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Tackling violence against women a priority despite criticism

Source: BBC

Priti Patel has insisted the government is committed “at the highest level” to tackling violence against women following the death of Sarah Everard.

The home secretary also confirmed she had ordered a review after criticism of police actions at a vigil for Ms Everard.

Following her statement, MPs began debating a crime bill which changes how the police can manage such events.

Labour says the new law “does nothing to help women feel safer”.

The Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill covers major government proposals on crime and justice.

Labour’s shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds argued that the bill was more focused on increasing sentences for those who damage memorials than protecting women.

But Ms Patel said it was “completely wrong” of opposition MPs to suggest the proposed law would do nothing for women arguing it would “end the halfway release of those convicted for sexual offences such as rape”.

Meanwhile, the government announced it would put more money into the Safer Streets Fund which it said could be used for better street lighting and more CCTV.

The government says its Police, Crime Sentencing and Courts Bill would allow police to “impose conditions such as start and finish times and maximum noise levels on static protests” of whatever size.

Ms Patel said allowing police to put conditions on protests had become necessary due to a “significant change in tactics” by protestors which “had led to a disproportionate amount of disruption” such as blocking ambulances on emergency calls and people gluing themselves to rush hour trains.

Criticism over how the police handled the vigil for Ms Everard has thrown a spotlight on some of the measures in the bill and Labour has now said it will oppose it.

Mr Thomas-Symonds said the bill contained “poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression”.

He said the scenes from the Sarah Everard vigil on Clapham Common on Saturday were a “red warning light” to ministers that they “should not be rushing through laws cracking down on protest”.

The Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the bill was “shocking” and contained “offensive anti-democratic proposals”.

The bill would also double the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers from 12 months to two years and introduce a measure known as ‘Kay’s Law’.

Kay’s Law introduces a change to the bail system, so individuals are not held on bail for unreasonable lengths of time, while enabling police to impose strict conditions on more suspects in cases such as domestic abuse.

It is named in memory of Kay Richardson, who was murdered by her ex-partner following his release under investigation.

Stalking measures

Meanwhile in the House of Lords, the government has been defeated over its Domestic Abuse Bill.

In spite of government opposition, peers backed a change to the bill that would ensure migrant women, who are the victim of domestic abuse, have a route to be able to legally remain in the UK.

They also backed a call for tougher supervision and monitoring of serial domestic abuse and stalking perpetrators, demanding the creation of a register of perpetrators.

On Monday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Ms Patel and Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick attended a crime and justice taskforce to discuss ways to protect women and girls from violence.

Following the meeting, the government has pledged a doubling of the funding for the Safer Streets Fund which provides neighbourhood measures such as better lighting and CCTV.

The Home Office has confirmed this brings the funding for local projects to a total of £45 million.

Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse will also hold a summit in the coming weeks with police and industry representatives from the night-time economy on preparations to protect women as pandemic restrictions lift.

Responding to the announcement, the Reclaim These Streets group – which had wanted to set up a legal vigil for Sarah Everard – welcomed the money but added: “We don’t believe that funding alone creates the structural changes we’ve talked about… women won’t be able to trust that they are safe until misogyny and racism are tackled at an institutional level within government, police and the criminal justice system.”

Analysis box by Jonathan Blake, political correspondent

Even before the killing of Sarah Everard, the government’s planned changes to policing and the criminal justice system had proved controversial.

But the events of this weekend have heightened the debate about the policing of public gatherings and whether the criminal justice system does enough to protect women and punish men for violent crimes.

It’s a coincidence that the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is being introduced this week but there’s no doubt its passage through parliament will be influenced by recent events.

Labour is attempting to seize on the issue, opposing the bill having previously planned to abstain.

But so far there is no indication the government is ready to allow changes to, for example, make misogyny a hate crime or include measures to tackle street harassment, focusing instead on a strategy due to be published later this year.

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