A piece in yesterday’s Telegraph:
There come times in our lives when a case so horrific comes to light that it has a profound impact on our national psyche, prompting broad and challenging questions for society. The 2002 Soham murders were one such case and, now, the appalling killing of Sarah Everard looks set to be another. Although direct comment about this case is not appropriate given the ongoing criminal investigation, this does not mean that we cannot have a wider, national conversation about how better to protect the public. I have viewed these issues from multiple perspectives over the years.
As a criminal barrister, I met many victims of sexual and domestic abuse. One element ran through the vast majority of these cases: a desire by perpetrators to assert control over their victims. Too often, the criminal justice system itself, however much it tried, could not redress that balance. As a part-time judge, I have sentenced abusers but been frustrated by the lack of options available at the time.
As a backbencher, I campaigned to reform and strengthen the law to protect victims of stalking and domestic abuse. As a minister, I took through the ground-breaking legislation to make coercive control in a relationship a criminal offence. Now, as Lord Chancellor, I am in a position to do even more to protect people from predatory and abusive behaviour, and the Home Secretary and I aren’t wasting time in doing just that.
Our landmark Domestic Abuse Bill will soon become law. It will introduce new provisions to ban the so-called rough sex defence, to extend the law against revenge pornography to cover the very threat of publication, and to create a specific offence of non-fatal strangulation. These crimes are all disproportionately suffered by women.
The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill, which I introduced with the Home Secretary last week, contains more that will protect women and girls who are victims of crime. We will lengthen jail time for serious sexual offenders, by increasing the minimum term in prison to be served before parole under life sentences imposed for rape and the most serious assaults. We will ensure that serious violent and sexual offenders who are sent to prison for more than four years have to serve two-thirds of that time in prison before release. Those who rape or sexually assault children will have to serve at least two-thirds of their sentence in jail before parole can even be considered.
The Government will also soon publish its Rape Review in which we will set out how we plan to improve the worryingly low numbers of cases being brought to court, often due to complainants losing faith in the process. One of the main concerns is the damaging perception that, when someone makes a complaint of rape, they feel that they are the one on trial, rather than the suspected perpetrator.
Nowhere is this more keenly felt by complainants than when their own mobile phone, which is a crucial part of everyday life, is taken off them and retained for analysis for lengthy periods. It is not surprising that many people choose not to go through such stress and massive inconvenience. Processes such as this must be streamlined and remain properly focused on the issues in the case.
We have already made progress. One of the first things the Prime Minister and I agreed to do when we took office in 2019 was to increase support for victims of sexual abuse with £5 million of extra funding for Independent Sexual Violence Advisers, who provide invaluable support and advice for complainants. We have followed this up with a further £16 million last month, increasing their numbers by a further 400. The results are clear: complainants who get ISVA support are about 50 per cent less likely to drop their complaint than those who don’t get such help.
As the Home Secretary extends a call for evidence on our strategy on violence against women and girls, we will look carefully at ways to improve the sharing of information about offenders between agencies and with people potentially at risk too. This Conservative Government introduced Clare’s Law as a way of helping to protect people from abusive and dangerous relationships and we will consider whether this approach could be extended to stalking and other offences that give grounds for real concern. We will also work on the ideas of Government adviser Nimco Ali outlined in the Daily Telegraph last week about street harassment.
This Government will continue to spearhead reforms that, with hard work by police and prosecutors on the ground, will deliver ever greater protections to women, girls and all victims of crimes of fear, control, abuse and violence.
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