The view of former director of public prosecutions Keir Starmer on how rape has effectively been decriminalised in this country would be welcome, I wrote in this morning email on Friday. The Labour leader has indeed shared his thoughts this week. “Last year, rape prosecution fell to its lowest level on record,” Starmer tweeted. And when the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of the Crown Prosecution Service, accepting its case that there has been no change ‘in substance’ to its prosecution policy on serious sexual offences, opposition frontbencher Ellie Reeves said it was a “disappointing result which endorses what is effectively decriminalisation of rape”. I am relieved that Labour is talking about violence against women, and the structures upholding it, in this way.
Labour will be opposing the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill today. Because we’re talking about violence against women, the opposition party is highlighting that the government legislation hardly mentions women and prioritises statues over protecting us from rapists. The party has announced that it would fast-track rape and serious sexual assault cases through the courts, legislate against street harassment, extend whole life tariffs to anyone found guilty of abduction and murder of a stranger, and more. But Priti Patel’s bill also means giving police the power to crack down on non-violent protest.
As barrister Russell Fraser explains on LabourList, the police already enjoy a wide range of powers to control and restrict protest, but this bill would mean noisy demonstrations causing “serious unease, alarm or distress” to bystanders can be curtailed. What exactly is meant by “serious unease”? We don’t know: it’s been left up to the Home Secretary to define later, rather than MPs today. This bill will have a particular impact on protests near parliament, like the “kill the bill” one that took place last night. Those famous libertarian instincts held dear by Boris Johnson would come in handy right about now.
The government was defeated on the domestic abuse bill in the House of Lords last night. Peers voted in favour of amendments to: ensure the personal data of migrant domestic abuse survivors is not used for immigration control; give migrant domestic abuse victims temporary leave to remain in the UK and access to public funds for no less than six months; create a statutory duty forcing serial stalkers and domestic violence perpetrators to be put on a national register. There is some hope that the government will accept the register policy.
Boris Johnson announced soon after the Lords votes that he would take “immediate steps” such as more funding for better street lighting and CCTV. The way that our spaces are planned and changed for women’s safety is important, as Kelly Grehan has pointed out on LabourList. But the PM’s proposals fail to acknowledge the scale of the problem. And the idea of stationing undercover police officers in plain clothes outside bars and clubs is not reassuring as the government claims. Ultimately, we need to recognise that male violence is at the centre of everything we are talking about. If we continue to shy away from that truth, nothing will change. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.