THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle-Price rose on the floor of the House of Commons to speak as part of the debate on the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill:
New Clause 3 – Restriction on evidence or questions about complainant’s sexual history
Ms Doyle Price said: “I am very pleased to speak to new clause 18 in the name of Debbie Abrahams, with whom I co-chair the all-party group on women in the penal system. The new clause seeks to amend the Bail Act 1976 so that prisons are not used as the care of last resort for vulnerable people. At present, courts can remand an adult into prison for their own protection without them having been convicted or sentenced, or when a criminal charge they face is unlikely to—or, in some cases, cannot—result in a prison sentence. I am afraid it is quite wrong for prisons to be used for secure protection in that way. If we believe in civil liberties and we believe that vulnerable people require support and not incarceration, the power must be repealed.
I will look for comfort from my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who I am sure shares my sentiments and does not wish prison to be used in that way. Some of us might argue that, too often, vulnerable people who have been failed by the state end up in prison in any case. The new clause would repeal the power of criminal courts to remand a defendant in custody for their own protection. That, I would add, is entirely consistent with the direction of travel of Government policy in this area. I can attest to the fact that when I was Minister for mental health, we invested heavily in places of safety so that people undergoing a mental health crisis were not remanded in custody for their own protection. We also had the Mental Health Act review by Sir Simon Wessely, who has explicitly recommended the removal of the power.
Robert Buckland, Justice Minister replied: “May I reassure my hon. Friend that we are conducting a review into this issue and will report by the end of the year? I pay tribute to the work she did as a Minister jointly with me on mental health issues. She did a lot, particularly about those in custody, and she has been heard.
Ms Doyle Price: I am grateful for that contribution, but I am like a dog with a bone on this issue, because I do care that we are putting vulnerable people in the wrong place and, by doing so, doing them harm.
There is a real point that I would like to make about this provision. The advice I received from the Howard League is that it is most often used in respect of women with a mental health crisis. I am also advised of a case of a victim of trafficking who was remanded in custody for their own protection. This is another example of women not getting a fair crack of the whip when it comes to criminal justice. It is not really for the criminal justice system to absorb the consequences of failure by other areas of the state.
It is up to local authorities to ensure adequate refuge provision for women in a vulnerable position and, of course, the NHS to ensure that there are enough facilities for crises. We have invested in places of safety, and we must make sure we do better on this. As we look at the wide variety of criminal justice issues—we have heard a lot today about violence against women and girls—I make a plea again to my right hon. and learned Friend that we make laws that centre women.
When we talk about gender-neutral legislation, that is another way of centring men. Women have a unique set of vulnerabilities because of their biology, and we must make sure we do everything in our law to protect them. We have heard a lot about that in today’s debate. We have had a lot of commitments from the Government to take this more seriously, but I look forward to some positive work, and I know the Government are listening.