On 10th May 2022, the government has confirmed its legislative agenda for the next year as part of the annual Queen’s Speech. While we welcome the announcement of the upcoming Victims’ Bill, we are alarmed by the array of Bills on the horizon which pose a grave threat to women’s rights.
Most concerningly, plans to scrap the Human Rights Act will have an enormously detrimental impact on survivors and women’s rights, and completely undermine the government’s stated commitment to addressing violence against women and girls.
In a total of 38 Bills announced today, the vast majority risk undermining our fight to end violence against women. These include legislation designed to hand the police more powers to quash protest (including measures removed from the Policing Act in the House of Lords) and legislation to prevent public bodies from engaging in boycotts.
Human Rights Act
The government announced that a new ‘Bill of Rights’ will replace the existing Human Rights Act, legislation which has long been an essential tool for upholding women’s rights to live free from violence.
Plans to overhaul this legislation are a direct attack on women’s rights. The Human Rights Act plays a critical role in survivors’ ability to challenge the state’s failures to protect them from violence. Plans to scrap the Act constitute a major step backwards for women’s rights.
A prime example of this was the case of ‘black cab rapist’ John Worboys, who was able 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 the victims’ human rights were breached, and the Human Rights Act played a crucial role in holding the police accountable for these failings.
This week, EVAW signed an open letter to the Prime Minister which warned that these plans would endanger women and girls. We were one of several 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 on the one hand, while removing their ability to challenge failures on the other.
Draft Victims’ Bill
We are hopeful that by enshrining the Victims’ Code into law and improving the quality and consistency of specialist support services in the community, the draft Victims’ Bill has scope to improve support for victims and survivors of violence against women. However, the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on the Bill was heavily skewed towards the criminal justice system rather than reflecting the diverse priorities and needs of all victims and survivors.
We need a Victims’ Bill to deliver in a number of other ways, including on independent legal advice for rape survivors; safeguards to protect rape victims from excessive police requests for third-party materials; and addressing inequalities in access to support and outcomes for marginalised groups, including Black and minoritised, migrant women, Deaf and disabled and LGBT+ survivors.
Online Safety Bill
The Queen’s Speech also clarified that the Online Safety Bill will be carried forward following its Second Reading in April. While we’re calling for tech companies to be held to account for the violence they allow to flourish on their platforms, the Bill currently fails to name or adequately address violence against women and girls in its online dimensions.
We are working alongside a range of stakeholders to develop a VAWG Code of Practice that meets the rights and needs of women and girls, and will continue lobbying government to ensure this new legislation is fit for purpose.
Janaya Walker, Public Affairs Manager at the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said:
“Alongside some opportunities for helping victims to access justice and support, the Queen’s Speech has also confirmed some really regressive legislative moves, which represent a major setback in our fight to end violence against women and girls.
In EVAW’s opposition to the Policing Act, we highlighted how attacks on the right to protest and dissent are deeply harmful to women’s rights, but the government has doubled down on these plans through the Public Order Bill.
Plans to scrap the Human Rights Act are a real low blow, less than one year after government accepted that the criminal justice system fails rape victims and promised to right this ‘wrong’. Instead, it now proceeds with proposals which threaten women’s ability to challenge the state’s failures to protect them, as well as enabling the police and Crown Prosecution Service to evade scrutiny. All of this is taking place in the midst of a cost of living crisis, in which women’s incomes are being hardest hit.
For those of us concerned with ending gender-based violence, we have no choice but to continue to resist this raid on our rights. Women’s rights are human rights and the End Violence Against Women Coalition will not back down in defending them.”
Sinead Geoghegan, Communications Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org, 07960 744 502