HC Deb 13 March 2003 vol 401 cc424-5
17. Mr. Ben Chapman (Wirral, South)

If she will make a statement on specialist domestic violence prosecutors within the Crown Prosecution Service. [102719]

The Solicitor-General (Ms Harriet Harman)

Each of the 42 areas of the Crown Prosecution Service has a specialist lead prosecutor on domestic violence. About 13,000 cases of domestic violence are dealt with by prosecutors each year, mostly in the magistrates court, with the most serious cases going to the Crown court. The CPS is doing important and very difficult work to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and victims are protected. I strongly support its commitment and professionalism and commend it to the House.

Mr. Chapman

Although I welcome both the fact that domestic violence is increasingly being reported and the success that the CPS is having, we still need to recognise that it represents a quarter of all violent crime. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in commending the work of the standing conference of women's organisations on the Wirral and Deeside, which has proactively and effectively tackled the problem? Will she also agree that the message that we need to get out loud and clear is that domestic violence is a serious crime and that it is not merely a matter for the privacy of the individuals concerned? That is true whether it be in relation to domestic violence against women, as it generally is, against men, or in mixed homes or single sex homes.

The Solicitor-General

I endorse my hon. Friend's comments. Domestic violence is not a private matter that goes on behind closed doors and is for the family to deal with—it has to be a public policy issue that is treated as seriously as an assault on a stranger in the street. I join him in his commendation for the Wirral and Deeside forum, with which the Crown Prosecution Service is fully involved. I emphasise to the House that our determination to tackle crimes of violence means that we must tackle domestic violence, because, as my hon. Friend says, it represents a quarter of all violent crime.

Mr. John Burnett (Torridge and WestDevon)

I hope that the Solicitor-General can assure the House that no domestic violence prosecutors and no members of the Crown Prosecution Service sell information to the media. What are her Department's policies in relation to briefing the media? She will be aware of the difficult balance to be struck between freedom of speech and the right to a fair trial. The Attorney-General is drawing up new guidelines on that. Will the Solicitor-General confirm that her Department will consult widely before any precipitate new guidelines are drawn up?

The Solicitor-General

The important point that the hon. Gentleman raises involves four issues: first, as he said, the freedom of the press; secondly, as he said, the right to a fair trial; thirdly, the privacy of the individual; and, fourthly, the confidentiality of police investigations. In addition to the guidance that the Attorney-General is drawing up, on which he will consult—I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman gets a copy of the draft guidance and offer to place it in the Library so that other hon. Members, including Conservative Front Benchers, can see it—the Lord Chancellor's Department is reviewing certain aspects of the matter, particularly payments to witnesses, and the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport is considering the issues. We must recognise that when things go wrong it leads not only to the financial cost of lost trials, but to a terrible human cost to the people involved.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley)

Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that the Lord Chancellor's Department is organising a series of conferences on domestic violence in the Asian community? Conferences have already been held in Bolton and Brentford and another will be held in Bradford on 3 June. They are not being held because of a particular problem in that community, but because the subject is taboo and often skirted round. The hope is to encourage an open debate within the community. Someone from the Crown Prosecution Service will attend the Bradford conference, and it may be useful for a special prosecutor to be there to explain their position.

The Solicitor-General

I will ensure that that happens and that the CPS joins that important gathering in my hon. Friend's constituency. I will respond to her point about the Lord Chancellor's Department by simply commending to the House the work that is being done by the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton).

Domestic violence crosses all races, all cultures, all creeds, all classes and all socio—economic groups; it is not confined to any one or other. My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) has made it clear that she will back up women in her constituency if they seek her help or that of the criminal justice system to tackle these crimes.