Arrests at the Coronation
The coronation was a tremendous occasion. A large part of that success was down to the diligence and vigilance of our security services. It is important to remember the sheer scale of security necessary for this event.
Protest is fundamental to our democracy, and I wholeheartedly support the right to protest. The police have expressed regret for these arrests. They have apologised and confirmed no further action will be taken. It therefore seems the fault lies with the enforcement of the law rather than the law itself.
It is evident that this was a mistake, and I am obviously frustrated that it took place. I do not support a public inquiry as it seems the facts are clear.
This was an appalling crime and my thoughts remain with Joanna Simpson's family and friends. I understand that the public is concerned that Mr. Brown is due to be released from prison on licence in November, which is the halfway point of his sentence.
The Secretary of State for Justice is giving this case his closest personal attention and that he will do everything in his power to keep the most dangerous offenders behind bars.
Human Rights Act
The UK has a long and proud history of freedom. However, increasingly, human rights laws are being interpreted in more innovative ways that often go beyond the original intentions of the architects of the European Convention on Human Rights. Therefore, I welcome the Government's recent consultation on reforming the Human Rights Act and the introduction of the Bill of Rights Bill to ensure our human rights system meets the needs of the society it serves. The reforms included in the Bill of Rights Bill will strengthen home-grown rights. The Bill will boost freedom of the press and freedom of expression by introducing a stronger test for courts to consider before they can order journalists to disclose their sources. It will also recognise that trial by jury is a fundamental component of fair trials in the UK. It will also introduce a permission stage in court requiring people to show they have suffered a significant disadvantage before their claim can go ahead, thereby preventing trivial legal claims wasting taxpayers’ money.
Where human rights have been used to frustrate the deportation of foreign convicted criminals, the Bill will prevent such misuse. It will ensure that foreign criminals who pose a serious threat to the British public can be deported by allowing future laws to restrict the circumstances in which their right to family life would trump public safety and the need to remove them. It will mean that under future immigration laws, to evade removal a foreign criminal would have to prove that a child or dependent would come to overwhelming, unavoidable harm if they were deported. The Bill will reinforce in law the principle that responsibilities to society are as important as personal rights. To achieve this, courts will consider a claimant’s relevant conduct, such as a prisoner’s violent or criminal behaviour, when awarding damages. The Bill will make clear that the UK Supreme Court is the ultimate judicial decision-maker on human rights issues and that the case law of the European Court of Human Rights does not always need to be followed by UK courts. This will be achieved while retaining the UK’s fundamental commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights. I therefore support the Bill of Rights Bill in strengthening UK traditional freedoms and I will follow its progress closely as it passes through Parliament.
Online Safety Bill and Sex Workers
The Bill will ensure that the internet and wider online environment is a safe place, and that tech companies are rightly held to account.
Within the Bill, Schedule 7 sets out priority offences, specifically illegal content which amounts to a criminal offence. For example, this includes threats to kill, harassment, stalking, encouraging self-harm and supplying drugs. Also listed as an office, in accordance with the Sexual Offences Act 2003, is causing or inciting prostitution for gain, and controlling prostitution for gain.
The English Collective of Prostitutes has launched a campaign against these offences being included in the Bill. I understand that the campaign is concerned that online companies may seek to remove all online advertising, even in cases where sex workers are working together to improve safety.
The campaign also highlights the fact that US legislation (the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act) has resulted in increases in poverty, homelessness and suicide.
While I am not aware of any forthcoming plans to remove these offences from the Bill, I will ensure my ministerial colleagues are aware of your concerns. The Bill has only just been introduced to Parliament and there will be a considerable amount of debate and proposed amendments before the Bill passes. I look forward to listening to both sides of the House debate the Bill as it progresses.
Electrical Safety First
I am familiar with Electrical Safety First's campaign for better regulation of online marketplaces. As you will know, the UK has a strong product safety system to ensure products are safe before they can enter the market, and this includes products sold online.
I understand your concerns regarding this issue, and I take the problem of counterfeit electrical goods seriously. It is therefore welcome that the Government is working across the industry and with law enforcement colleagues on a number of initiatives to tackle this issue. You may also welcome the fact that officials in government are working with representatives from online platforms to discuss counterfeits on their platforms. Action is also underway to ensure a co-ordinated law enforcement response against the sellers of these counterfeits.
In addition to this action, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) is reviewing product safety legislation to make sure the existing legislative framework is adequate. This is due to changes to traditional supply and distribution chains as a result of e-commerce. The Government has analysed submissions the OPSS Call for Evidence and the response can be read in full here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uplo…
the Government has announced it will now consult on a landmark reform programme, with priorities including helping businesses to understand their legal obligations by ensuring our future framework is as simple, consistent, and risk proportionate as possible. Ministers will also examine how product safety processes and testing requirements could become more risk based, addressing the impact of the changes brought by e-Commerce to the product safety framework.
I will continue to follow the developments in this area and in particular the OPSS review into the current product safety legislative framework. This is an important issue and the Coronavirus pandemic highlights how more and more consumers are relying on e-commerce.
Sexual Exploitation of Renters
I was deeply concerned to hear about reports of sexual exploitation of tenants, and I completely agree with you that such practices are abhorrent and have no place in our society. Let me assure you that the Government takes these offences very seriously.
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes clear that ‘sex for rent’ arrangements are illegal, as are advertisements for any such arrangements. There are existing offences which may be used to prosecute this practice, including the Section 52 offence of causing or inciting prostitution for gain and the Section 53 offence of controlling prostitution for gain. Both offences carry a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment. But enforcement appears to be very weak.
Colleagues have drawn my attention to updated guidance produced by the Crown Prosecution Service on prostitution and exploitation of prostitution. This includes specific reference to the availability of charges for offences under Sections 52 and 53, where there is evidence to support the existence of sex for rent arrangements. You may also be interested to know that the Home Office will be launching a public consultation later this year to allow for further engagement with victims, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and others on how the current legislation works in practice.
The Online Safety Bill will place duties on sites that host user-generated content, such as social media companies, to protect their users from illegal content. Relevant offences relating to the incitement and control of prostitution for gain will be included in the Bill's list of ‘priority offences’ which internet companies will need to take proactive steps to tackle.
Thank you for contacting me about dangerous driving and sentencing.
I join the Government in their commitment to seeing safer roads for all road users. It is important to consider that many deaths and injuries on the roads are a consequence of tragic accidents. However, too many involve criminal behaviour and I agree that more needs to be done to ensure justice is served in cases where culpability of an offender is high.
I am very clear that punishments must fit the crime. However, often families feel that this is not the case with killer drivers. I am encouraged the Government is taking action to put this right.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill will increase the maximum penalties for causing death by dangerous driving and death by careless driving when under the influence of drink or drugs to life imprisonment.
In addition, it is the case that there is a gap in the law relating to serious injury. I therefore welcome the fact that the Bill will also create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving.
Misogyny as a Hate Crime
This country is built on historic values of unity, inclusivity and mutual respect. Misogyny goes directly against these principles; no one should face intimidation or discrimination.
As you are aware, during the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Court Bill’s passage through Parliament, Baroness Newlove tabled an amendment requiring courts to consider hostility towards a victim’s sex or gender as an aggravating factor when deciding the seriousness of cases which are not sexual or domestic offences. I understand that the intention behind excluding sexual or domestic offences is that it would prevent lower sentences for perpetrators.
I am very aware of the issue of violence against women and girls (VAWG). The horrific case of Sarah Everard started a much-belated national conversation about the dangers women face at home, on the streets and online. While I welcomed the publication of the subsequent ‘Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’, I believe there is more we need to do to enhance support for victims and survivors of abuse, bring more perpetrators to justice and reduce the prevalence of VAWG in the long-term.
Alongside the work being undertaken to formulate this strategy, the Law Commission – an independent body of legal experts – examined possible reforms to hate crime laws to make them fairer, minimise complexity and address certain challenges. The final report, spanning over 500 pages and developed in consultation with organisations including the Centre for Women’s Justice and Rape Crisis England & Wales, specifically examined the possible recognition of sex or gender in hate crime legislation, the objective of Baroness Newlove’s amendment.
The Law Commission concluded that sex or gender should not be added as a protected characteristic for the purposes of aggravated offences and enhanced sentencing. While I appreciate this is not the outcome you were hoping for, I understand this recommendation was reached after considering including long-standing questions about whether hate crime is an appropriate response to the issue of VAWG and the contested nature of the issue (particularly the matter of including “sex” or “gender”). Summarising this point, Rape Crisis England & Wales said the fact “that there is a need to exclude serious VAWG offences arguably adds evidence to the argument that a hate crime framework is not suitable for VAWG”.
The Commission also indicated that broadly including sex or gender in hate crime laws, but specifically excluding offences associated with VAWG (such as sexual offences and crimes committed in a domestic abuse context) gave rise to concern amongst stakeholders. Namely, that “the exclusion of VAWG offences might be perceived as denying the potential for these offences to be understood as misogynistic; it may be tokenistic for the law to apply in certain contexts such as harassment and online abuse; it would create added complexity in hate crime laws, when greater simplicity has been one of the key calls for reform; and it would undermine the wider aim of treating protected characteristics consistently in hate crime laws”.
Despite the Law Commission's recommendation that the hate crime framework is not the most appropriate vehicle to tackle VAWG, I am encouraged that it did recommend providing greater protection on the basis of sex and gender, including by extending the offence of stirring up hatred to cover stirring up hatred on the grounds of sex or gender. This aims to tackle the rise of extremist misogynist “incel” ideology, and its potential to lead to serious criminal offending. It also recommended that the Government review the need for a specific offence to tackle public sexual harassment.
The Government will now consider and respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations in due course. While I appreciate that the Commission's conclusions do not recommend making misogyny an act of hate crime, I am glad that its considered findings will inform future Government policy. Please be assured that I will be following developments closely.
The Government wants to reform marriage ceremonies to ensure a simple, fair and consistent legal framework, so that people can have a wedding meaningful to them. With this in mind, the Government announced in June 2019 that the Law Commission would conduct a fundamental review on how and where people can legally marry in England and Wales. As part of the project, the Law Commission considered how a scheme could include weddings conducted by humanist and other non-religious belief organisations and where weddings should be able to take place.
This consultation closed in January 2021 and I understand responses are now being analysed. These responses will inform development of the Law Commission's final policy, to be published in a report with recommendations for Government, expected in July 2022. I am encouraged that the Government remains committed to considering the case for more comprehensive and enduring reform to marriage law once the Law Commission has completed its fundamental review of the law in this area.
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