MPs condemn 'lamentable' absence of female genital mutilation convictions
The failure to secure a single conviction for female genital mutilation (FGM) has been condemned as "lamentable" by a Commons committee.
MPs warned the practice was a "hidden crime" which remained a "national scandal".
FGM has been illegal in the UK since 1985 but it was 30 years before the first and only prosecution was brought to trial. Both defendants were cleared in that case last year.
A new report from the Commons Home Affairs committee described the absence of a successful prosecution for an FGM offence as "beyond belief".
It said: "That is a lamentable record and the failure to identify cases, to prosecute and to achieve convictions can only have negative consequences for those who are brave enough to come forward to highlight this crime.
"In the absence of successful prosecutions, FGM remains a national scandal that is continuing to result in the preventable mutilation of thousands of girls."
FGM comprises all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons, according to the World Health Organisation's definition.
The committee said it was a "hidden crime" which was practised in some communities within the UK on a daily basis.
Research has estimated that approximately 137,000 women and girls living in England and Wales in 2011 were affected by FGM.
Figures published by the Health and Social Care Information Centre in July showed there were 5,700 newly recorded cases in England over the previous year.
Under laws rolled out last year doctors, nurses and teachers have a mandatory duty to report FGM cases in under-18s.
MPs backed the measure but said existing disciplinary procedures for ignoring the duty were "insufficient and ineffective" and called for stronger sanctions.
The committee also said it was likely that routine medical examinations of children under six in France had resulted in a large number of successful prosecutions in relation to FGM.
Such an approach would be a "radical change" in practice in the UK, the report said, adding there was a "strong case" for its implementation.
It went on: "However, it should be noted that it has been shown that the French system has to some extent deferred the problem by encouraging some parents simply to wait for their daughters to get beyond the usual age range for the routine medical examinations before having them cut.
"We are also concerned that the examination itself could be unnecessarily traumatic for children."
Nevertheless, medical examinations could have a role as a last resort in high-risk cases, the inquiry concluded.
"As improvements to risk assessment methods continue, there may be a stronger case for a system that requires health professionals to carry out regular medical checks when a girl is identified as being at high risk," it said.
Elsewhere the committee welcomed efforts to protect girls at risk of being taken abroad to undergo FGM but warned better intelligence must be provided to officers.
It called on ministers to adopt a "more sophisticated, data-driven" approach to eradicating the practice.
Conservative MP Tim Loughton, interim chair of the committee, welcomed steps taken by the Government but said: "We are dismayed that there have been no convictions for FGM-related offences."
A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman said: " Female genital mutilation is an abhorrent and damaging practice and like all agencies involved we are determined to hold those responsible to account.
"Prosecutors work closely with police, offering advice on their investigations, but when a case is referred to the CPS a prosecution can only be brought where there is sufficient evidence to meet the evidential stage of the Full Code Test.
"Factors such as the age and vulnerability of FGM victims, who frequently do not want to report offences that could lead to them giving evidence against their family, make it extremely difficult to secure this evidence.
"We welcome the strengthening of the law last year to encourage more victims to come forward."
Safeguarding Minister Sarah Newton said: "This Government is clear that FGM is a barbaric form of abuse that has absolutely no place whatsoever in a Britain that works for everyone and the criminals who perpetrate it should be brought to justice.
"That's why we are taking world-leading action to tackle FGM by strengthening the law to improve protection for those at risk and remove barriers to prosecution.
"This Government has introduced FGM protection orders, a new offence of failing to protect a girl from FGM, a mandatory reporting duty for frontline professionals, new guidance for the police, and lifelong anonymity for victims to encourage them to come forward.
"Our dedicated FGM Unit continues to lead action across Government and in the community so we can help put a stop to this."
National Police Chiefs' Council lead on FGM Commander Mak Chishty said: "Female genital mutilation is a crime and is a severe form of child abuse, which has a devastating impact on women and girls.
"We are committed to safeguarding potential victims and preventing them from undergoing FGM.
"We will take proactive action to robustly investigate any allegations or suspicions and obtain FGM protection orders to help protect potential victims whilst building the strongest cases to refer to the Crown Prosecution Service."
He added that a criminal justice approach "in isolation" will not eradicate FGM.