Karishma Dharni

No Accountability without the Human Rights Act

Commissioner of the Police for the Metropolis v DSD & another – no justice without accountability; no accountability without the Human Rights Act

Today the Supreme Court heard our call:  “there can be no justice without accountability”.

At Southall Black Sisters, we have fought for the rights of BME women and girls facing gender-based violence for almost 40 years. Our job is to help them obtain effective protection and assert their fundamental human rights to equality and freedom.

Women who attend SBS have to challenge – on a daily basis – violent, abusive and degrading practices that can include domestic and sexual violence, FGM, forced marriage, honour killings, polygamy, and many others, exacerbated by an institutional failure to address such crimes.

So, when the state lets these women down when the state puts them at further risk of violence and abuse; when the state produces laws and policies that look good on paper yet never properly implements or applies them – then our job is to ensure that those state agencies are held accountable for their failures.

We have seen the police failing repeatedly when investigating crimes against women and girls – failures which are too many, too frequent and too basic and sometimes catastrophic. In 2014, SBS made submissions to the HMIC review on police response to domestic violence and abuse detailing a catalogue of failures that included flawed investigations into crimes of violence against women. We said at the time, that the issue was not about the lack of policies and laws or even about training but about the failure of implementation. In this case, the Supreme Court examined this precise failure in the context of vigorous opposition by the police supported by the Home Secretary who fought every step of the way– at great expense to the taxpayer – to avoid accountability – despite admitting serious failings in the case.

Yet without the scrutiny of these failures, and without redress for victims, a climate of indifference, disbelief and impunity builds. The police have no impetus to change or improve and perpetrators are emboldened because they know that they can get away with their abuse. And victims’ voices are lost and ignored. If anyone needs evidence of why it is so important for police conduct to be held up to scrutiny, they need only look to the Hillsborough and Rotherham scandals.

This judgment is, therefore, a vindication of the courageous struggles by the victims of Warboys and of countless other women to ensure that police conduct is held up to scrutiny, such that there is an effective remedy for any failings in the investigation of the crimes they have suffered.

This judgment amounts to a vindication of the rule of law itself, and it will have far-reaching ramifications, not just for abused and raped women, but for all other vulnerable and powerless groups who are forced to look to the police for protection and some semblance of justice in the face of serious crimes of violence.  It should serve to help the police and the criminal justice system at large to understand that such victims cannot and should not be ignored or treated with callous indifference, that they will be held to account if they fail to do their job in relation to such crimes.

But above all, this judgment also reminds us of the importance of the Human Rights Act in asserting fundamental rights and freedoms. It makes it absolutely clear that the police owe a duty not just to the public, but to individuals, to protect them from, and investigate, these very serious crimes that amount to violations of Article 3 of the Human Rights Act. Where they fail in that duty there will be scrutiny, there will be accountability and there will be consequences.

This is a victory not just for feminism, but for all of us who are concerned with human rights, justice and equality. It reminds us that there can be no justice without accountability and there can be no accountability without the Human Rights Act.

Further Reading

Police Must Investigate Rape Properly & Failing To Do So Breaks The Law
John Worboys and the Struggle for Justice
Human Rights Act: No justice without accountability
No Justice Without Accountability


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BBC News: Timeline: Sex crimes of taxi driver
The Guardian: John Worboys’s victims were told his sentence was equivalent to life
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Crowd Justice: Why people are backing the legal challenge by victims of John Worboys: in their own words
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BBC Radio 4: ‘I know I was raped’

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