POLITICS
15/03/2021 20:14 GMT | Updated 15/03/2021 21:00 GMT

Boris Johnson Defeated As House Of Lords Votes To Tighten Law On Stalking

PM under pressure to act after powerful speeches from women peers urging better protection.

PA
Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has suffered a heavy Lords defeat after peers voted to tighten the law on serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators.

The Lords voted by 327 to 232 – a majority of 95 – for an amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill that would create a new statutory duty to force serial offenders to be put on a national register and closely monitored like serious sex criminals.

The cross-party amendment would ensure stronger protections for victims of both domestic violence and stalking, while requiring ministers to come up with a “comprehensive perpetrator strategy”.

Led by Labour’s Baroness Royall, the vote came amid widespread shock and anger at the disappearance of Sarah Everard and the heavily criticised policing of a vigil in her memory on Saturday.

Within minutes of the defeat, the prime minister announced he was taking “immediate steps” to provide further reassurance for women and girls, including doubling funding for better street lighting and CCTV.

Home office minister Baroness Williams had opposed the specific Royall amendment, claiming that there was “more value in making better use” of the existing law.

But she said that the Ministry of Justice would “revisit and refresh” current statutory guidance to require police and others to better monitor domestic violence and stalking perpetrators.

Williams said that the government would “improve” the current database on offenders, including “alternative digital offender management systems”.

Earlier, home secretary Priti Patel hinted that ministers could look again at the issue of a national database.

“There is something about perpetrators and their serial offending that has to be addressed. There is no question about that at all...I will be very candid: we will look at all measures,” Patel said.

During the debate, Royall read out the names of the 30 women who had been killed by men since the start of this year alone, and highlighted four cases of women who had been murdered in recent years despite serial abuse being reported to police.

Under Royall’s amendment, serial stalkers would be put on the violent and sex offender register (Visor) and subjected to monitoring and management through multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa) devised by police, councils and others.

The Visor database records all those required to register with the police under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, as well as those jailed for more than 12 months for violent offences and those believed to be at risk of offending.

Royall told peers: “Women are tired of domestic abuse and stalking being considered a women’s issue, they have spent years being told that they should change their behaviour, they have made thousands of reports to the police which have not been listened to or properly recorded, they are desperate for change.”

Writing for HuffPost UK last week, Baroness Royall had said that “stalking is murder in slow motion” and it was time to create a more coherent national approach that allowed police forces across the land to better share information.

Several women peers gave powerful speeches on the legislation on Monday, with Tory Baroness Bertin recalling how her 18-year-old cousin was killed by a neighbour who tracked and watched her. 

Lib Dem Baroness Brinton recounted her own experience as the victim of a stalker who was eventually given an 18-week suspended sentence despite a three-year campaign of harassment.

The vote was swiftly welcomed by Laura Richards, a criminal behaviourial analyst and founder of the Paladin National Stalking Advocacy Service.

Richards said: “This amendment has been 20 years in the making and I want to pay tribute to Baroness Royall and all who spoke in favour today. Domestic abuse and stalking are patterned crimes and for too long these patterns and dangerous men have been largely ignored.

“We need a mandatory, national join up across police services and other agencies, to share information and intelligence about serial and high harm perpetrators because they travel and my research shows that they abuse multiple women.”

Earlier, the government was also defeated on another amendment that would ensure migrant women are not deterred from reporting domestic abuse due to the fear of deportation. The change would prevent victims’ details being used for immigration control purposes.

A further amendment to classify misogyny as a hate crime was also expected to win support in the Lords.

After chairing his Criminal Justice Taskforce, the PM announced a doubling of the ‘Safer Streets’ fund to £45m and more pilot schemes to get uniformed and plain clothes officers to identify predatory and suspicious offenders in “the night time economy”.

“We must do everything we can to ensure our streets are safe, and we are bringing in landmark legislation to toughen sentences and put more police on the streets,” Johnson said.

 “We are also now taking further steps to provide greater reassurance, such as providing better lighting and greater use of CCTV in parks and routes women may take on their walks home.”