearly set out. I am not sure that I would put a lead authority or a lead body in place for the duty. There must be a way of ensuring equality between each of them.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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Q Surely someone has to oversee this. Who will pull the bodies together?

Catherine Hinwood: The way that I have read the legislation and the way that I understand the guidance is being considered is that there will be local flexibility as to what kind of body will be the convening body. For example, one area might say that they will use an integrated care partnership, one might use a violence reduction unit, and another might use a criminal justice board. If you build that flexibility in, I do not know how you can then give one body the oversight for the implementation. It might be that a national body needs to oversee it, I really do not know. But this is the kind of stuff that we need to work through, and work through in the guidance.

None Portrait The Chair
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Order. I will suspend the Committee for Divisions in the Chamber. I will suspend for 15 minutes for the first Division and 10 minutes for the second and any subsequent ones. We are expecting at least two votes, so we will suspend for at least 25 minutes.

Victims and Prisoners Bill (Sixth sitting) Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Victims and Prisoners Bill (Sixth sitting)

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I thank the Minister for what he says, but it does not given me the reassurances that I want, because things are not working in practice. I will not press my amendment to a vote now, but I am minded that the new clauses will come at the end of our consideration. I may well press the matter then if he is unable to give those reassurances. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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I beg to move amendment 26, in clause 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“(e) should be able to access and, where appropriate, be referred to restorative justice services;

(f) should be able to access and, where appropriate, be referred to services and support that are tailored to their individual needs.”

I am grateful to have been called to speak, Sir Edward, but I appreciate that my speech may not last for long before we are called somewhere else. My amendment relates to the inclusion of restorative justice in the victims code set out in clause 2. That was a recommendation that the Justice Committee made in its pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill, but I have tabled the amendment as a Back-Bench MP and as chair of the all-party group on restorative justice.

To give a little background and context, I was inspired to do so because of a heartbreaking and harrowing story. I know that the Minister has heard it before, but I will repeat it for the benefit of the Committee. A lovely couple living in the London Borough of Sutton, Ray and Vi Donovan, suffered the most unimaginable tragedy when their son Christopher was murdered. [Interruption.]

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On resuming—
Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I will resume by telling the story of Ray and Vi Donovan, a couple who live in the London Borough of Sutton. They went through the tragedy of losing their son, who was murdered several years ago.

A long time ago, Ray and Vi recited to me their experience of going through the criminal justice system. The police found the three boys who were responsible—they went to trial, were convicted and put behind bars. But Ray and Vi said that they never felt that they—as victims of the crime, and having lost their son in such tragic and gruesome circumstances—had had a voice at the trial. They did not have the opportunity to share their side of the story or explain how it had impacted them; it was all to do with the perpetrators.

Ray and Vi acknowledge that some time has passed since the trial; however, they have made it their life’s goal to set up a restorative justice charity in Christopher’s name and to work with wider restorative justice providers around the country to promote its use, where appropriate, and to improve access to it. That is the premise of the amendment. Studies show that only about 5% of victims are aware of restorative justice; it is often buried in a large pack or binder that victims of crime get handed.

I want to be clear about what I mean by restorative justice, because it often gets confused with the American version. The UK does it very differently. Restorative justice has no impact on sentencing, parole or anything like that; in the criminal justice space, restorative justice is the opportunity for a victim of crime, in appropriate circumstances, to meet the perpetrator. That allows them to ask questions. The most obvious question that victims of crime have is, “Why did this happen to me?” Restorative justice is designed to answer the important questions that victims often have, to which the court is often unable to provide answers.

Restorative justice is not meant to make a sentence more lenient, or to be something that a victim or perpetrator is forced to go through. Obviously, there will be circumstances where that would not be appropriate. Not every victim will feel like they want to take part, and it would not be appropriate for every victim. For example, in some cases a child would not be appropriate for restorative justice. Equally, there will be perpetrators who will not engage constructively—use the opportunity only to further traumatise their victim. The amendment is meant not to mandate the use or promotion of restorative justice, but simply to make it a right in the victims code that a victim of crime be made aware of the potential for restorative justice, and allowed to access it where necessary, after taking into consideration all the required safeguarding provisions.

I hope that the Minister will say a little more about the work that his Department wants to do in the restorative justice space. I appreciate that he may not want to accept the amendment today; however, I would be grateful for some reassurance that the Bill will enable and empower victims who want to go through the process. I stress that RJ must always be victim led. It always has to come from the victim. I would welcome some reassurances from him on how the Bill could achieve that.

Rob Butler Portrait Rob Butler
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My hon. Friend makes some important points about restorative justice. I have seen it work very effectively both in the courts and in the prison and youth justice systems. Does he agree that there are already some very successful examples of restorative justice, particularly in our prison, probation and youth offending services, and that quite a lot of work is already being done—including for children, who he said he would probably rule out of scope? In fact, restorative justice can be very effective for under-18s.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I would certainly not agree with a blanket ban for children, but I appreciate that additional safeguarding concerns would need to be considered for young victims. I agree with him; I have seen this myself. I have been invited to witness such sessions happening in prisons, and some amazing work is going on. The results cannot be understated. Something like 80% to 90% of offenders will not go on to reoffend if they go through restorative justice, according to studies. I cannot remember the name of the university that conducted them, but I am happy to clarify it to the Minister later.

Janet Daby Portrait Janet Daby
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I thank the hon. Member for making such a great speech in favour of restorative justice; I am with him on that point. Restorative justice is effective in prisons, courts and education, but would he agree that if it is to have the necessary impact in prisons, it needs to be fully resourced?

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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The APPG that I chair produced a report into the state of restorative justice in the UK, and looking at resourcing RJ was one of our nine recommendations. I ask the Minister to take a look at those recommendations again to see how we can better allow victims to access RJ when they feel that they want to and when it is appropriate.

I do not deny that excellent work is being done. I commend the practitioners and prisons engaging with the issue, but far too often I hear from victims who want to go through this process that they find it a struggle—or else victims have no idea that restorative justice exists. That is why enshrining it as a right in the victims code would help to raise awareness and ensure that victims can access it if they want to. I will bring my remarks to a close, but would be grateful to hear any reassuring remarks from the Minister.

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the work that he and the all-party parliamentary group that he chairs do on this important issue. I am grateful to him for giving us an opportunity to debate restorative justice. He and I have spoken about it in the past; as I have highlighted, we are committed to the effective use of restorative justice in appropriate cases.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for highlighting Ray and Vi Donovan’s case and situation as an example of how restorative justice can work well. I know that when it is delivered in the right circumstances it can result in improved victim satisfaction and reduced reoffending, bringing benefits to victims, offenders and their communities.

We support local agencies providing restorative justice in the devolved model that came in a few years ago. We looked to police and crime commissioners to fund services locally, as they are best placed to assess local need. We are encouraging greater co-commissioning between police and crime commissioners and regional probation directors.

The second code principle in the Bill is already clear that victims

“should be able to access services which support them (including, where appropriate, specialist services)”.

That covers all types of support services. We would consider it to include restorative justice services where appropriate.

The code also goes further. Right 4—to be provided with information when reporting a crime—is clear that victims are entitled to information from the police about restorative justice and how to access such services in their local area, and that all service providers will consider whether victims would benefit from this information at any stage of the criminal justice process. We are also using the Bill to create a duty for agencies to raise awareness of the code, including information about restorative justice, so that victims know what services they can, and should, receive.

I hope my hon. Friend will not press his amendment; he said that it is essentially a probing amendment. Specifying different types of support services in primary legislation might, we fear, inadvertently narrow the current broad coverage, but he raises some very important points.

First, we must be cautious of a general entitlement to access to restorative justice. That would not always be appropriate because offenders must voluntarily agree to participate, as my hon. Friend highlighted. To give him some hopefully positive news, I am open to considering alternative approaches that the Government can assist with to promote the effective use of restorative justice in appropriate cases. I read his report carefully and, as luck would have it, I have written to him—I think I signed it today—responding over four pages to his nine recommendations. In that letter to him, I offered to meet with him outwith this Committee to engage on these issues and see what more we can do to work together. Given that, I hope my hon. Friend will not press his amendment to a vote. I look forward to exploring the issue with him in more detail in that meeting, should he wish to take me up on it.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn
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I am grateful to the Minister. That is incredibly reassuring and I look forward to reading his response when it lands. On the basis of those reassurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Victims and Prisoners Bill (Seventh sitting) Debate

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Department: Ministry of Justice

Victims and Prisoners Bill (Seventh sitting)

Elliot Colburn Excerpts
Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab)
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I beg to move amendment 4, in clause 2, page 2, line 25, at end insert—

“(3A) The victims’ code must—

(a) require criminal justice bodies to take all reasonable steps to identify and record any change of name by a perpetrator, and

(b) require criminal justice bodies to inform a relevant victim when a perpetrator changes their name.

(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A)—

‘perpetrator’ means a person whose conduct or alleged conduct results in another person being a victim as defined by section 1 of this Act;

‘relevant victim’ means a person who becomes a victim as a result of the perpetrator’s conduct.”

This amendment would require criminal justice bodies to monitor name changes of perpetrators and inform victims of any name changes.

The amendment is about sex offenders who are changing their names to avoid detection. As of yesterday, it had been signed by 24 MPs from five different parties, including a former Home Secretary. I hope hon. Members, and particularly the Minister, will take on board the severity of the consequences of this practice, which is happening daily across the country.

For nearly three years, I have been raising this serious safeguarding loophole. Registered sex offenders are changing their names without the knowledge of the police, and I will evidence that as I go on. Unless that loophole is closed, it will continue to make complete nonsense of the schemes on which the public rely to detect offenders: the sex offenders register, the child sex offender disclosure scheme, the domestic violence disclosure scheme and the Disclosure and Barring Service. Of course, a number of these schemes are named for victims and survivors. The domestic violence disclosure scheme is also known as Clare’s law—it enables someone to check whether their new partner has a history of domestic violence offences—and the child sex offender disclosure scheme is also known as Sarah’s law. All these schemes become redundant if the offender changes their name.

It is breaking the law for registered sex offenders to change their name. They are meant to notify the police within three days of doing so. That is very clear, but it relies on a registered sex offender—someone who, by their very nature, looks for vulnerabilities in systems that they can exploit—to do the right, honourable and legal thing and to tell the police that they have changed their name. I say to hon. Members that that is as likely to happen as—well, I don’t know, but something that is very, very unlikely to happen. And the evidence backs that up.

For those three years, I have been raising this issue with Ministers in both the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice. So far, as a consequence of that, there have been two reviews, but it has been decided that they should be internal. I understand the reasons for that—we do not want to give sex offenders a handbook on how to do these things—but nothing has been published about any changes that have happened as a consequence of those reviews, and we should all be deeply concerned about that. If the Minister can tell me today that changes have been put in place, and it is just that we have not been notified, I will be very comfortable with that and very reassured; I will say that the Minister is doing his job by ensuring that these things happen. So I look forward to his reply.

The issue is not just sex offenders changing their name; they are also meant to notify changes of address—changes of personal details. These are referred to as notification requirements. The issue currently is that, when they do not inform the police about changing their name, they literally disappear. I raised this loophole with my former district commander, and he did not even know about it. He said to me, “Sarah, how am I meant to catch someone who has breached their notification requirements, when I don’t know who they are?” That is a very good point. This is not “Luther”—or whatever other detective show it is that we watch—where there is this great, amazing database and all these CCTV images, and it is possible to track all these thousands of people. It just does not work like that. We rely on people doing the right thing, but unfortunately sex offenders rarely do.

In response to my written parliamentary questions, the Home Office confirmed that more than 16,000 offenders were charged with breach of their notification requirements between 2015 and 2020—in that five-year period, 16,000 were charged. But, again, we have to know who they are to be able to charge them, so the true scale will be much bigger. The Safeguarding Alliance freedom of information request to the Crown Prosecution Service found that over 11,500 registered sex offenders were prosecuted for failing to notify changes of information between 2019 and 2022. I need to say, for transparency, that the breach could have been for a change of name or other details—for example, a change of address—but it is still concerning that they are not notifying these things.

Although it is clear that offenders are changing their names and not disclosing their new name to the police, the exact scale remains impossible to capture. New data secured by the BBC a couple of months ago demonstrates the same ongoing pattern, allowing offenders to slip through the cracks. Over 700 registered sex offenders have gone missing in the last three years. It is highly likely that they breached their notification requirements without getting caught, making them an active risk to the public. I am sorry, but there is not the rehabilitation that we need for sex offenders, and they continue their pattern of behaviour. However, only 31 of the 45 police forces responded to the BBC FOIs, so the scale will be much bigger than we know.

Della Wright is an ambassador for the Safeguarding Alliance and a survivor of child sexual abuse. I have worked with Della and the Safeguarding Alliance throughout, on both this amendment and raising the risks, and I am incredibly grateful to them for all the help and support they have given. Della has bravely chosen to speak out and tell her story in support of so many other victims affected by this serious safeguarding loophole. I pay huge credit to her; her tenacious campaigning is what brought this issue to public attention and, initially, to me.

When Della was a child, a man came to live in her home, becoming one of her primary carers and repeatedly sexually abusing her. Years later, when Della reported the abuse, her abuser was already known to the police; he had committed many further sexual offences against many more children. During that time, Della was made aware that his name had changed. He changed his name at least five times, enabling him to relocate under the radar and to evade justice.

When Della’s case was finally brought to court, her abuser had once again changed his name—this was between being charged and appearing in court for the plea hearing. That is not uncommon, and it slows down the whole court process, because the court papers need to be issued in the new name. That places additional distress on the victim and makes a complete mockery of the court justice system. Just think how tightly packed the court system is; on the day, the court will have to pull the case and try to find another spot, which inevitably puts trauma on the victim. The victim will have been working for months with their independent domestic violence adviser or independent sexual violence adviser, friends and family to get them to a point where they can be a witness, and then, on the day, the case gets dropped because someone can change their name.

At this point, let me just pause and say that, by the time I finish this speech, any hon. Members here could have changed their name legally. It can be done online for free. There is an enrolled and an unenrolled deed poll. I think the enrolled is £45, and it then gets published. I completely understand why a victim of domestic violence or stalking might not want to go on that. There is also the unenrolled, where it costs on average about £10—but it can be done for free—to change a name.

Sadly, Della’s case is far from unique, and I imagine that a number of Members here will have had survivors in their constituency come to them. There are survivors who have discovered that their abusers have reoffended, but it is discovered that they are using a different name only once they have been caught. My amendment would require criminal justice agencies to actively monitor name changes by perpetrators, including before their trial, so that victims can remain informed. That could prevent a lot of trauma for victims, help to reduce the number of offenders going missing and help us to put in the associated safeguarding.

I thank the Clerks for their help in drafting this amendment. Up to this point, I have focused on the people who are already on the registered sex offenders list; they are a known risk to us. However, police forces around the country have alerted me to the common practice of offenders of changing their name at the point of, or just before, being charged. They do that to keep their birth name clean so that if they are charged or convicted under the new name, at the end of the process they can revert to their original name and have a clean record. I did not realise that that was a common thing. There is also the issue of people with dual nationality who do that. If they hand over their passport as a condition of pre-charge bail, they will still have their original passport in their original name. Such a practice is a real, live risk.

When someone is investigated before they are charged, we have pre-charge bail conditions. When someone is accused of such grievous offences, which they are likely to continue, I do not think it is in any way a violation of their human rights—or whatever the argument is that is going to be put—if one of those pre-charge bail conditions is that they cannot change their name. Obviously, if the investigation goes forward and the charges are dropped, those conditions would be dropped. Once that person is off the sex offenders register, that requirement would be dropped. Given the gravity of the offences that they are accused of and the likelihood of their perpetuating them, that is something we should take seriously to protect everyone.

I have spoken a lot about sex offenders, but the amendment could, at the Minister’s discretion, cover other offenders too. One notable example I am sure everybody is familiar with is Colin Pitchfork—a rapist and murderer who changed his name. I raise this example to show that, although we might be familiar with a case, we might not know about someone changing their name. When we look at local papers, it is quite common to see “aka” and that people are changing their names on a regular basis.

Families deserve to know if their relative’s murderer is living under a new name, because that at least guards against the trauma of relatives not knowing that that person has been released, for example. Sadly, in the cases I know, Facebook seems to be the most common way that people find out about this.

I think the reason that Ministers have not acted on this issue to date is not that they do not understand the risks—when I have raised it with them, they have all understood the risks—but because it goes into the “too difficult” drawer. I get that; this is messy, and there are likely to be some associated costs. So I have tried to find a solution for the Minister.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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The hon. Lady is making an excellent speech on an incredibly serious matter, which other hon. Members have raised. She supported the ten-minute rule Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher), and the matter was also raised on Second Reading by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), so I know that colleagues feel very strongly about it. The hon. Lady mentioned that it is put into the “too difficult” drawer”. May I urge the Minister through her to ensure that that is not the case? Although this issue might be difficult, that does not mean that we should not tackle it.

Sarah Champion Portrait Sarah Champion
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I very much hope that the Minister has heard that. This is an issue that, when we start looking for it, we start finding it. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mark Fletcher) came to it after a constituency case, and we have been working together to try to find a solution. I am sure that all of us will have examples; we just do not necessarily know what is going on at the time.

Experian and RELX believe that their business model uses enough data to track offenders if the police ask them to, and the police are currently asking them to on other areas of concern. For example, if the offender created a new mobile phone account or started registering bills to a new name, Experian and RELX could then inform the police of that pattern of behaviour. There are solutions to this problem if we have the will to implement them. More than that, we already have a solution in place: the College of Policing’s guidance states that police can take pre-emptive action where an offender is likely to change their identity or leave the country—and I suggest to the Minister that almost every sex offender is likely to change their name if they think they can get away with it.

Victims and Prisoners Bill Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate
Department: Ministry of Justice
Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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The point that the hon. Lady raises does not directly relate to antisocial behaviour, because often what she is talking about is criminal in many ways. As I set out in Committee, we believe that where ASB is criminal, it would already be captured under this legislation. I suspect that she may develop that point in her remarks later.

Another area that has been raised, which my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Dame Maria Miller) will speak to, is non-disclosure agreements and how they may prevent victims from being able to seek the support they need. I particularly thank her for her constructive engagement on this important topic. I also thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), although she is not her place. I recognise that non-disclosure agreements are misused if they prevent someone from speaking about what they have experienced, whether it is criminality or equivalent. While this Government recognise that NDAs, also known as confidentiality clauses, can and do serve a valid purpose to protect commercially sensitive information and deliver finality, they should never be used to stop victims of crime getting the support they need. I also note changes in this respect in higher education, if memory serves. I reassure the hon. Lady and my right hon. Friend that we continue to work closely with the Department for Business and Trade, which holds overall policy responsibility for NDAs, to carefully consider how best to address the issues they have raised, including, where appropriate, through legislative options as this legislation progresses.

I will touch on some of the concerns raised by Members that do not require legislation, which we will address by bringing forward non-legislative measures. On code compliance, we will set out a non-legislative notification process that shows clear consequences for non-compliance in guidance. We will publish more detail on that shortly. We will also make updates to the victims code, including adding further information on how victims can access pre-trial therapy and get more timely information about, for example, restorative justice and how victims of crime overseas can access support.

Elliot Colburn Portrait Elliot Colburn (Carshalton and Wallington) (Con)
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As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on restorative justice, I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I appreciate that he has said that he does not want to use this Bill as a vehicle to take through legislative changes to access to RJ services, but could he set out in a bit more detail the non-legislative measures that he is planning to bring in to help improve access to restorative justice services for victims?

Edward Argar Portrait Edward Argar
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his engagement on this issue. Thanks to his intervention and those of campaigners, and his tireless work to ensure that victims are given the right opportunities to participate in restorative justice, I am pleased today, at the Dispatch Box, to commit to the following changes. I will ensure that our new commissioning guidance for police and crime commissioners due to be published next year will include specific information on restorative justice services so that those responsible for funding services understand these services when considering how best to address local need. I will also consult on a new entitlement in the victims code for victims to be given information about restorative justice services at the point of sentence, rather than the point of reporting, which I appreciate may not be the right time for consideration by either the victims or offenders. I hope that those additional measures will improve awareness and provision of restorative justice, which I recognise can be extremely valuable for victims and offenders in appropriate cases. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his work in driving forward this change.