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Stephen Morgan MP: Why I am voting against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

The tragic death of Sarah Everard has instigated a national demand for action to tackle violence against women.

Women should be able to feel safe they leave their home. But men’s behaviour towards women continues to stop that from being a reality. Sarah Everard’s case and the spike in domestic abuse cases this past year have shown a turning point is desperately needed.

The last thing the government should be doing is rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.

The Bill includes a new criminal offence to tackle “unauthorised encampments” targeting traveller communities, new laws to break up protests if they merely cause ‘serious annoyance’, as well as the frankly backward provision that increases the penalty of damaging a statue to 10 years, but meanwhile the current minimum sentence for rape only being five years.

Now is the time to unite the country and put in place on long overdue protections for women against unacceptable violence, including action against domestic homicides, rape and street harassment – as well as tackling the misogynistic attitudes that underpin the abuse women face.

Instead, the government has brought forward a Bill that is seeking to divide the country. It is a mess, which could lead to harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman.

That is why I will be voting against the Bill.

Labour is calling on the government to drop its poorly thought-out proposals and instead work across party to legislate to tackle violence against women which is forcing so many across the country to live in fear.

We will also look to work with the government to deliver the important areas that have long been promised, like tougher sentences for attacks on frontline workers and increased sentences for terrorists.

Stephen Morgan MP

 

Information on the Bill and Labour’s perspective:

Tackling violence against women

  • In its once in a generation sentencing reform bill, the government should work with Labour to tackle the crisis of violence against women that is forcing women across the country to live in fear.
  • Rather than using legislation to try and divide the country, the government should seek to unify people against this endemic violence.
  • They should start by increasing minimum sentences for the most serious criminals like stalkers and rapists, while working to drive up the appallingly low levels of convictions for sexual violence and domestic abuse.
  • Labour has outlined a package of measures that it argues should be included in the “once in a generation” chance for sweeping reforms to sentencing and protections for women and girls. The measures Labour proposes include increasing the minimum sentences for rapists and stalkers, creating a new street harassment law, introducing a Whole Life Tariff for anyone found guilty of abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger, announcing a Review to toughen up sentences for domestic murderers and making misogyny a hate crime.
  • Tackling the misogyny that drives this violence and helping to end the intimidation and harassment so many women experience daily is long overdue. Violence against women and girls comes in many forms – from harassment or abuse in workplaces, public spaces and the home, through to serious violence such as rape and homicide. The government should work with Labour to promote campaigns that target and educate perpetrators to change behaviours, highlighting examples of good practice and encouraging reporting by bystanders and third parties.
  • The government could be making these changes in the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill. Now is the time to act.

Creating a new street harassment law:

  • The details will follow in our amendment which we will lay after Second Reading. However, this will be based on the law France introduced in 2018.
  • In France public harassment – including things like catcalling, unwanted sexual attention or degrading comments – can result in an on-the-spot fine (in France this is €750).
  • The law has been successfully implemented in France – within the first year, there were more than 450 fines issued.

On tougher sentences for rape and stalking:

  • The detail of this will follow when Labour lays its amendments after second reading.
  • We want to increase the minimum sentences for rape, which is currently too low at 5 years.
  • We want to increase the minimum sentences for those who have carried the most serious types of stalking and harassment which includes fear of violence and who have carried out their acts with the specific intention of causing maximum fear and distress to their victims.

Isn’t the minimum sentence for rapists is already being extended in the bill?

  • No. The government has outlined measures that would mean those who get discretionary life sentences (not all those convicted of rape) spend longer in jail before becoming eligible for parole and being released on license – it isn’t changing the length of their sentence as such.
  • Labour’s proposal is specific to rape and increases the minimum sentence for anyone found guilty of rape.

On Whole Life Tariff for abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger:

  • Labour proposes amending clauses 101/ 102 of the bill to add a Whole Life Tariff for anyone found guilty of “abduction and sexual assault and murder of a stranger”.
  • Someone who abducts, assaults and murders a victim with a certain amount of pre-medication should be eligible for a Whole Life Order.
  • We must properly protect women, be tough on sentencing crimes that disproportionately happen to women.

Domestic Homicide

  • The current approach to sentencing seems to forget the context in which many female victims are killed; in the home with a weapon taken from that location. The minimum tariff in such cases is 15 years whereas it’s 25 if a weapon is brought to the scene of a crime. Similarly, the emphasis placed on the use of ‘weapons’ – an aggravating factor – forgets that in many DA circumstances (taking into account the common differences in strengths between victim and perpetrator) fists or hands for strangulation, are all the weaponry needed. This is symbolic of a systemic problem – that VAWG seems to be seen as less serious than other forms of violence.
  • Labour is calling for an Independent Review to look at increasing sentences for domestic homicide, as well as looking into implementing a Statutory Defence for Domestic Abuse Survivors.

Making misogyny a hate crime

  • Labour proposes adding misogyny to the list of hate crimes, alongside those that are homophobic, biphobic and transphobic, or based on race, disability or religion.
  • Hate crime is criminal behaviour where the perpetrator is motivated by hostility, or demonstrates hostility, towards a characteristic of the victim. It is not the same as ‘free speech’ which requires both parties to be able to equally participate and engage. A hate crime can include verbal abuse, intimidation, threats, harassment, assault and bullying, as well as damage to property.
  • Following an amendment to the Upskirting Bill, the Government instructed the Law Commission to carry out a review of all hate crime, and to consider incorporating misogyny as a new category for hate crime. They note there were 67,000 incidents of hate crime based on sex in 2018 – 57,000 of which were targeted at women. Without recognising the role of misogyny in the experiences of women, our legal and criminal justice system masks the true extent of hostility based on sex.
  • 11 out of 43 police constabularies in England and Wales have made misogyny a hate crime, trialed the policy or are actively considering implementing it.

Police Covenant

  • It has taken the Government nearly three years from inception to putting this onto the statute books – three years when our Police have needed support.
  • In May 2018, the then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, at the Police Federation Annual Conference created a formal Frontline Review to hear from ideas and feedback from frontline policing.
  • In July 2019, a Home Office report outlined that more needed to be done to support police officers and staff. The Home Office subsequently announced a police covenant.
  • In September 2019, the current Home Secretary, announced consultation into the police covenant.
  • The police covenant has finally being introduced into this Bill.
  • It also requires that the Home Secretary make an annual report to Parliament addressing the key issues on physical; protection, health and wellbeing and support for families.

Assaults on Emergency Service Workers – ‘Protect the Protectors’

  • The initial offence on assaults on emergency service workers was spearhead by Chris Bryant MP in his Private Members Bill that received Royal Assent in 2018. He was supportive with his Bill by Holly Lynch MP, who has been a strong advocate of protecting our protectors for several years.
  • The Private Members Bill made assaults on emergency service workers an offence that with a successful conviction would result in a prison sentence up to 12 months or a fine, or both. It also added that these assaults could be used as an aggravating factor when brought together with other offences.
  • Emergency Service workers are defined as constable, PCSO, Police staff, National Crime Agency Officer, prison officer, prison custody officer, custody officer, fire and rescue service, those that provide search and rescue services, those that provide NHS services.
  • This Private Members Bill had support from across the House. During the passage of the Bill it was argued by Labour’s Chris Bryant and Holly Lynch that the sentence should be 2 years rather than 12 months.
  • The Conservative Government Minister, Rory Stewart, stated that:

“Let me say that one issue about increasing the sentence to 24 months is that we would, in effect, be saying that somebody who assaults an emergency worker or police officer receives not twice but four times the maximum sentence that would be received were the attack to be on an “ordinary” victim. Is there not a question of proportionality in terms of the relationship between the equality of citizens in general and their right to be protected as victims, and the special status of a uniformed officer, if it is suggested that an increment of four is better than that of two?”

  • However, two years after this Bill received Royal Assent the Conservative Government decided that a consultation was needed to increase the maximum sentence to 2 years, something that had been argued and supported by Labour.

The Lammy Review

The Lammy Review (2017) set out 35 recommendations to address racial disproportionality in the criminal justice system. Since then, the government has adopted a handful of the recommendations in full, as well as implementing some other recommendations in part. The Labour party is calling for the government to implement the Lammy Review in full – and go further – to address the disproportionality that runs across the criminal justice system. In the PCSC Bill, the government addresses some issues highlighted in the Lammy Review.

While these modest reforms are welcome, the Labour party thinks the government must go significantly further by implementing the Lammy Review in full. Meanwhile on many other of its measures the PCSC Bill will make disproportionality significantly worse.

The pilot of problem-solving courts

  • Problem solving courts consider alternatives to prison sentences, by using the complaints process as an opportunity to fix problems, not simply make judgements about wrong-doing. The Lammy Review discussed the importance of a ‘problem-solving’ approach in courts as well as prisons. For example, an investigation may conclude that the complainant had had property stolen, but not due to prejudice. A problem-solving approach would not just deliver a verdict, but ensure that the property is returned swiftly and make recommendations about how to avoid a repeat of the problem in the future. A simple way of encouraging this approach would be for all complainants to state what they want to happen as a result of the investigation. Labour welcomes the government’s pilot of problem-solving courts.

Reform of the criminal records disclosure regime

  • The disclosure of criminal records plays an important part in protecting the public, particularly children and vulnerable adults. However, the disclosure regime must balance the need to protect the public while promoting offender rehabilitation and respecting an individual’s right to privacy.
  • The Lammy Review recommended reform of the criminal records regime. Given the disproportionality of the outcomes of the criminal justice system, criminal records have a disproportionate impact on Black, Asian, and ethnic minority people’s future employment. The PCSC Bill proposes limited criminal records/DBS reform, by reducing disclosure periods of certain offences. Labour welcomes these measures, however calls for the government to go further, by introducing a system whereby criminal records can be sealed from employers.
  • The final report of the Lammy Review, published in 2017, recommended that “individuals should be able to have their case heard by a judge or a body like the Parole Board, which would then decide to seal their record”. The report also recommended the UK Government should commission a study on the costs of unemployment among ex-offenders to ensure the public understands the case for reforming the criminal records regime.
  • Crucially, those who cannot demonstrate they have changed would not have their records sealed. Neither would those whose crimes are so serious – be they violent or sex-related – that the judgment body deems their record relevant to employers. Secondly, sealing criminal records from employers does not mean they are sealed in all contexts. Records would still show in situations involving children and vulnerable people, as well as specific work contexts that require high levels of security clearance. Crucially, police and courts would still have access to an ex-offender’s record. The aim of Labour’s proposals is to replace a blunt instrument with a more flexible approach in order to reflect the complexity of criminal justice.

Recognising the remand of children as a last resort

  • Individuals held on remand are awaiting court hearings after being charged with an offence. Remand in youth justice shows some of the highest levels of disproportionality in the criminal justice system. 87% of children held in custody on remand in London are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background. In England and Wales, the figures show the percentage of BAME children is 57%, while 33% were black. BAME people account for 15.5% of the population in England.
  • Labour welcomes the measures in the Bill to amend the LASPO framework to tighten the tests the courts must satisfy to decide when to remand a child to custody. We agree with the policy is to encourage courts to impose custodial remand only where absolutely necessary, while ensuring the public remains safe.

Increases of Sentencing

Whole Life Orders extended to cover the premeditated murder of a child.

  • Labour agrees with the government that this is an appropriate increase in sentencing to recognize the seriousness of the crime.

Increasing the sentences for certain young adults who kill.

  • The tragic murder of Ellie Gould highlights the failure of the justice system to impose strict enough sentences on those who murder in a domestic setting. The current approach to sentencing seems to forget the context in which many female victims are killed; in the home with a weapon taken from that location. The minimum tariff in such cases is 15 years whereas it’s 25 if a weapon is brought to the scene of a crime. Similarly, the emphasis placed on the use of ‘weapons’ – an aggravating factor –  forgets that in many DA circumstances (taking into account the common differences in strengths between victim and perpetrator) fists or hands for strangulation, are all the weaponry needed. This is symbolic of a systemic problem – that VAWG seems to be seen as less serious than other forms of violence. Labour welcomes the fact that under the proposals sentences will be increased for killers like that of Ellie Gould. However, we argue the government must go further to address inadequate sentencing on domestic homicide.

Toughening sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving.

  • Death by dangerous driving continues to take too many innocent lives. Labour welcomes the government’s proposals to increase sentences for those who cause death by dangerous driving. Stephanie Peacock MP deserves praises for her work campaigning to increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving. This will help dissuade people from taking unnecessary risks.

Widening laws which prevent adults in ‘positions of trust’ from engaging in sexual relationships with young people under 18.

  • Sarah Champion MP highlighted the issue of the loophole in the law that allows for adults working in a position of trust to have sex with 16 and 17 year olds. Whilst it is rightly illegal for teachers and social workers to have sex with the 16 and 17 year olds they work with, this is presently not the case for sports coaches and faith leaders. Due to the power imbalances in these relationships, this allows for prolific sexual offenders to use their position to groom children for sexual purposes. Labour welcomes the government’s proposals to close these loopholes and praises Sarah Champion for highlighting this injustice.