§ '.-The Crown Prosecution Service shall be under a duty to—
- (a) inform a complainant of the progress of the charge against the accused, of the dates of any court hearings, and of the outcome of any trial.
- (b) consult the complainant about the nature of the charge to be brought against the accused, receive the views of the complainant about the level of the charge and, should the Crown Prosecution Service accept a lesser charge, inform the complainant in writing of the reasons for reducing the charge.'.—[Mr. Michael.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.10.45 pm
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Morris)
With this, it will be convenient to consider the following:
§ New clause 12—Notification to victim or family of offender's release—
- '(1) Where an offender has been convicted of—
- (a) sexual offence involving violence;
- (b) murder;
- (c) manslaughter; or
- (d) causing grievous bodily harm
748 and has been given a custodial sentence, the judge may direct that the Secretary of State shall either—
- (i) notify such persons as he may specify, who may include the victim of the offence or, where appropriate, the family of the victim, before the offender is to be released, either on home leave or on parole, of his impending release; or
- (ii) make arrangements for such persons to be informed.
- (2) Where the judge makes no direction under subsection (1) above, an application may be made at any time after the trial for such a direction to be made by the court.
- (3) When the judge makes a direction under subsection (1) above an application may be made at any time after the trial for such a direction to be varied or discharged provided that the court shall be satisfied that the victim or such other persons referred to in the direction have been consulted and had an opportunity to make representation to the court.'.
§ New clause 47—Victim protection injunction—
- '1. Where a person convicted of indecent assult, rape, murder or manslaughter is sentenced to a term of imprisonment, the Crown Court may also impose a victim protection injunction upon that defendant.
- 2. A "victim protection injunction" is an order under which the defendant shall be prohibited from entering a defined area for a specified period of time, where
- (i) a defined area shall mean an area to be determined by the court, but not more than ten miles radius of
- (a) the usual home of the victim or victims; or
- (b) where the defendant is being sentenced on conviction for murder or manslaughter, the usual home of the close family or legal guardians of any victim
- (ii) a specified period of time shall mean a period of time to be determined by the court but in any event shall be
- (a) not less than two years; and
- (b) not more than ten years; or
- (c) where the defendant is being sentenced on conviction for murder or manslaughter, not more than twenty years.
3.—(1) A victim protection injunction may be imposed at the discretion of the court, after consideration of all the circumstances of the case, and with particular regard to
- (a) the age of the victim or victims; and
- (b) the nature and seriousness of the offence or offences; and
- (c) the distress caused to the victim or victims by the offence or offences; or where the defendant is being sentenced on conviction for murder or manslaughter, the distress caused to the close family of the victim or victims; and
- (d) the impact of the victim protection injunction on the defendant and his close family; and provided that the court is satisfied that
- (a) distress will be caused to the victim or victims of their close family if the injunction is not imposed; or
- (b) the impact of the injunction upon the defendant and his close family will not be so onerous as to be unjust, having regard to all the circumstances of the case.
(2) The court shall take into consideration in determining the length of a term of imprisonment the effect of such a victim protection injunction has upon the defendant and may reduce the period to be served in prison may up to a maximum of one third of the sentence at its discretion.
4. Breach of any of the terms of a victim protection injunction shall be contempt of court under the Contempt of Court Act 1981.
5. The victim protection injunction shall be enforceable for breach in the Crown Court
- (i) upon written complaint to the Crown Court by any of the victims or any member of their close family or legal guardians such as the victim protection injunction seeks to protect;
- (ii) by the Crown Prosecution Service upon their receiving written complaint from any one of the victims or any member of a victim's close family or legal guardians such as the victim protection injunction seeks to protect.
6. Any person who has been made the subject of a victim protection injunction may be arrested without warrant where
- (i) at the time of arrest, the police have reasonable cause to believe that person is in breach of that victim protection injunction or
- (ii) the police have received written complaint made by any of the victims or any member of a victim's close family or legal guardians such as the victim protection injunction seeks to protect, and such written complaint appears to the police to have been made in good faith.
7. The defendant or his legal representative may apply at any time to the Crown Court to have the victim protection injunction varied or discharged, on notice to each victim or their close family or legal guardians, unless the court accepts that the whereabouts of the same cannot be ascertained, provided that
- (i) each victim (or their close family or legal guardians as the court thinks appropriate) consent to the variation or lifting of the victim protection injunction; and subsection (iv) below applies; or
- (ii) none of the victims or, where the injunction was made in respect of a conviction for murder or manslaughter, none of the close family or legal guardians of any victim, any longer resides in the area defined by the victim protection injunction or would suffer unjust distress if the injunction were varied or discharged and subsection (iv) below applies; or
- (iii) the defendant satisfies the court that compassionate grounds exist for the victim protection injunction m be temporarily varied to accommodate a specific short-term purpose such as attending a family funeral; and
- (iv) the court considers it reasonable in all the circumstances, including the circumstances of any victim or victims or their close family or legal guardians, for the victim protection injunction to be so varied or discharged.
8. "Close family" shall mean
- (i) spouse;
- (ii) children or stepchildren who reside in their patents' home;
- (iii) where the person is under the age of 18, the parents, stepparents or guardians of that person;
- (iv) a cohabitee.'.
§ Mr. Michael
I gather, with some regret, that to ensure that we have time to debate these important clauses we have been deprived of a contribution from that Stakhanovite Trappist, the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle), because we are not going to debate statutory local partnerships. We have debated that issue, however, during the passage of several criminal justice Bills and our position is well known.
The new clauses pay due regard to the interests of victims within the criminal justice system. Constituents and people involved throughout the system have complained that not enough is done to inform victims of what is happening about a complaint, including, for example, the progress of a charge against the accused; the dates of court hearings; and the outcome of a trial. Victims often know nothing of those matters.
Victims are not consulted, often on pertinent matters. Victims can discover that a case has been dropped or that the charge has been reduced to a less serious one without their ever having been consulted or being given the opportunity to express a view.
It is right that, at the end of the day, the relevant decisions should be taken by the Crown Prosecution Service and we do not suggest that the victims should have the right to veto those decisions. It would be only right and proper, however, and a useful discipline on the CPS when making its decisions, for it to have to inform, in writing, the victim of the reasons for reducing or not proceeding with a charge.
Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends have expressed concern at the way in which charges have not been pursued. They are aware that many victims feel that not only have they been subject to nasty and personal crimes, 750 including violence, sometimes extreme, but they have been damaged again by the criminal justice system's failure to deal with the offence adequately.
New clause 12 is equally uncontentious. It calls for the victim or the victim's family to be notified of the offender's release, in appropriate circumstances. The new clause would direct that that information should be provided to the judge—discretion is given to the court. The clause would not make notification mandatory, but would merely ensure that in circumstances where such information is important, it should be provided.
In the past year, on more than one occasion serious comment has been made by judges about the severity of an offence. Those judges have expressed the hope that a young person should be able to grow up without the fear of further interference or personal damage. The victim or a victim's family have discovered, however, that the perpetrator of sometimes horrific acts, commented on by the judge, is walking the streets. That causes great damage to the victim. The House will be aware of one particular case in which the victim committed suicide because he was so shocked by the release of the offender. It is therefore sensible for the House to make provision for the courts to be able, but not to require them, to issue appropriate directions in appropriate cases.
I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Warwickshire, North (Mr. O'Brien) intends to refer to the circumstances in which a person could be prevented from going to certain areas because of offences committed. That should be decided, yet again, at the discretion of the courts, at the time of sentence and in appropriate cases only. That would ensure that all circumstances were taken into consideration.
In view of the importance of the next debate on new clause 13 on racial attacks, and its importance to communities throughout the country, the debate on new clauses 11, 12 and 47 must, of necessity, be brief. It is an important debate, however, because it calls on the Government to do one thing only—to give consideration to victims and put them at the heart of the criminal justice system. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the new clauses, as that would be a step forward in giving proper consideration to victims; a consideration which they do not receive now either from the CPS or from the criminal justice system as a whole.
§ Ms Coffey
I want to refer in particular to new clause 12.
My interest in ensuring that victims are notified, on request, of the release of an offender grew out of a constituency case. A woman who had been subject to a particularly serious attack first learned of the release of the offender from the local newspapers. As the House can imagine, that was a great shock to her, because the newspapers knew of his release before she did, and she had no time to adjust to the fact.
The victims charter states that it is not generally practicable to tell the victim of the release of an offender and gives evidence for that, in that it may be many years after the event or victims may have moved away. Certainly in that case it is impractical, but in a situation where there has been an especially horrendous attack on someone and the victim may have spent several years trying to get over the emotional trauma of thet attack and may have residual anxieties, it is important that the victim is prepared for the release of the offender.
751 Nothing can ever make up to a victim for the trauma of an attack on them—at least, nothing in terms of what the penal system can hand out to the offender—but I do not think that that is the point. All victims have to be prepared for the eventual release of the offender, and it would be extremely helpful to the victims if they were notified in advance.
I am not saying that they should be notified of the exact prison from which the offender has been released or the exact time or the day that the offender will be released. They should simply be given some warning that that release is imminent so that they can prepare themselves for it and not find out, as my constituent did, from the local papers, which to her was a traumatic event, as a result of which she felt that she was not being dealt with fairly by the penal system. That advance notification could help balance out the situation.
§ Mr. Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston)
I shall be as brief as I can, but I wish to mention a very important matter. Last week, Allyson Burgess had to resort to making a private prosecution, incurring a £15,000 legal bill, to see justice done following the death of her husband, who was killed by a drunken driver. The Crown Prosecution Service official, she said,knew who I was but seemed to find me a nuisance".She said in The Daily Telegraph on Friday:the system is geared to criminals and not victims like me.Her solicitor, Mr. Martin Smith, told me today that the technicality that resulted in that fiasco could become even worse if the effects of ex parte Chaudhry are not dealt with by primary legislation. Effectively, the Law Lords have said that, if the CPS says that the only charge is careless driving, even people with sufficient means will not be able to pursue a private prosecution, as the Chaudhry case will prevent it.
The primary object of my speaking tonight is to bring to the attention of the House the stupidity of the current position, and to gain a better deal for victims of crime.
This week, I met in my surgery the brother of a victim of an identical case to that of Mrs. Burgess. What is more, there may be as many as 600 similar cases in the system. Mr. Peake, the victim's brother, wrote to the Home Secretary on 19 March 1994, pointing out the loophole and asking:Why is it that my family are suffering and yet we are the innocent?I shall not dwell on the facts of the case as the CPS may find grounds for a further prosecution beyond the only remaining charge against the driver relating to the fact that he left the scene of the accident—"accident" being a word that I use with some bitterness.
This clause will not bring back Mr. Peake's brother. It will not bring back Mr. Burgess. What it will do, however, is enable the victim, or in these cases the victim's family, to engage in a discussion with the CPS and ensure that any moves towards a lesser charge come only after every stone is turned, which is obviously not the case today.
§ Mr. Mike O'Brien
Last year, 14-year-old Andrew Olden committed suicide on hearing that the man who had sexually abused him would be released from prison and would be returning to his community. The attacker, Kevin Woods, aged 33, had served 10 months of an 18-month sentence. Andrew's mother said at the inquest that Andrew 752 could not live with the thought that that man would be free again in the community. It had a grave and traumatic effect on Andrew, who was taunted by other schoolchildren in his village about Woods's return to the village. Andrew Olden hanged himself.
What about the girl raped by a classmate? The sentence initially hit the headlines because the girl was given £50 to have a holiday and the rapist received a £500 fine, although it was subsequently increased to two years' custodial sentence. The victim and her parents are terrified about the return of that rapist to her locality, and have repeatedly contacted the police to express their concern.
What about the mother who, several months ago, was raped by a group of youths? They locked her in her flat and raped her repeatedly over a 24-hour period in the presence of her young toddler. They all live in the same area and will, in due course, be released and return to that area.
New clause 47 attempts to do something about that situation. Victims should not have to face their attackers in the street so soon after the crime. They should have at least some time to come to terms with the attack. The new clause seeks to protect victims of rape and other violent crime, and the families of those who have been the victim of murder or manslaughter, by preventing, in certain cases where the court decides that it is appropriate, their attacker from re-entering the community where the victim lives.
When a victim protection injunction is imposed, the judge would take the impact of that on a defendant and his or her family into consideration in determining the length of the prison sentence. Injunctions are regularly given in domestic violence cases.
The new clause would give criminal courts the power to protect victims. Such a power has previously been held only by civil courts. It would be enforceable by the victim on complaint to the police, so would not impose substantial extra burdens on police time. The important point is that victims, particularly very young victims, would have the right not to have to meet their attacker in the street—perhaps grinning—soon after the event.
The victim protection injunction would put the rights of victims before those of their attackers. It is a new idea and, I hope, a good one. The criminal justice system does little enough for victims. If we can at least do this, the death of 14-year-old Andrew Olden will not have been completely in vain.
§ Mr. Maclean
With your permission, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and as the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) is here, may I first correct something that I said on courts martial under new clause 75? I wish to clarify my intervention in the the hon. Gentleman's speech. He asked about the possibility of appeals from courts martial in Scotland being heard at an Appeal Court in Edinburgh, "as they now are". I said that that would continue to happen, but I am afraid that we were both wrong and I apologise for misleading the House. I may have raised the hon. Gentleman's expectations in that regard, but the appeal of a Scottish service man or any other service man against his conviction by a court martial will not necessarily be heard in Scotland by Scottish judges.
Although the Court Martial (Appeals) Act 1968 provides that Scottish judges may be nominated to sit in the Court Martial Appeal Court, and the Lord Chief Justice can 753 choose where that court sits—in Great Britain, Northern Ireland or anywhere else—it usually sits at the High Court in London with English judges. It applies the provisions of the service discipline Acts in the same way as the courts martial themselves. The overriding principle is that the court martial and any appeal from it will apply the provisions of the service discipline Acts consistently, wherever it sits.
I apologise for the fact that my earlier remarks were wrong and for inadvertently misleading the House.
§ Dr. Godman
I need hardly say that I am extremely grateful to the Minister for putting the record straight:. May I ask a further question on appeals from courts martial? Have any such appeals been made to High Court judges in Scotland, if not Edinburgh, in the past five or six years?
§ Mr. Maclean
It will not surprise the hon. Gentleman to hear me say that I do not have that information. I undertake to write to him as soon as possible with all the details, which is, I suspect, the safest course of action.
To return to new clause 11: the Government's acceptance of a number of the royal commission's recommendations designed to improve the treatment and care of victims and witnesses was announced by my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary on 6 October 1993. These included the idea that victims should, as far as possible, be kept informed of the progress and outcome of cases and that, when appropriate, the CPS should pass on information to the victims and witnesses direct, rather than through the police. Consideration is being given to how these recommendations should best be taken forward to supplement measures already in place relating to the treatment of victims and witnesses.
The hon. Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Mr. Michael) seeks to impose an absolute duty on the CPS to keep the victim informed of developments at all stages of the prosecution. That goes well beyond what the royal commission recommended and the Government accepted. Of course it is right that victims should be kept in touch with what is happening in their cases. The victims charter assigns to the police the main responsibility for that. The royal commission examined the issue in its report last year and concluded that that was sensible as a general rule. The police will already have had contact with the victim and will be in a better position to pass on information. The Government agree with that.
In addition, there are practical reasons for that view. The CPS has just over 2,000 lawyers, the police establishment in England and Wales has more than 128,000. The task would be impossible for the CPS to carry out without enormously increased resources, which are not available. The CPS is an independent prosecution authority, and as such does not act directly on behalf of the victims; it acts in a wider public interest. Both the victims charter and the royal commission accept that that is the right line to take.
To give victims the right to be consulted about the level of charges to be brought against the accused would fetter the independence of the CPS, which would not serve the interests of justice. Of course, the victim's interests are important in deciding whether it is in the public interest to prosecute. The CPS will take them into account, as the code for Crown prosecutors provides. On a practical level, comprehensive consultation with the complainant concerning the nature and level of the charge would build in delay and increase the time taken to deal with the case.
754 As for new clause 12, I am sure that the motivation behind it is a real concern for the victims of crime and a desire to help them. I applaud and share that sentiment. I cannot, however, accept what the new clause would do. It would give judges the power to direct the Secretary of State to notify specified people,who may include the victim of the offence",of the impending release of an inmate convicted of one of the listed offences. I do not want to labour the point, but such a directive power of the judiciary over the Executive would have constitutional implications. We might all entertain doubts about it on that ground alone.
On the face of it, it may seem reasonable and sensible that victims and their families should be told of the impending release of the offender who victimised them—indeed, there are already arrangements for that to happen when appropriate—but by no means all victims want to receive the information. The offender may be released many years after the trial and the events that gave rise to it, by which time the victim may have succeeded in putting his suffering behind him. Victims may have moved to distant parts of the country, and may have completely recovered from their unhappy experience of the crime. It would not help such people to be notified of the release of the person who caused them so much distress—whether or not they wanted the information.
Subsection (3) would allow the victim and/or the victim's family to apply for the direction under which they were to receive the information to be rescinded or otherwise altered, so long as the direction in question was made under subsection (1). I do not think that a sensible or realistic remedy for victims who do not wish to be given information about the release of the offender. It would be an additional imposition, which many would not know how to set about handling. Furthermore, it would not be a remedy available in respect of a direction made by the court under subsection (2).
As for life sentence prisoners—all those sentenced for murder and some of those sentenced for the other three offences mentioned in the new clause—the victims charter already says that release plans for those serving life sentences should be prepared with regard to the wishes of the victim or his or her family. Arrangements are in place to ensure that the probation service gets in touch with the victims whenever possible to discover their views. If they are anxious about the offender's release, their anxieties can be met by imposing restrictions on the offender in his release licence. That too is quite different from what would happen under the new clause.
I cannot accept the new clause. It is inappropriate for the reasons that I have suggested and I think that the underlying objective is already being addressed and increasingly being achieved by collaborative work involving the Prison Service, the Probation Service and others.
New clause 47 would enable the Crown court to subject an offender who has been convicted of one of the offences of indecent assault, rape, murder or manslaughter and who is sentenced to a term of imprisonment to a victim protection injunction. That would amount to an exclusion order to ban him from the defined area. The practical difficulties for the police of enforcing such an order would be formidable, even if the area from which he was prohibited from entering were to be defined in recognisable terms, such as district council areas or a county.
The forbidden area is defined in terms of a radius of 755not more than ten milesfrom the victim's "usual home" or, in the case of an offender who has been sentenced for murder or manslaughter,not more than ten milesfrom the "usual home" of the victim'sclose family or legal guardians".How is the offender who is subject to one of the victim protection injunctions to know when he has come nearer than the specified distance to his victim's home, particularly in a large conurbation? How is a police officer who is to enforce it supposed to know?
That is not all. The clause defines the close family of the victim who is dead as a result of murder or manslaughter by the offender to include the spouse, the children living with their parents and cohabiters, but all too often such people are also the close family of the offender as well as of the victim. There are undoubtedly cases in which it is right to keep an offender away from his near relations, but it can hardly be right to make statutory provision to enable the court to order it almost as a matter of course.
Even where the victim is not related to the offender, the offender has his own family and they are quite likely to live in the same area as the victim. Do we really want to prevent the offender from having contact with his own family? Is that likely to encourage him to turn his back on violence? Victims and the close family of dead victims do not simply live in the vicinity of their usual home. They may have jobs at some considerable distance from their usual home and may spend most of their waking hours in the vicinity of their workplace, which could not be covered by a victim protection injunction. They may have more than one home. Which home is the usual one?
There are many problems with the clause although, superficially, it looks attractive. However, it has considerable problems and I am not minded to accept it. I have listened carefully to the arguments by Opposition Members on their three new clauses but I am afraid that at present I am unable to accept them.
§ Mr. Michael
The Minister is obviously confused. He has not bothered to read the new clauses, as is clear from the way in which he responded. He has not bothered to use the time since the Bill was in Committee to examine the Opposition arguments made there. If he had used that time properly, he would know that the suggestion is not to fetter the work of the Crown Prosecution Service: it is to require it to consult. Nor is it a matter of fettering the court. It is to give an opportunity to put protections in place where that is appropriate in the circumstances of the victim or victims or the family of the victim.
I ask the Minister to read the report of the debate and to examine some of the examples that have been given. He should respond in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Mr. Miller), who raised specific points. I do not want to delay the House now, but I hope that the Minister will do my hon. Friend the courtesy of responding to him outside the House. The Minister answered most of his own points himself; otherwise the text, if read properly, will answer the points that he made.
The essence of the debate is that the victim needs to be treated with respect, understanding and sensitivity because the victim has suffered the direct effects of the crime. Victims should have information and their views should be 756 taken into account. They should be respected as witnesses and within the whole system. That is the essence of our argument, but it is clear that the Minister will not accept it. We shall return to the issues on many occasions until he and other Ministers accept the importance of placing the victim at the heart of the criminal justice system. However, for tonight I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.