Paul Goggins: The spirit of the discussion of this clause is again one of consensus. The clause has never been contentious, and nor is it now with the questions that the hon. Gentleman has asked.
The hon. Gentleman's second question was about equivalent relationships. I will need to go away and look into that a little further, but clearly there will be distinctions between married couples, cohabiting couples and so forth, and those distinctions will need to be made clear in any legislation considered by this House. When I have looked into the matter, I will speak or write to the hon. Gentleman to try to reassure him.
On the interplay between this legislation and any legislation on civil partnerships, we will need to have coherence and compatibility, but it is not our intention to introduce any further amendments to this Bill to address that.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Extension of Part 4 of 1996 Act to non-cohabiting couples
Mrs. Gillan: I beg to move amendment No. 15, in
clause 4, page 2, line 35, leave out from 'other' to end of line.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 31, in
Mrs. Gillan: This, too, is a probing amendment to attempt to discover the thinking behind the drafting of clause 4. In recognition of the complexities of relationships, the clause extends the use of non-molestation orders to people who have never been married or who have never even cohabited; they are extended so that they apply to homes that the parties have either lived in or intended to live in.
The clause widens the definition of associated persons through proposed new paragraph (ea), which states that
''they have or have had an intimate personal relationship with each other which is or was of significant duration''.
In seeking to probe further the nature of these relationships and the reasons for the inclusion of duration as a test, I ask the Minister to run through his definitions or examples of such relationships. Because of what was said in the other place and what is in the notes on clauses, I presume that one-night stands are ruled out. However, the notes on clauses also exclude platonic friends, while covering
''a long-standing relationship which may, or may not, be a sexual relationship'' .
I would be interested to hear how the Minister thinks that the court will make that judgment and what standard of proof will be applied, and whether it is possible to make that fine judgment between what is essentially a platonic relationship and an intimate personal relationship. The difference that he draws between the two will be interesting.
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Why is duration included here at this stage, as it does not apply to other family members associated either by blood or by affinity? What in the Minister's mind will constitute significant duration as opposed to long-standing duration, for example? If the Minister's interpretation of ''significant'' could be shared with the Committee, we would all be grateful.
Sandra Gidley: Amendment No. 31 is a variation because we too have concerns about the clause as drafted. The Bill uses the phrase
''which is or was of significant duration''
in respect of a personal relationship. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham that we need a definition of the word ''significant''. Do we have to wait for case law to build up just because the Minister in the other place seems to think that one-night stands should not be covered?
It could be that any violence in such a situation is covered by other legislation, such as the law on assault or rape. However, we are talking about an in-between area. Some people have short but nevertheless very intense relationships. The problem we are facing is that if a personit is usually a manabuses, he does not do it in only one situation but will repeat it time and again with other partners. They are rarely one-off instances; it is part of the character.
I am concerned that there could be some sort of gentleman capable of attracting women and getting them to move in with him for short periods of time but during that time, which may not be regarded as being of significant duration, having an abusive relationship and then moving on to the next one. It is very difficult to catch up with a person in such circumstances. We would prefer the wording
''such significance as to justify the making of an order'',
because it would give the court a little flexibility to take such situations into account.
Paul Goggins: It is fairly clear that the Government's intention in clause 4 is to close a significant loophole in the protection afforded by the Family Law Act 1996 by including within it non-cohabiting couples. The aim was to include intimate personal relationships of significant duration. We could probably spend the rest of our 10 sittings discussing what precisely that might mean to each of us. In the Bill we define it in the broadest terms, and of course it will be for the court in individual circumstances to determine whether it applies in a particular case.
It certainly is not our intention to include long-term platonic friendships.
Sandra Gidley: That is the very point that concerns some of us. We have all read judicial agreements to which we take great exception and we wonder what on earth the judge may have been thinking of. I hesitate to offend all the judiciary, but at present we are faced with a judiciary that is predominantly male, older and of a different generation, who perhaps even have a slightly different attitude towards domestic violence. I am concerned that the attitude of somebody with that background might be different from that of somebody younger, who has been brought up with the attitude
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that domestic violence in any form is unacceptable. How would he address that problem? We do not want to see headlines in the Daily Mail or elsewhere questioning judgments, when there are no clear guidelines.
Paul Goggins: It is of course essential that the judiciary receive appropriate training in relation to specific legislation, and more generally. The hon. Lady will be clear as, I am sure, are all members of the Committee, that it is for Parliament to set out the legislative framework, and it is for the courts to interpret in specific circumstances whether a particular offence has been committed. It would be inappropriate for Parliament to try to determine in every Bill every set of circumstances in which the law might apply. That is the relationship between Parliament and the judiciary, and it will not be changed in this piece of legislation. The Government place great emphasis on training for the judiciaryit is extremely important.
It is not our intention to include either long-term platonic friendships or brief sexual encounters, such as one-night stands. The Family Law Act 1996 is concerned with relationships of some standing, in which the opportunity for abuse and controlwhich is at the heart of our concerns in the Billis at its greatest. For short or non-intimate relationships, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is available.
Mrs. Gillan: I agree entirely with the Minister that we are considering long-standing relationships. Why, then, rule out platonic relationships? They could be the very relationships to which he is referring.
Paul Goggins: Because we feel that both elementsintimacy and significant durationshould be considered by the courts. Both should be captured in the offence. Platonic relationships should not, therefore, be included. Intimacy and duration are the key elements.
As the clause is drafted, having determined that there was an intimate personal relationship, the court would go on to decide whether that relationship was of a significant duration. Amendment No. 31 would replace significant duration with
''such significance as to justify the making of an order''.
That would offer the court more latitude in considering the length of a relationship and might allow very short-term relationships to be coveredinappropriately, in our view. As I said, we do not want the clause to apply to couples in short-term relationships such as one-night stands. As drafted, it offers the best formulation to ensure that orders are compatible with the intention of the Family Law Act 1996.
Amendment No. 15 would remove the caveat in clause 4 that a non-cohabiting couple would have to be in a relationship of significant duration before a non-molestation order could be granted. It would allow anybody who had had an intimate relationship with another person, no matter how brief and including a
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one-night stand, to seek and gain orders under the Family Law Act 1996. That would be a fundamental shift in the scope of the Act, which deals with relationships of standing, and issues of abuse and control within them. Other avenues for protection exist for those who are not in relationships of standingfor example, the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 and the general criminal law.
In the circumstances described by the hon. Member for Chesham and Amersham and others, there are other forms of legal redress. The Bill deals with domestic violence in specific circumstances, in which intimacy and the duration of the relationship are both relevant. I hope that, now that I have outlined the Government's thinking behind the clause, hon. Members will not press their amendments.
Mrs. Gillan: The Minister is right: we could probably use every one of the 10 sittings to consider the meanings of the terms used in clause 4. However, I maintain that restricting the scope for interpretation by including
''which is or was of significant duration''
unnecessarily fetters the courts. If, as in other parts of the Bill, the aim of the clause is to leave things to the discretion of the courts, this would have been a sensible set of guidelines for judges undergoing their specific training. However, we do not have to shut down this area completelyor change it in a way that creates a possible loophole, because somebody could say that a relationship was not of significant duration.
This was a probing amendment, and I have listened carefully to what the Minister has said. We may want to visit this matter again, but for now I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.