Bishop Helen-Ann speaks in House of Lords on Victims and Prisoners Bill

First published on: 19th December 2023

During the second reading of the Victims and Prisoners Bill on Monday 18 December 2023, Bishop Helen-Ann gave this speech in the House of Lords. 

My Lords, it is a privilege to speak today and to follow Noble and Learned Lords.

This is an important piece of legislation. We all know that the work of delivering justice for victims does not end with this legislation. Ultimately we all want safer communities, so it is vital that we consider what really helps to rehabilitate people in prison so that they do not offend again on release. The work of reconciliation and restoration, challenging as they are invite us to consider deeper issues. Root and branch reform of the criminal justice system is long overdue.  

There are unresolved issues with the Bill, some of which I hope will be considered in this house. I will mention 4 very briefly which the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Gloucester will be interested in as the Bill progresses. 

We know that many people in the criminal justice system are both victims and offenders. In the case of women, almost 60% of those supervised in the community or in custody have experienced domestic abuse, although many believe the true figure to be higher. Research has shown that women’s offending is often directly linked to their own experience of domestic abuse, so we are unfairly criminalising victims. This Bill brings an opportunity to consider making the defence of self-defence more accessible for victims of domestic abuse who use force against their abuser, and to provide a defence where victims of domestic abuse are coerced into offending. This is welcomed.

We must also guard against unintended consequences of some welcome aspects of this bill in regard to parental access to children when a domestic homicide is committed. The welfare of traumatised children is critical, and the family courts are better placed than criminal courts to consider the individual needs of such vulnerable children.  We also need to better understand just how many children in the country have a primary carer who is in prison – for whatever kind of offence. We know those children are likely to suffer life-long consequences and we must do more to think about criminal justice reform in generational terms.

I am concerned with others that the issue of Imprisonment for Public Protection has not fully been resolved although the proposed changes are commendable. This Bill might afford an opportunity to finally put right that injustice – might the Noble Lord the Minister look again at the principal recommendation of the Justice Committee on resentencing? 

This Bill should seek to help all victims. Migrant women who face abuse and violence in the UK need access to a permanent, long-term welfare safety net, including refuge spaces and support services.  

We know that migrant victims of crime fear data sharing between the police and the Home Office. A ‘firewall’ would enable victims of domestic abuse to come forward to seek help in confidence without fear of immigration enforcement. Firewall amendments were tabled during the course of the Domestic Abuse and Illegal Migration Bills, and my friend the right reverend prelate the Bishop of London hopes to support this measure during this Bill as well. No one should feel unsafe in reporting a crime committed against them or one that they have witnessed.

My Lords, I will conclude by commending the Government on this Bill and many of its proposals to improve the experience of victims of crime and I look forward to working with colleagues as it progresses through your Lordships’ House. 


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