Tomorrow (Wednesday 22nd June 2022), the government will introduce a new ‘Bill of Rights’ to Parliament, in a bid to replace the current Human Rights Act.
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) is clear that government plans to overhaul this legislation represents a major step backwards for victims and survivors’ ability to seek justice and a direct attack on women’s rights.
We have long called on the government to save our Human Rights Act, which is an essential tool for upholding women’s rights to live free from violence. It provides victims and survivors with essential legal protections, as well as vital tools to challenge the state and its institutions for failing to protect us from gender-based violence.
A prime example of this was the case of ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys, who was free to continue attacking women for many years due to systematic police failures to properly investigate or take seriously women’s reports of rape.
EVAW acted as an intervenor in this case, in which the High Court found that the victims’ human rights were breached. The Human Rights Act played a crucial role in holding the police accountable for these failings.
As well as the more high-profile court judgments such as the Worboys case and the recent High Court judgment regarding policing of the Clapham Common vigil, the Human Rights Act plays a crucial part in enabling women’s organisations to hold institutions and authorities to account in their treatment of victims and survivors seeking support.
Bill of Rights undermines government commitments to tackle violence against women
It is appalling that this Bill is being introduced less than one year after government accepted that the criminal justice system is failing rape victims and promised to right this ‘wrong’. At the same time that it promises to ‘put victim’s firmly at the heart of the criminal justice system’ through the Victim’s Bill, it is pushing through proposals that threaten women’s ability to challenge the state’s failures to protect them, while allowing the police and Crown Prosecution Service to evade scrutiny.
Last month, EVAW joined more than 50 human rights organisations in an open letter to the Prime Minister which warned that plans to tear up the Human Rights Act would endanger women and girls. We were one of several expert violence against women and girls (VAWG) organisations that responded to the Ministry of Justice consultation on these proposals, highlighting the government’s hypocrisy in making commitments to victims and survivors failed by justice agencies while removing their ability to challenge these failures. EVAW also supported a letter sent to the Deputy Prime Minister calling for pre-legislative scrutiny, as urged by a coalition of Select Committees.
We are opposed to the dangerous and frankly deceptive language in government communications about the Bill, and its cherry-picking of cases to justify its harmful proposals. We know that an attack on human rights legislation will cause significant harm to not only women and girls and victims and survivors, but also those who already disproportionately face human rights abuses, including at the hands of the state: Black, minoritised and migrant women, disabled and LGBT+ survivors and communities.
Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), said:
“The new Bill of Rights proposals interfere with some of the most fundamental legal protections that victims have relied on to hold the state to account when they fail in their duties to prevent violence against women. There is no reasonable justification for seeking to curb obligations on public authorities to protect people’s human rights; this move simply seeks to absolve the state of responsibility in this area and will drastically impact victims and survivors of abuse.
This constitutes yet another attack on our society and all those living within it. From the Policing Act to the Nationality and Borders Act, the Public Order Bill and the Bill of Rights, we are living through a relentless attack on our democratic rights, with some of the most regressive legislation we’ve seen in generations entering Parliament at a dizzying pace. All of this is taking place following a pandemic which created a secondary crisis for women and girls facing abuse and in the midst of a cost of living crisis, in which women’s incomes are being hardest hit.
The public has been undeniably clear in supporting positive action to tackle violence against women, both proactive steps to prevent it and reactive steps to provide support and prevent repeat offending. It is unconscionable that those with a democratic mandate to serve our collective best interests are pursuing a different agenda by attacking the basic human rights that form the cornerstone of our society.
The courts must be able to interpret and apply the law free from government influence. Contrary to the government’s official communications, these laws will not protect us or our freedoms. Instead, they will have the opposite effect – silencing survivors and increasing the power imbalance between us and the institutions that have long had free rein to abuse their power.
All of us who care about ending violence against women and girls have no choice but to continue to resist this raid on our fundamental human rights. Women’s rights are human rights.”
Hannah Couchman, Senior Legal Officer, Rights of Women, said:
“We are under no illusion that this is an attempt to weaken the rights to which we are all entitled, and any suggestion that these changes will support survivors of violence against women and girls (VAWG) is deeply disingenuous.
The measures represent a regressive step, eroding a cornerstone of our democracy as the Government systematically shuts down avenues of accountability through a series of rushed and oppressive bills. Such attacks on our rights are most keenly felt by those who are minoritised by society and the state.
Given the disturbing prevalence of VAWG in our society, in which the state is always complicit and frequently the aggressor, this move to weaken the rights protected under the HRA – one of the few tools women can seek to rely on the secure recognition of the injustices they have experienced – is disturbing.
The VAWG sector are united in resisting this oppressive Bill.”
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, email@example.com 07960 744 502
About the End Violence Against Women Coalition
The End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW) is a leading UK-wide coalition of over 120 specialist women’s support services, researchers, activists, survivors and NGOs working to end violence against women and girls in all its forms. https://www.endviolenceagainstwomen.org.uk/