The domestic abuse bill is expected to receive royal assent this week, four years after it was announced in the Queen’s speech. But it will not include a specific stalkers’ register, despite briefings from the government after the death of Sarah Everard that it was likely to support such a measure.
Instead, after sustained pressure from cross-party MPs and peers, the government promised to improve statutory guidance around the current system for monitoring high-risk criminals to better include serial stalkers and domestic abusers.
New guidance around multi-agency public protection arrangements (Mappa), will now include sections on domestic abuse and stalking, a Home Office spokesperson confirmed.
But the government has come under fire for resisting the move by MPs, peers and campaigners, and for voting against a previous amendment to the domestic abuse bill that would have automatically placed serial offenders on the current violent and sex offender register (Visor).
When a stalking amendment was first tabled in the House of Lords last month, the home secretary, Priti Patel, appeared to suggest the government was likely to support the measures, telling MPs: “There is something about perpetrators and their serial offending that has to be addressed.”
Government sources briefed that they would support a stalking register, telling the Sunday Times that the move also had the backing of the justice secretary, Robert Buckland.
It came amid public outrage over violence against women following the killing of Everard, 33, who disappeared as she walked home from a friend’s house in south London in March. A serving police officer has been charged with her kidnap and murder.
Laura Richards, the founder of stalking advisory service Paladin and a key figure pushing for the creation of a register, said the briefings were “misleading, and mostly likely intentionally so”.
“That is a huge insult to victims and families and all of us who’ve been campaigning on this,” she said. “It does feel like the backstep, because there is no mandatory inclusion of serial offenders. I am angry and annoyed about that, because they got all victims’ and survivors’ hopes up. And that is, in my view, unacceptable.”
The fact that new statutory guidance will explicitly say that Mappa must include domestic abusers and stalkers with past patterns of offending behaviour, even if convictions have not been secured, was a “step forward”, she added.
“I think this is a beginning, but it is certainly not the end, because I, and others who have campaigned on this, will be watching this like a hawk. If we don’t see murders of women going down and an increase of violent and abusive men being managed by Mappa, we will bring this back in another legislative vehicle because the stakes are so high.”
On Tuesday, Lady Royall withdrew a further stalkers’ register amendment, telling the Guardian she believed progress was being made, with the government committing to a domestic abuse perpetrator strategy and to including experts like Richards when drawing up the new guidance.
Jess Phillips, the shadow domestic violence minister, compared the move to “a service station sandwich”, adding: “You’ve got something to eat, but it’s dissatisfying.”
While there was “a huge amount of good” in the domestic abuse bill, the government was failing to implement the “massive and systematic” shift in policy that was needed, she said, adding: “I think the government’s warm words after the killing of the next Sarah Everard will seen as just that.”
A government spokesperson said there had been no U-turn and there had never been a commitment for a national register for stalking or domestic abuse perpetrators.
They added: “Any victim of domestic abuse and stalking deserves to have these abhorrent crimes taken seriously, and we agree that high-harm domestic abuse perpetrators need to be effectively monitored and supervised so victims are protected.
“We have committed to strengthening the Mappa statutory guidance to include sections on domestic abuse and stalking to ensure that all agencies involved take steps to identify domestic abuse perpetrators whose risk requires further management and monitoring.”
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