POLITICS
27/05/2020 12:51 BST | Updated 27/05/2020 19:15 BST

Domestic Abuse Survivors Told To Put Themselves At Risk By Attending Commons In Person

Jacob Rees-Mogg's decision to scrap video link parliament is leading to "unacceptable" and "discriminatory" demands, charities warn.

Coronavirus has changed everything. Make sense of it all with the Waugh Zone, our evening politics briefing. Sign up now.

Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg is under pressure to drop “unsafe” demands for domestic abuse survivors to attend parliament in person to give evidence.

Rees-Mogg has scrapped the so-called “hybrid” parliament, meaning proceedings will no longer take place via video link despite the ongoing coronavirus crisis.

Eight domestic abuse and women’s rights organisations said the move puts at risk the safety of survivors due to give evidence on the government’s landmark domestic abuse bill.

They urged Rees-Mogg to drop the “unacceptable”, “discriminatory” and “unsafe” demands, warning they will particularly put at risk witnesses from Black and ethnic minority (BAME) communities who are more likely to die from Covid-19. 

In a letter to the Commons leader, the charities said some of the witnesses include women who cannot get anyone to look after their children without breaking social distancing rules.

Another witness has a disability and so would need someone to break social distancing rules to assist them in navigating parliament.

Survivors who will be detailing some of the most traumatic experiences in their lives will need help delivering evidence, which will mean more unnecessary journeys on public transport by support workers, the charity said. 

The demand for physical attendance also excludes survivors and organisations from Wales, as the lockdown restrictions there are more stringent. 

Nicki Norman, acting co-chief executive of Women’s Aid, said:  “We welcome the public bill committee’s decision to hear the expert evidence of domestic abuse survivors as they scrutinise the landmark domestic abuse bill.  

“However, it is clearly wrong to require them to give evidence in person. 

“This requirement is unsafe for survivors, especially for women from BAME communities and those with disabilities. 

“It will put survivors and staff supporting them at risk and force them to breach current government guidance. 

“The government must urgently reconsider this requirement.”

Gisela Valle, director of the Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) said: “We are highly concerned that survivors have been asked to attend the parliament in person despite the pandemic, its disproportionate effect on BAME communities and social distancing measures.

“This is unnecessarily exposing them to the risk of infection.

“For all these reasons, we are calling on the government to prioritise the safety of survivors and to enable witnesses to present evidence remotely.”  

Pragna Patel, director of Southall Black Sisters, said: “This unacceptable condition of attendance only serves to jeopardise the safety of survivors and their key workers, as well as flout the rule on non-essential travel. 

“In a context where facilities exist for participants to give evidence remotely, there is no justification for the requirement. 

“Given that BAME groups are amongst those disproportionately affected by Covid-19, BAME survivors and the staff who support them will be placed at unnecessary risk. 

“We urge the government to reconsider.”

A government spokesperson said: “The landmark domestic abuse bill will transform the way we support victims and tackle perpetrators.

“The government continues to work closely with domestic abuse organisations and charities to ensure those who want to make their voices heard and scrutinise the bill have the chance to do so.”