On 10th January 2022, the House of Lords debated amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bishop of Gloucester raised the issue of vulnerable women being caught in “joint enterprise” scenarios involving weapons and given prison sentences, and supported amendments which would address this:
The Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I rise to support in particular Amendments 90H, 90J, 90K and 90L. As has been said, they are critical to ensuring that more vulnerable women are not drawn into the criminal justice system through the de facto joint enterprise element of SVROs. Probably like other noble Lords, I was shocked to read the briefing from Agenda, which states that analysis of
“109 joint enterprise cases involving women and girls”
“there was not a single case in which women and girls had handled a weapon; in 90% of cases they engaged in no violence at all; and in half of the cases they were not even present at the scene of the crime.”
As we have heard, SVROs will mean that women can be given an order based on a single judgment that, on the balance of probability, they “ought to have known” that someone in their company was in possession of a knife. That key phrase, “ought to have known”, is really troubling. Will the Minister consider how this fits in with wider policy, including the female offenders strategy, to limit the number of women serving short sentences and prevent reoffending?
We have a duty to limit unintended consequences. These amendments would do just that.
Extracts from the speeches that followed:
Lord Coaker (Lab): I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Armstrong who, for good reason, cannot be with us today, for her Amendments 90K and 90L, and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester for her support for them. They raise the issue of women and girls who have been exploited in gangs and are likely to be caught up in the provisions of these serious violence prevention orders, in particular where, in the phrase we have heard from many noble Lords, they “ought to have known” that a companion was carrying a knife. Notwithstanding what has been said, my own experience of this is that “ought to have known” ignores the reality of the coercive and abusive nature of many girls’ involvement in those gangs. It is not the “ought to have known” that we would all think about when we talk about the lives we lead. In the chaotic lifestyle of those gang members, “ought to have known” is an unreasonable expectation. It is absolutely vital that the pilot looks at how those provisions impact on violence against women and girls and their impact on vulnerable and exploited women.
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