Since the Conservatives first came into power in 2010, much has been done to protect women and girls. We have made both ‘coercive control’ and ‘upskirting’ offences, strengthened the ban on the ‘rough sex’ defence, outlawed non-fatal strangulation. We have criminalised both sending of ‘revenge porn’ images and the threat to do so. Funding for Rape Support Centres, refuge spaces and domestic abuse helplines have been increased and we have ensured that stalking is a criminal offence with a higher maximum sentence.
But recent events surrounding the horrific death of Sarah Everard have shown us that there is more to be done to make sure that women are safe - and feel safe, too. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill 2021 builds on this previous work, with legislation that will directly benefit women and girls.
The Bill focuses on cutting crime and ensuring our communities are safe. It introduces tougher sentencing for the worst criminal offenders – including sex offenders and child killers – and ends the automatic early release from prison for serious crimes. It is right that the punishment reflects the severity of crimes. We are also protecting children with the extension of child sex abuse laws to cover more ‘positions of trust’, including sports coaches and faith leaders in legislation that already covers teachers and doctors. This move follows an extensive review which raised concerns that predatory individuals could exploit the trust young people place in these roles, making them vulnerable to abuse.
With a backlog of 50,000 cases, the Bill also seeks to improve the efficiency of our court and tribunal system by modernising existing court processes – which is vital to enable victims the justice they deserve. There will also be greater emphasis placed on rehabilitation to better help offenders to turn their lives around and prevent further crimes as well as ensuring that community sentences better target underlying causes of crime such as mental health issues, alcohol or drug addiction.
This Bill also concentrates on backing our police and ensuring that they are equipped with the powers and tools to aid them in keeping our communities safe. Powers given to the police will assist on cracking down on knife crime, tackling unauthorised encampments and safely managing static public protests.
A lot of publicity has been given to the Bill allowing police to take a more proactive approach to manage highly disruptive protests. In the last few years, we have seen highly organised protests that cause heavy disruption – grinding key infrastructure to a halt and stopping people from being able to go about their daily lives. Some of the most disruptive protests have caused significant distress to those living and working close by.
Since then, the Government has been working with police forces on modernising and updating the powers and legislation in place to deal more effectively with these kinds of protests, including ensuring that the powers available to police for static protests are in line with other forms of protest. The current Act in place dates back to 1986 – policing and protests have evolved greatly over the last 35 years and it is right that we have legislation that reflects this.
We are also supporting our police officers, who have an incredibly difficult task. The Bill will enshrine a Police Covenant in law, which will strengthen the support received by serving and retired officers, staff and their families.
We continue to prioritise the protection of our emergency workers - maximum penalties will be doubled from 12 months to 2 years for those who assault police or other emergency workers, such as prison officers, fire personnel or frontline health workers – helping to protect those who put their lives on the line to keep communities safe.
Our communities must be safe, especially for women and girls. Victims must see justice and we must be protected from further criminal behaviour. We cannot do this without relevant, modern legislation which ensures that the justice system is fit for purpose and that the police have appropriate powers in order to protect us. I support this Bill and I will continue to monitor it as it makes its way through the committee stage and the rest of legislative process.