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Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. I listened carefully to what she said, and I noted the point about ancillary relief under the legal aid scheme. As regards the main thrust of the amendment, which is to do with recovering money from sponsors, the Minister, while indicating that there were difficulties with the procedure, said that she would keep an open mind on the matter. From that, I take it

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that she will keep the issue under review and that, if anything else can be done, she will bring the work forward.

Some of the domestic violence concerned may be criminal behaviour. If the pressures are such that the victim leaves the country, the chance of a successful prosecution of the person who has perpetrated the violence will be so much smaller. In considering all the issues, will my noble friend also take into account the need for us to have a robust criminal justice system, so that anybody committing a criminal offence such as certain types of domestic violence will not escape prosecution because the victim has been forced to leave the country, for understandable reasons?

I shall read my noble friend's speech in more detail. I thank her for being open-minded in her approach, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Viscount Bridgeman moved Amendment No. 84A:


    After Clause 25, insert the following new clause—


"AMENDMENTS TO THE YOUTH JUSTICE AND CRIMINAL EVIDENCE ACT 1999 TO EXTEND THE CATEGORY OF WITNESSES ELIGIBLE FOR ASSISTANCE ON GROUNDS OF FEAR OR DISTRESS ABOUT TESTIFYING
(1) Section 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (c. 23) (witnesses eligible for assistance on grounds of fear or distress about testifying) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (4) insert—
"(4A) Where the complainant in respect of proceedings relating to any form of molestation, including violence, involving the complainant, a cohabitant, a relevant child or associated persons, is a witness in such proceedings, the witness is eligible for assistance in relation to those proceedings by virtue of this subsection unless the witness has informed the court of the witness's wish not to be so eligible by virtue of this subsection.
(4B) For the purposes of this subsection, "cohabitant", "relevant child" and "associated persons" mean a person as defined by section 62 of the Family Law Act 1996 (c. 27) (meaning of "cohabitants", "relevant child" and "associated person") as amended by sections 2 and 3 of this Act.""

The noble Viscount said: My Lords, we are grateful for the support for the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.

The amendment is identical to one that I moved in Grand Committee. In her reply, the Minister suggested—I hope that I understood her correctly—that domestic violence was less easy to define than sexual offences and that such violence covered,


    "a whole spectrum of behaviour".—[Official Report, 9/2/04; col. GC 468.]

I suggest that the need for special measures is related not to the seriousness of the crime but to the relationship of the victim to the perpetrator. The behaviour complained of may have been relatively mild, but that pales into insignificance when the victim is faced with the often terrifying possibility of confronting the perpetrator in court. In many cases, the victim will have had previous experience of the courts in any number of contexts. For many of the

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victims that we are considering, that experience may well have convinced them that courts are intimidating, unsympathetic and even hostile places.

I come back to what I said in Grand Committee. Against that background, I invite your Lordships to see the difference between the victim's solicitor being able to say, "Don't worry. You have the right to special measures. It's yours. You will not have to confront the perpetrator across the court". But as the Bill currently stands, the solicitor can only say, "I cannot be absolutely sure but there is a good chance that the court will permit you to have special measures".

In that second scenario, there is a further practical consideration which has been brought to our notice recently by Victim Support. That is, that magistrates are frequently reluctant to make an order for the use of screens when the application is made on the day of the trial. That is a potentially very serious point. The Minister's reply to the point regarding the application to the court for special measures, which I raised in Grand Committee, was that it was likely that these would be granted. I refer to cols. GC 466 to 469 of the Official Report of 9 February 2004. If what Victim Support now tells us is substantiated, I am sure your Lordships will agree that it will make the case for the rights to special measures for victims of violence to have statutory entitlement very much stronger. I hope that the Minister will give the matter very careful consideration when she replies.

That could make all the difference in many cases between the victims agreeing to give evidence and being too frightened to do so. That is well recognised by the Minister, who, if I may be permitted to quote her, said in Grand Committee:


    "We ... want to ... ensure that women know what opportunities are available to them so that they receive the succour they so desperately need to enable them to have the courage to come forward, to come forward early, and to be supported through the process so that they are not discouraged from obtaining the justice they so rightly deserve".—[Official Report, 9/2/04; col. GC 469.]

The Minister also suggested in Grand Committee that my amendment was too widely drawn. That amendment, which is reintroduced, in bringing the rights of a victim of domestic violence into line with those relating to sexual offences, makes use of the definitions contained in the Family Law Act 1996.

The Minister suggested in Grand Committee that that amendment will catch offences where the special measures are not needed. That is quite possible. However, I suggest that these will be far outweighed by the many cases where victims will be able to come to court to give evidence in the absolute certainty—that is the whole point of the amendment—that they will be free from the terrifying prospect of having to confront the perpetrator across the court.

I should have liked to have brought to the Minister's notice, before this debate, the point about court practice. From these Benches we are grateful to the noble Baroness for agreeing that Victim Support can meet the Government before Third Reading. In view

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of these two considerations I should like to advise the Minister that we will not seek to divide the House on this amendment. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, from these Benches, we support the amendment. One of our objectives must be to encourage as many victims of domestic violence as possible to come forward to talk about their suffering and to be prepared to do something about it. But, as the Minister pointed out during the debate, evidence given in domestic violence cases may not be as sensitive as that given in sexual offences cases. Therefore, witnesses may not automatically need the additional protection of special measures. However, we argue that while the nature of the crime may not be as sensitive in that it may not be sexual, it is sensitive in that the crime takes place within the home and in the context of a power relationship.

It can be very hard for a victim to admit that a seemingly minor threat or slight physical contact can have such a devastating effect on him or her, but, in the context of domestic violence, that is the case. We are all different: something that might run off one person like water off a duck's back might completely devastate someone else. I am not, of course, talking about insignificant slights or insults, but alleged behaviour which is regarded as criminal. So it is important that a victim does not feel demeaned in court, particularly as their self-esteem will already have been knocked about a good deal, and their body as well, by domestic violence.

I also support the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that, according to Victim Support, courts are reluctant to make an order for screens on the day of the trial, even though that measure is already available to them. This amendment seeks to make absolutely sure that a woman is quite clear that she will not have to face her assailant across the court. It is to be hoped that she will then be much more likely to come forward and give evidence.

4.15 p.m.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am very glad that we are all in agreement that not only is the domestic violence issue a sensitive one, but it comes in various forms, as the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, have made plain.

I entirely accept what the noble Baroness said, that instances that take place in the home can be very hurtful to talk about in a public place. However, I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Viscount will know too that one size does not fit all, because there are some women who are abused in the home who wish to take advantage of an opportunity to say to their partner in an open forum: "I am going to tell everybody what you did to me. I am going to stand up for myself, and I am not going to allow you to see that you have obliged me to take special measures to hide from you". Some go one way; others go another. The real thing that we are saying is that you have to be

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sensitive to the individual case, and that we cannot put all these cases into one group and treat them in the same way.

Therefore I refer noble Lords to the point that I made in Grand Committee, as alluded to by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. I reiterate that Sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 already enable victims of domestic violence to have access to special measures where a court decides that is appropriate. The amendment is therefore unnecessary.

I take the point made by the noble Baroness and the noble Viscount about decisions being made on the day. Noble Lords will know that in terms of practice we are working very hard, together with the Crown Prosecution Service, the police, the court and Victim Support, to make sure that an assessment of the victim's and witness's needs takes place before the hearing so that we can maximise the opportunities: first, for the victim to turn up to give evidence; secondly, to get the sort of support that they will need to enable them to give their evidence, and, thirdly, to do so. These practical issues are very much to the forefront of the planning that is going on in local areas to make sure that those needs are addressed.

Therefore, automatic access to special measures may not be appropriate in all cases of domestic violence because they may not actually respond to the needs of that particular victim or witness. We believe that, due to the nature of the evidence given, special measures are always appropriate in cases dealing with sexual offences, and this is the only case where there exists automatic eligibility unless the witness refuses such assistance.

We have been careful to limit automatic access only to children and to those adult cases where the evidence to be given is consistently and always of a highly sensitive nature. That is not in any way to suggest that in a case of domestic violence the evidence may not be sensitive. Clearly the quality of the evidence given by such a witness may be diminished by reason of fear or distress. In such cases the courts have the ability to grant a special measures direction. Therefore we believe that the balance that we have struck between this single exception and relying on the court's discretion to grant special measures in all other cases where the court considers it appropriate is the right one. I reiterate that victims of domestic violence have access in all cases where the court decides it is appropriate.

We are continuing to implement those provisions and it may help noble Lords if I outline where we are now, because those provisions are coming in. From June, the vulnerable or intimidated witnesses in magistrates' courts will have access to screens and evidence in private. We are aiming to extend the availability of live links and video recorded evidence in chief from spring 2005, subject to sufficient securities being in place, and successful piloting of alternatives to full transcription in less serious cases.

As I said in the debate last time, I would expect courts to be sensitive to the needs of victims of domestic violence and grant special measures where it

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would be appropriate. For these reasons, I cannot accept the amendment, but I hope that noble Lords know that I am with them in the spirit that those who need special measures should certainly have them.


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