Labour MPs: Human Rights Act Is Vital Safeguard For Women Facing Violence

"We must ask if the government have the right priorities to tackle this epidemic of violence."
Anneliese Dodds and Ellie Reeves
Anneliese Dodds and Ellie Reeves
Getty / Labour

In 2012, Laura* was raped. She was 17. She bravely reported the crime to the police and informed them that her t-shirt might contain vital DNA evidence.

The police failed to send the t-shirt for forensic testing. In fact, they failed to properly investigate the crime at all, instead focusing their attentions on investigating “Laura” for perverting the course of justice.

She was arrested and told “this is what happens when you lie”. She attempted to take her own life twice while under investigation.

It was only during this period that a new set of officers took on the case, tested the t-shirt and found she was telling the truth.

Her attacker was later convicted.

Banaz Mahmod was tragically murdered in 2006 in a so-called “honour killing”. She was 20 years old.

In the weeks leading up to her murder by her father, uncle and male cousins, she went to the police five times for assistance to save her life.

She explained that her life was in danger, reported threatening phone calls and even named those threatening her. Police did not take these reports seriously.

These are horrific incidents, emblematic of the threats that women and girls face all too often in our society, and the responsibility for them lies with their perpetrators.

But what links these cases is that those impacted have relied on the Human Rights Act to get some measure of justice for institutional failures that let down these women.

Laura relied on the Human Rights Act to sue the force for its treatment of her.

As a result of this case, the force changed its internal processes to ensure that any decision by an investigating officer to discontinue a rape investigation or release a suspect with no further action has to be agreed by an independent panel chaired by an assistant chief constable.

Banaz Mahmood’s sister Bekhal relied on the Human Rights Act to bring a civil claim against the Metropolitan Police for its failure to take steps which could have prevented her murder, which the Met settled.

As we mark Human Rights Day, we must ask, without this vital legislation, how many more cases like this could there be?

Rishi Sunak has appointed a justice secretary whose personal mission is to repeal human rights legislation and develop his own “Bill of Rights”, which lowers the “positive obligations” on public bodies.

While the Conservatives ramp up the rhetoric, in fact it is the victims and survivors of crimes, especially women and girls, who will lose out if they do not have a recourse to challenge the way their case has been investigated.

As we approach the end of the 16 days of activism for the elimination of violence against women and girls, we must ask if the government have the right priorities to tackle this epidemic of violence.

Labour has proposed practical steps to keep women and girls safe, such as additional police and community support officers, specialist rape units embedded in every police force, specialist rape courts and a domestic violence register to ensure abusers cannot go on to harm victim after victim.

In contrast, the Conservatives seem more interested in ripping up this vital legislation in an effort to appear tough and grab headlines.

This isn’t good enough and it isn’t what women deserve.

If Rishi Sunak or any members of the government want to demonstrate that they truly care about tackling this horrendous epidemic of violence, they should commit, once and for all, to keep the Human Rights Act in its current form.

Failing to do so would be deeply dangerous for those at risk of rape, sexual assault and domestic abuse.

*Name changed to protect anonymity

:: Anneliese Dodds is the shadow secretary of state for women and equalities. Ellie Reeves is a shadow justice minister.


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