Harman warns courts on domestic violence

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Courts are to be warned by the Government to stop giving lighter sentences to black and Asian men who beat up their wives and girlfriends because domestic violence is seen as "acceptable" in their communities.

Courts are to be warned by the Government to stop giving lighter sentences to black and Asian men who beat up their wives and girlfriends because domestic violence is seen as "acceptable" in their communities.

Harriet Harman, the Solicitor General, will order magistrates and judges to punish Asian and black men as firmly as white men. In a speech to be delivered to Southwark Race Equality Council next week, she warns the courts not to "reinforce the notion that domestic violence is acceptable in some communities. It is not." Cases not dealt with firmly enough will be referred to the Court of Appeal for tougher sentencing.

MPs have expressed concern that some women from ethnic minority backgrounds are tolerating regular abuse but are afraid to report it to the authorities. The Solicitor General will tell the police they must not be wary of pressing charges against men from Asian or black backgrounds. "Cultural sensitivity" should be reserved for the victim but not the perpetrator, she told The Independent.

"Often, perpetrators will, after being found guilty, argue for a lesser sentence on the basis there is an acceptance of domestic violence in that community or that violence was in response to the wife's behaviour bringing shame on her husband, family or community," the minister says. "Such arguments in mitigation must be firmly rejected."

The Solicitor General has already referred to the Court of Appeal the case of an Asian woman from East Africa who was assaulted by a relative, and his sentence was increased from five to 10 years. The intervention follows the introduction of a Bill on domestic violence, introducing tougher penalties, which becomes law later this year.

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