On 13th March 2017, the Supreme Court will begin hearing the ‘Worboys’ case, concerning two victims of a serial rapist who were seriously let down by a catastrophic litany of failures in the police’s investigation into their reports of rape. But for these failings, the rapist would have been caught earlier and countless women would have been protected.
Previously the High Court and the Court of Appeal delivered judgements that held that the police have an actionable duty to investigate allegations of inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (including sexual violence and domestic violence) and to put into place adequate ‘systems’ for investigation. But the police do not agree. In the Supreme Court, with support from the Home Office, they will argue that they have no actionable legal duty in human rights law to investigate serious crimes of violence committed by others and that any other decision will seriously hamper their ability to function properly!
Intervention by women’s groups: If the police succeed, it will mean that women and girls subject to violence will have no effective remedy in the courts and will not be able to use the courts to compel the police and other state institutions to account for serious failures in investigation. The outcome is of great significance to the exercise of women’s fundamental human rights and freedoms. This is why Southall Black Sisters , End Violence Against Women Coalition, Nia Project and other women’s organisations are intervening in this case.
Systemic failures and lack of police accountability: Our experience shows how police failures in investigating crimes of violence against women are too many, too frequent and often too basic. This is compounded by an inadequate complaints system that continues to impair women’s access to protection, justice and equality.
No immunity for the police: If the Rotherham child abuse cases and the Hillsborough disaster have taught us anything it is the need to ensure that police conduct is held up to scrutiny like any other state institution. There should be no immunity for the police when dealing with violence against women and girls. The State has a duty to protect women from violence, and this includes investigating crimes of violence thoroughly when they occur. If they fail in this duty, we should be able to hold them publicly to account through the courts.
Human Rights matter: In the context of systemic, operational police failures, the position taken by the police and Home Office is untenable and contrary to regional and international human rights laws and standards on violence against women and non-discrimination. In this post Brexit climate, now more than ever, we need to safeguard the Human Rights Act 1998 as a key tool of accountability. Without proper police accountability there can be no gender justice. Now more than ever we need to defend women’s rights as human rights.
Pragna Patel at Southall Black Sisters [email protected]