International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women 25 November 2014
"Everyone has a responsibility to prevent and end violence against women and girls, starting by challenging the culture of discrimination that allows it to continue." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Why This International Day?
Violence against women is a human rights violation
Violence against women is a consequence of discrimination against women, in law and also in practice, and of persisting inequalities between men and women
Violence against women impacts on, and impedes, progress in many areas, including poverty eradication, combating HIV/AIDS, and peace and security
Violence against women and girls is not inevitable. Prevention is possible and essential
Violence against women continues to be a global pandemic.
Facts and Figures
35% of women and girls globally experience some form of physical and or sexual violence in their lifetime with up to seven in ten women facing this abuse in some countries.
It is estimated that up to 30 million girls under the age of 15 remain at risk from FGM/C, and more than 130 million girls and women have undergone the procedure worldwide.
Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children, 250 million of whom were married before the age of 15. Girls who marry before the age of 18 are less likely to complete their education and more likely to experience domestic violence and complications in childbirth.
The costs and consequence of violence against women last for generations.
From 25 November, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, to 10 December, Human Rights Day, the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world.
This year, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Campaign UNiTE to End Violence against Women at: www.un.org/en/women/endviolence/ invites you to “Orange YOUR Neighbourhood.” Take the UNiTE campaign to local streets, shops and businesses, and organize “Orange Events” in your own neighbourhoods between 25 November and 10 December 2014.
Reach out to your neighbours, local stores, food-sellers on the corner of your street, gas stations, local cinemas, barbers, schools, libraries and post offices! Project orange lights and hang orange flags onto local landmarks, tie orange ribbons where you are allowed, and organize local ‘orange marches’ on 25 November to raise awareness about violence against women and discuss solutions that would work for your community.
The date of 25 November was chosen to commemorate the Mirabal sisters, three political activists from the Dominican Republic, who were brutally assassinated in 1960 during the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship (1930-1961).
Join us! Share your photos, messages and videos showing how you orange your neighbourhood at facebook.com/SayNO.UNiTE and twitter.com/SayNO_UNiTE. For more information about “Orange YOUR Neighbourhood,” see flyer and download toolkit.
Get inspired! Watch this video and see how we ‘oranged’ the world last year!
Domestic violence refuges get £10m cash injection from government Move to protect network of safe havens for women as councils divert funds to other housing is welcomed by charities Sandra Laville The Guardian, Wednesday 26 November 2014 12.28 GMT
The government will give £10m more to refuges for women fleeing from domestic violence. Photograph: Pekka Sakki/Rex
A £10m injection of money to protect the national network of women’s refuges has been welcomed by charities working with domestic abuse victims.
The government announced the extra funding after more than 38,000 people signed a petition by Women’s Aid to save refuges across the country. The Guardian recently highlighted how the network of refuges was breaking down because local authorities were using the commissioning process to starve traditional refuges of funding and divert money into housing association accommodation.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, welcomed the extra funding but said the government must go further and provide sustainable financial support for refuges. Without it, the extra money would be a mere “sticking plaster”, she said.
“We urge the government to build on this first step and begin developing a sustainable long-term solution to refuge funding. We hope this announcement is the first step towards protecting services which save lives or support thousands of women and children every year,” she said.
Refuge also welcomed the extra money. But chief executive Sandra Horley said: “£10m is just a drop in the ocean when we consider the scale of the problem. Local authorities are facing a tsunami of funding cuts – this pot of money may plug some of the gaps for now but what will happen when it runs out in 2016?
“There have never been enough refuge spaces in this country. The government urgently needs to find a more sustainable solution. It needs to put funding for refuges on a national footing.”
A Guardian investigation found that refuges have closed, or were under threat of closure, in Gloucestershire, Cheshire, Devon, Dorset, Sheffield, Nottingham, Somerset, Leeds, Leicestershire and Coventry.
Many local authorities were removing funding from traditional women’s refuges to support more generic accommodation providing room for men as well as women despite figures showing that more than 96% of domestic violence victims at risk of murder or serious harm are women. Many local authorities have also been limiting the number of women and children they take in from outside their area – a decision charities say is shutting down the national network of safe houses.
Communities secretary Eric Pickles said this week the £10m would support women’s refuges in 100 areas across England. He has also written to 326 councils in England and Wales to remind them they had a legal duty to house women and children fleeing domestic violence.
“Specialist refuges can mean the difference between life and death for some victims of domestic abuse,” Pickles said. “The £10m will help councils maintain this vital national network and ensure support is provided whereever it is needed.”
Yvette Cooper, shadow home secretary – writing in the Guardian this week – said the Labour government would use £3m of savings made from abolishing police and crime commissioners to set up a national refuge fund to sustain a countrywide network of refuges.
How the UK’s legal system is failing victims of domestic violence Legal aid cuts now mean it can be incredibly difficult for victims of domestic violence to get help and protection when threatened by an abusive partner – and lives are being lost as a result Louise Tickle The Guardian, Saturday 29 November 2014 On average almost two women a week are killed by a partner or former partner. Children, too, are sometimes killed. Photograph: Aude Van Ryan/Graphic
“My risk level, out of 10, it’s probably 12. He’s not going to stop until he gets me. And when I say ‘get me’, I mean until he takes the breath from my body,” says Alice quietly. She’s in the same room, sitting on the same small sofa where she was sadistically raped by her former husband. Her understated manner belies the horror of the story she tells about their life together. Alice has survived more than a decade of violent domestic abuse, much of it inflicted while her very young children were at home.
Her ex-husband is now in prison. When he’s released – fairly soon – he will, Alice is convinced, find and kill her. He subjected her to numerous vicious attacks throughout their marriage.
Her ex viewed her serving him divorce papers as an outrage, she says. “I am not just his wife. I am his. I belong to him. He’s lost his ‘property’, that’s how he looks at it – and my husband doesn’t take lightly to losing. Now that the divorce has come through, I know him, and all he’s thinking is: ‘You think I’ve lost? Watch.’”
Alice has spent the 18 months since he was jailed trying to plan her escape. The restraining order that is already in place for when he comes out is pointless, she believes: she has no chance of a normal life unless she can make herself and her children completely “disappear” from the town where they’re currently living and start afresh elsewhere. So that he can’t easily track them down, they will all need new identities. But while Alice can change her own name, she faces a difficult legal process to change her children’s without their father’s consent, or at the very least, his knowledge. And that will cost far more money – her solicitor quoted a discounted rate of £100 an hour – than she will be able to find.
“I was so shocked,” she says. “Her usual rate is £150 an hour. £150! I work for £10 an hour.”
But despite the dangers acknowledged by all the professionals who have supported her during the past two years, Alice has twice been turned down for the legal aid she needs to seek the court’s protection for her family.
From April 2013, changes to eligibility for legal aid for domestic abuse victims mean that increasing numbers of [mostly] women and children are facing unnecessary risks of catastrophic harm in acute cases, or of damage to their emotional and physical wellbeing in less immediately perilous ones, according to women’s charities and family law experts.
There are two phases during which a victim will need intervention from the family court, explains Emma Scott, director of the charity Rights of Women. After a violent incident, women will typically seek injunctions such as non-molestation orders, and occupation orders that allow themselves and their children to remain in the family home. Legal aid for these protective orders is available, but is often subject to a financial contribution. This may be unaffordable to a woman on a low income. Then there’s the aftermath: divorce, the financial settlement and ensuring safe arrangements for children. This is means-tested too – “plus a victim will also need to provide proof that she has experienced domestic abuse. There’s a strict list of evidence and without one of those forms of evidence, she won’t get legal aid,” says Scott. Critically, most of these accepted proofs must be dated within the last two years.
“The big problem is the two-year rule,” says Polly Neate, CEO of domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid.
For a victim who has left their partner, she explains, “it could easily take two years or more before you’re in a place where you’re secure enough emotionally to start divorce proceedings, or have enough information to assess what contact arrangements with the perpetrator might be safe for the children.”
Alternatively, Neate says, “you might be prompted to take court action by the prospect of the perpetrator getting out of prison”. The sentence being served might be longer than two years, she points out, and by then, the evidence of domestic abuse a woman could earlier have produced would have ‘run out’.
The worst-case scenario is not a theoretical risk: on average almost two women a week – 1.85 to be precise – are killed by a partner or former partner. That figure has not changed in a decade. Children, too, are sometimes killed in domestic homicides. The risk of death is greater after a victim has ended a relationship than while she remains in it.
As a single parent who works 16 hours a week and earns £650 a month, it turns out that Alice is too well off – “by £27” she says with a mixture of bafflement and despair – to qualify for legal aid, despite being able to prove domestic abuse within the required timeframe.
That sum is what separates her from being able to instruct a solicitor to ask the family court to remove parental rights from her ex. This would, she hopes, allow her to change her children’s names without him knowing, giving them a realistic chance of anonymity. In legal terms, this is a very big ask, and she’ll need to make a compelling case. It’s not a request someone with no legal training would want to make to a judge.
The threat to Alice is acknowledged by her local police force. Before the trial, her independent domestic abuse adviser undertook extensive safety planning in case her ex walked free. Suspended sentences are hardly unknown for convicted domestic abuse perpetrators – three police and crime commissioners in the north-east of England last month handed a dossier of cases presided over by Judge George Moorhouse to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office. These, they said, demonstrated a history of leniency to domestic abusers, following his handing down of a suspended sentence to a man convicted of biting and strangling his wife, holding a knife to her throat and shooting her.
Awaiting her ex’s verdict, Alice was well aware that, with time served on remand, he could easily have been released with a community sentence: her danger was judged so great that she was, unusually, offered the chance to go into the witness protection scheme. She didn’t take it up. In her state of trauma and distress, she explains, she was simply unable to contemplate losing all contact with her parents and wider family for ever.
The risk she and the children face on his release is so grave that Alice is once again officially classified as high-risk, and social services are concerned. Because of worries for her children’s safety, the local authority may now be minded to stump up for her legal costs. But her application to the court is, in the end, a private family matter: the council is not obliged to pay. And while she waits for a decision, the clock is ticking. She and the children need to be gone before her ex gets out.
So what happens to domestic abuse victims when they don’t have legal representation? Do they turn up at court anyway?
“The strong ones do, but going to court on your own is very daunting,” says family lawyer Nicki Cozens of Slee Blackwell solicitors. “Generally, they come away from a half-hour free consultation and you don’t hear from them again. They often go back to their abusive relationship. It’s almost as if they have to get assaulted again, finally pluck up the courage to report it, and then they can tick the box that gets them legal aid.”
Cozens has come across plenty of domestic abuse victims who have not reported an assault for fear of repercussions, including having their children taken away.
As many lawyers warned might happen when the cuts to legal aid were announced, the family courts are now becoming clogged up. The latest figures show that, for the first time, mothers now make up more than half (53%) of all unrepresented parents coming to court to contest arrangements for children. And for a victim of domestic abuse who may have been subjected to years of violence and controlling behaviour, the likelihood of being an effective advocate on your own behalf is small.
Mum-of-two Kate has already been to court by herself to get a non-molestation and occupation order, following an assault so serious she was classified as “high risk”. “The idea of doing it on my own was petrifying,” she says. A month later she was back in front of a judge to get the injunctions confirmed – and so was her ex’s solicitor. “I didn’t know until I got to court if he’d be there too. It was scary,” she recalls.
Kate has been turned down twice for legal aid as she attempts to secure a financial settlement that will mean she and the children have enough to live on after the divorce. She can’t afford the professional expertise to scrutinise her husband’s finances, and says that without a lawyer she’d be “going into court blind – I’d feel totally disempowered”.
Getting the financial agreement right is vital, she says: “I’ll stand up there if I have absolutely no choice, but it would be pretty awful – in years to come, if the wrong decisions are made, it has a lasting effect.”
Prolonging proceedings can be a means of exerting control and an “extension of the abuse”, says Neate.
Because of victims’ inexperience and lack of knowledge of the law, explains family lawyer Peter Reynolds, “it’s easy for a lawyer with 20 years’ experience [instructed by an abuser] to end up with a result he wouldn’t have ended up with otherwise. And it isn’t just. It isn’t fair.”
Are victims and children less safe because of the legal aid reforms?
“Definitely. Unquestionably,” says Cozens. “I can think of cases where the local authority has intervened at a later stage when the violence has escalated, only to be told that the victim had attempted to get court protection earlier, and had been unable to.”
It’s now argued by Rights of Women that the restrictions on domestic abuse victims’ eligibility for legal aid are unlawful: a judicial review will be heard in the high court on 12 December. Victims’ charities want there to be a presumption that survivors of domestic abuse should be able to get legal aid at any time for civil proceedings. “And if the system isn’t going to change,” says Neate, “judges have the discretion to order that legal aid be provided and we want them to use that discretion more”.
Litigants in person are entitled to have lay assistance, even if they can’t afford a lawyer, and yet, says Mark Groves, head of operations at the National Centre for Domestic Violence, there are judges who will question a victim’s right to be accompanied into court by a trained volunteer.
Research conducted by Women’s Aid, Rights of Women and Welsh Women’s Aid showed that 60% of women take no further action if they are not eligible for legal aid – and delay in seeking the protection of a court can make a victim and her children extremely vulnerable. “It does happen that the local authority eventually recognises the risk. But … it can be too late, and children do die. That’s the reality,” Reynolds says.
In 2011, two-year-old Shania Chambers was shot dead with her mother Christine by Shania’s father, David Oakes. The murders took place the night before a court hearing at which custody of the little girl was to be decided. Seven-year-old Mary Ann Shipstone was the subject of a bitter custody battle when she was shot dead earlier this year by her father Yasser Alromisse, who arrived at his estranged wife’s home brandishing a gun. William Pemberton, 16, was shot dead with his mother Julia by her estranged husband, his father, after years of domestic abuse and death threats.
It is estimated that 130,000 children live in situations of high-risk abuse, defined as “significant and imminent risk of serious harm or death”. “Domestic abuse is a factor in the family background of two thirds of serious case reviews where a child has been killed,” says Diana Barran, chief executive of Co-ordinated Action Against Domestic Abuse. It’s when speaking of the threat to her children that sobs break through Alice’s calm demeanor. Does she believe their lives are at risk just as hers is?
“That night when he came after me, it was supposed to be a family ‘suicide’ - he had no idea they weren’t with me,” she says. She pauses, collects herself.
“He will do whatever he can through the kids,” she continues. “That’s why, if he has contact with them, or if any judge says he can see them, he is just going to use them to get to me because he will know where I am.”
Will she be safe if she gets legal aid and permission to change the children’s names, flees the area, and leaves her job and her friends behind her?
“If I’m to be completely honest with you, I don’t actually think I’ve got a future, while he’s alive,” she says. “I just think that I’m going to be on the run.”
• Names and some identifying details have been changed
The other nominees were the Prisoners’ Advice Service and the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace.
See my main thread on the Human Rights Awards for more information.
Refuge reported this good news on their website:
Refuge awarded Liberty Human Rights Award for campaign calling for public inquiry into the police and state response to domestic violence Last night Refuge won the prestigious ‘Close to Home’ award at the Liberty Human Rights Awards 2014, for its campaign calling for a public inquiry into the response of the police and other state agencies to victims of domestic violence.
Launched in May 2013, Refuge’s public inquiry campaign is backed by a number of families whose loved ones have been killed by current or former partners in cases where the police or other state agencies failed to protect them.
Several family members were also present at the awards ceremony, including Hayden and Melony Slack. Hayden’s sister Rachael was killed by her ex-partner, Andrew Cairns, in 2010. Cairns also killed her two-year-old son Auden. In 2013 an inquest found that Derbyshire Police made a number of failings that contributed to their deaths.
Speaking at the awards ceremony, Hayden and Melony Slack said: “We are delighted that Refuge has won Liberty’s Human Rights “Close to Home” Award 2014 for their campaign calling for a public inquiry into the response to domestic violence by the police and other State agencies. Refuge is a truly worthy recipient of this award. Our family are profoundly grateful for the continued support and guidance Refuge have given us since Rachael and her toddler son Auden were murdered in 2010, particularly through the inquest last year in which the jury found that police failings had more than minimally contributed to their deaths. We urge others join us in supporting Refuge in their call for a public inquiry.”
Pictured left to right: Bengi Stubbings, Celia Peachey, Sandra Horley CBE and Hayden and Melony Slack
Also present at the ceremony were Celia Peachey and Bengi Stubbings, the daughter and son of Maria Stubbings, who was murdered by her ex-partner, Marc Chivers, in 2008. In October 2014 an inquest found that Essex Police made a number of failings that contributed to Maria’s death.
Speaking after the inquest, Celia and Bengi said: “When any force operates without heart, compassion or accountability it is destined to fail. As far as we’re concerned, Maria’s murder is as much the fault of Essex Police as the murderer himself. Essex Police knew Maria’s killer had killed a previous girlfriend. They prosecuted him for a previous assault on Maria and he’d gone to prison. They assessed Maria as being at high risk of death or serious harm from Chivers. Yet when she called asking for help, they found every excuse to do nothing. The level of incompetence, the lack of basic policing, the failure to communicate key information – words fail us. Ultimately, Maria paid the price for these failings with her life.
Change at local level is promised. We’ll wait and see if it translates into change on the ground. But even if it does, change at local level is not enough. The truth is that many, many women up and down the country are failed as Maria was failed. That’s why we and Refuge are calling for a public inquiry into the response of the police and other agencies to domestic abuse. We urge everyone to join us in this call by signing our petition at www.refuge.org.uk/publicinquiry.”
The award was accepted by Sandra Horley CBE, chief executive of Refuge. Sandra said: “I am accepting this award on behalf of all the families who have lost loved ones to domestic violence up and down the country. Together we will continue to call for a public inquiry and speak out for the dead in order to protect the living. I am also accepting this award for all the women and children who are, sadly, no longer with us. They were all beloved daughters, sisters and mothers, and they are the reason we will continue to fight for justice.”
Demonstrate against the legal aid cuts – Friday 12 December Rights of Women, December 1st, 2014
On Friday 12 December the High Court will hear our legal challenge against the domestic violence gateways for family law legal aid.
Join us at a demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice on the Strand, London WC2A 2LL at 9.30am to help us raise awareness of the impact the legal aid cuts are having on women affected by violence. Google map: www.google.co.uk/maps/place/Royal+Courts+of+Justiceemail@example.com,-0.113212,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x487604b4c032e385:0x17c354076330416c
Bring banners, whistles, colleagues and friends!
If you can’t be there, follow events on the day on Twitter at the #savelegalaid #ibelieveher. You can take your own jelfie in support of the campaign. Print out this sign and take a selfie or a team photo and upload it to Twitter to join the campaign.
How Chris Grayling is killing off judicial review – and why it matters Judicial review is the mechanism by which citizens can hold the government to its own laws. With the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, the justice secretary is trying to put it out of reach. BY CAROLINE CRIADO-PEREZ PUBLISHED 9 DECEMBER, 2014 - 12:40
It has been pointed out that Justice Secretary Chris Grayling is quite often the defendant in judicial review proceedings. Photo: Leon Neal/AFP/Getty
In 2011 an organisation called Rights of Women (RoW), which provides free legal advice to vulnerable women, produced a report called “The Value of Legal Aid” (pdf). They spoke to legal aid lawyers, Violence Against Women professionals, and female victims of domestic violence who had received legal aid. One woman they spoke to revealed the six-year fight she had protecting her children from “a controlling and abusive ex-husband” who was ultimately imprisoned as a child abuser. She would have found it “impossible” to fund her legal bills without legal aid, she said. Another respondent told the story of Lucy*, a disabled woman who was told she had to move out of her Housing Association property because they wanted to pull it down. She was shown three properties, none of which were suitable because of her disability. But despite medical evidence proving Lucy could not live in the properties she had been shown, the Housing Association said that she was making herself “intentionally homeless”. This would mean the Housing Association had no responsibility to house her. Without legal aid and the help of her Violence Against Women worker, Lucy could not have forced the Housing Association to find her the property in which she is now living.
The report makes clear the important role legal aid plays in ensuring the vulnerable have the access to justice to which they are entitled to under the law. It was prepared to remind the government of their duties, as the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO) passed through Parliament. But when I speak to Emma Scott, director of RoW, she tells me that although they managed to soften the impact of LASPO, there remain fundamental issues with the Bill. One glaring issue is the discrepancy between LASPO’s own definition of domestic violence, and the evidence required for victims to access legal aid. While LASPO accepts that abuse can be, for example, psychological or financial as well as physical (and evidence points to “coercive control” being an early sign of a relationship that could prove fatal), the only evidence that is acceptable under LASPO is much harder to obtain for women who have experienced non-physical abuse.
The contradictions do not end there. One of the few pieces of evidence that is acceptable under the new legislation is a non-molestation order. But non-molestation orders are not easily obtainable – one woman who had been intimidated and threatened by an ex-partner for two years was only able to obtain one because she had access to legal aid. Under the new legislation, she would have needed a non-molestation order in order to gain access to the legal aid that helped her get the order in the first place. And then there’s the time limits imposed on the evidence. Scott tells me that under the new rules, evidence is only eligible if it has been issued within the last two years. In a 2013 RoW report on how the legal aid changes are affecting victims of domestic violence, Anne*explained how her legal aid was refused because she was £30 over the limit, as her parents had given her money to clear a debt. “I was told I could apply again in three months but my evidence of [domestic violence] is then out of date.” She will not qualify. And like 60.5 per cent of the women RoW spoke to, she may end up having to do nothing about her abusive partner, but cross her fingers for the best. RoW contends that the failure to provide for victims like Anne means that the changes are not lawful. As a result, they have brought a judicial review, which will be heard at the High Court on Friday.
Judicial review is the only mechanism by which ordinary people can challenge the lawfulness of decisions made by public bodies. When I ran the campaign to feature a woman on banknotes, it was the threat of judicial review that helped focus the Bank of England’s mind. When the police were keeping the DNA of millions of innocent people on file, it was judicial review that put an end to this pernicious and illiberal practice. When the prison service wanted to be exempt from treating the children in their custody under the auspices of the child protection act, it was judicial review that forced them to act within the law, just as the rest of the country is expected to. Sometimes, public bodies consider themselves to be above the law; judicial review not only reminds them that they are not, but provides the tools by which ordinary citizens can force them to adhere to the laws to which everyone else is subject.
For this reason, judicial review can be irritating for governments. Indeed, in a recent debate in the House of Lords, Conservative Peer, Lord Deben confirmed this. “As a mechanism, every now and then it is annoying to ministers”, he said, but “[t]hat’s what it’s there for: to make ministers annoyed enough to do the right thing. It made me a better and fairer minister”. Unfortunately, Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, doesn’t see it that way. In the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, which is back in the House of Lords today, Grayling is attempting to severely retard the ability of citizens to force the government to act within the law. Sara Ogilvie, policy officer at the human rights campaign group Liberty, condemns the bill as “death by a thousand cuts of the entire justice system”.
Judicial review is already “a very limited form of redress”, Ogilvie tells me. You need to get permission from the court to bring one, and the court can’t reverse the decision being challenged: the court can only force the public body to take it again if they find that the decision was made in an unlawful, irrational, or procedurally incorrect manner. In a Telegraph article from April this year, however, Grayling denounced judicial review as: “a must-use tool for pressure group lobbyists”, and in a Daily Mail article from September last year as “a promotional tool by countless left-wing campaigners”. He has also claimed that judicial reviews deal with “minor technicalities” (a description that will be news to children who were being treated as adults in prison) and that organisations use individuals as “human shields” in order to pursue their own dastardly ends, like when Southall Black Sisters forced Ealing Council to reinstate funding for specialist domestic violence services for black and minority ethnic women.
As a result, Grayling is trying to push through three key changes that Ogilvie tells me will prevent judicial review from being “an effective and accessible legal mechanism”. Judges can currently require individuals to provide financial information about themselves and those who support them, to ensure that they can be liable for costs if required; Grayling wishes to make this mandatory. Grayling also wants to remove judges’ discretion about how to act if they find that although a decision was taken incorrectly, the outcome would inevitably have been the same. Currently, they can still order the decision to be re-taken; or they can decide not to, but to make a “declaration” that essentially censures the public body, and sets a precedent for future decisions. Grayling not only wants to force the judge not to order public bodies re-take the decision in such cases, he also will not allow them to make a declaration – and he wishes to lower the threshold from “inevitable” to only “highly likely”. And finally, organisations can currently be invited by the court to “intervene” in cases; they do not appear for either side, but essentially function as expert witnesses, outside of the adversarial process. Grayling wants to curtail this practice by forcing interveners to cover not only their own costs, as they currently do, but also any costs that arise out of their intervention (for example, the government’s lawyers having to do further work to rebut the intervener’s pertinent points) – and they would be liable even if the issue they raise turns out to be decisive. Again, it is already within the judge’s power to award costs, but Grayling wishes to make it mandatory.
The theme of removing judges’ discretion that emerges from these changes seems at odds with a Conservative-led government that one would expect to eschew centralised government edicts in favour of on the ground, localised expertise. Ogilvie agrees. “It’s not in keeping with conservative principles. They don’t believe in a big state, they believe the state should be limited, so it’s really odd to find this modern breed of conservatism that doesn’t respect that.” I ask her why she thinks this is happening. “The cynical among us would point out that this government has been on the receiving end of a number of judicial reviews that they’ve lost. You can either act within the law, or you can stop people from challenging you when you don’t – and it looks like they’ve gone for the latter.” The Human Rights Joint Committee Report on the proposals to reform judicial review makes a similar point, noting that “the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice is himself often the defendant in judicial review proceedings”. While they accept that restrictions on access to justice are “in principle capable of justification” (for the purposes for discouraging weak claims, for example), they found that Grayling’s proposals were neither proportionate nor properly evidenced. They criticised Grayling’s “politically partisan reasons for restricting access to judicial review” (his “left-wing pressure groups” comments), soberly noting that they “do not qualify as a legitimate aim recognised by human rights law as capable of justifying restrictions on access to justice”.
Grayling claims that legislators are overwhelmed by frivolous cases, brought by politically partisan pressure groups. But the evidence simply doesn’t bear him out. In evidence to the Public Bill Committee, Martin Westgate QC pointed out,“[g]iven the number of administrative law decisions, the surprising thing is that there are so few applications, not that there are so many.” And Liberty points to the government’s own consultation paper, which explained that on average campaigners bring only 50 judicial reviews per year, amounting to 0.4 per cent of all judicial reviews – and that “these JRs tend to be relatively successful when compared to other JRs”. Hardly evidence of a stream of frivolous time-wasting claims.
Indeed, just last week, another frivolous, time-wasting judicial review was brought – and another of Grayling’s policies found unlawful. Under a new “incentives” regime brought in last year, prisoners were effectively banned from receiving or buying books, a move that again removed discretion from those on the ground, since prison governors already had powers to determine how many and what types of parcels prisoners could receive. Grayling just wanted to make the decision mandatory. But on Friday, Mr Justice Collins ruled that this policy was unlawful. Another blow for Grayling; another “technicality” exploited by a “left-wing” pressure group, using a citizen (in this case a prisoner denied the books she wanted) as a “human shield”.
When I spoke to Frances Crook of the Howard League shortly after the ruling came through, she told me that the Howard League had only brought the JR because “we’d already tried everything else”. They campaigned, they petitioned, they demonstrated, they wrote to the Secretary of State for Justice, they organised for poets and authors to write, they published open letters, they got prisoners to write to Grayling. “None of that seemed to have any effect”. Crook finds the proposed changes to judicial review very troubling. She is not sure if they would have been able to bring the case they have just won under the new proposals. “It would be very [financially] risky”, she says. And it’s a risk most small “left-wing” pressure groups can ill afford to take. Emma Scott of Rights of Women is even more definite. “No,” she says, when I ask if she would be able to bring Friday’s judicial review under the new proposals. “In terms of the voiceless being silenced, it’s a really good example of how that’s happening”. Ogilvie is similarly unsure if Liberty would have been able to intervene in the case that resulted in deletion of over a million innocent people’s DNA profiles, because of the “unquantifiable cost risk”. Public bodies tend to hire very expensive lawyers, she tells me. Justice is being sold off to the highest bidder.
It is hard to escape the conclusion that, with these proposed changes, Grayling is trying to put himself above the law. Because whatever the Secretary of State for Justice claims, judicial reviews are not politically partisan. They are about no more and no less than acting within the law, whether the government in power is left wing or right wing. Indeed, in Labour’s final year in power, over 9,000 applications were made for judicial reviews to be heard, and over the years applications have been made by, among others, the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and the Countryside Alliance. Are these the left-wing malcontents to whom Grayling refers? Just yesterday, permission was given for a judicial review of the government’s “emergency” data retention act; the case was brought by the Labour MP Tom Watson and Conservative MP David Davis (the latter doubtless being a known left-wing mole).
There is already a nightmarish vision of where this all might end: contained within the same Bill as the judicial review changes are proposals for “secure colleges”, where the most vulnerable convicted children in the country will be detained. The Bill will allow for the use of force to ensure good order and discipline in these institutions. Ogilvie tells me that “when that formulation has been on statute books before, children have died”. Experts are of course concerned about this proposal, and would be keen to challenge its legality. But if the judicial review changes go through, who will be able to?
Domestic violence victims’ access to legal aid ‘unlawfully restricted’ Rights campaigners claim mandatory evidence requirements block 40% of women affected by violence from getting legal aid Amelia Hill The Guardian, Friday 12 December 2014 23.41 GMT
A demonstration outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London highlighted the potential risks if women affected by violence cannot access legal aid. Photograph: Martin Godwin for the Guardian
At least two in five victims of domestic violence cannot get legal aid because the government has imposed what experts have said are unlawful, devastating and unrealistic restrictions on access.
In a case heard on Friday at the High Court, the government was accused of “turning women away at the first hurdle” in cases of child custody or division of assets when it bought in new rules that set out mandatory evidence requirements for victims seeking legal aid for private family law cases.
“The changes to the legal aid scheme introduced in April 2013 have had a devastating impact on women’s ability to secure safe and independent futures for themselves and their children,” said Emma Scott, director of Rights of Women, which bought Friday’s case against the government.
“Although legal aid remains in place for some family law cases, still too many women affected by violence are being denied legal advice and representation in family cases because they do not have formal forms of evidence of the violence they have experienced in order to apply for legal aid, and even if they do, the ongoing risks to them do not disappear after two years,” added Scott, who led a demonstration against the cuts outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London.
This means those applying for legal aid must have evidence of domestic violence that is dated in the last two years. “What the government has just started doing recently is withdrawing legal aid if the evidence ‘expires’ during legal proceedings, unless victims can provide fresh evidence of abuse,” Scott said.
She says this is likely to be a problem in two main instances. “Firstly, perpetrators can manipulate events and wait until they know the woman has got no chance of getting legal aid before they refuse to let them see children or have access to money or property,” said Scott. “Secondly, the very nature of these kinds of proceedings mean they often go on for a long time – or come back to court much later when the man suddenly refuses to adhere to original court orders. This often happens when the original evidence is older than two years and therefore the woman is not eligible for legal aid.”
The legal case coincides with a report published on Friday by Rights of Women, Women’s Aid Federation England and Welsh Women’s Aid, which shows that despite changes to the list of evidence introduced in April 2014, nearly 40% of women affected by violence do not have the required forms of evidence.
These women, say legal experts, are faced with a stark choice. They could pay a solicitor privately, often causing them to get into debt, represent themselves and face their perpetrator in court, or do nothing and continue to be at risk of violence.
Nearly 60% of women surveyed said that they took no legal action as a direct result of not being eligible for legal aid.
“Legal aid is a lifeline for victims of abuse, enabling them to escape from violent relationships, protect their children and manage their financial situations,” said Andrew Caplen, president of the Law Society. “Access to family law remedies is vital in these cases. The statistics are stark; two women are killed each week by a current or former partner and 500 recent victims of domestic violence commit suicide every year.
“The over-strict tests required to bring evidence to satisfy the broader statutory meaning of domestic violence are not what parliament intended,” he added. “Legal aid is often the only way that those who suffer at the hands of abusers can bring their case before the courts.
“Without legal aid women are being forced to face their perpetrators in court without legal representation. Victims of domestic violence should not be excluded from accessing legal aid for family law disputes against an abusive ex-partner or relative because of these unrealistic regulations.”
The government’s legal aid cuts were “rushed through with very little thought for what they would mean for sufferers of domestic violence”, said shadow justice minister Andy Slaughter. “David Cameron was warned by Labour, legal experts and victims groups that restricting legal aid in this way was the wrong thing to do but sadly he refused to listen.”
The judges have said that they will give their decision on the hearing at a later date.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “This government is exceptionally clear that victims of domestic violence should get legal aid wherever they need it to help break free from the abusive relationship. We have twice made changes so it is easier for people to get the evidence they need to claim legal aid, both during the passage of the act and again earlier this year.
“Since the reforms were introduced last year, thousands of people have successfully applied for legal aid where domestic violence is involved.”
Theresa May announces new domestic abuse offence Home secretary says coercive behaviour can be tantamount to torture and will carry a penalty of up to five years in jail Alan Travis, home affairs editor The Guardian, Thursday 18 December 2014 13.41 GMT
Theresa May, the home secretary. Photograph: Daniel Leal-Olivas/PA
A new domestic abuse offence of “coercive and controlling behaviour” is to be introduced carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison, the home secretary has announced.
Theresa May said such behaviour in relationships could be “tantamount to torture”. The decision is a victory for campaigners who have long argued that domestic abuse is more than a series of episodes of physical violence by a partner or ex-partner.
But Refuge, one of the largest national domestic violence charities, said the behaviour would be extremely difficult to prove, and police were not implementing properly the existing laws against serious physical violence.
The new offence will outlaw “sustained patterns of behaviour that stop short of serious physical violence, but amount to extreme psychological and emotional abuse,” the Home Office said. “Victims of coercive control can have every aspect of life controlled by their partner, often being subjected to daily intimidation and humiliation.”
The Home Office said the legislation would be drafted in a way that ensures it is clear and proportionate and does not impact on ordinary power dynamics in relationships. Officials say there are a number of ways that the testimony of victims could be supported by documentary evidence, such as threatening emails and text messages, and bank statements that show the perpetrator has sought to control the victims financially.
May said domestic abuse by intimate partners or family members was a “hideous” crime that shattered lives.
“In many cases, dominance over the victim develops and escalates over the years until the perpetrator has complete control,” she said. “Putting a foot wrong can result in violent outbursts, with victims living in fear for their lives.”
May said that meeting survivors of domestic abuse and hearing their shocking stories had made her all the more determined to put a stop to “this scourge of on our society. The government is committed to protecting the victims of this terrible crime and it is clear that this new offence has the potential to save lives,” she said.
The offence will be brought in by an amendment to a Home Office bill now going through parliament. It will cover cases in which the abuser prevents their victim from having friendships or hobbies, refuses them access to money or determines minute aspects of their everyday life, such as when they are allowed to eat, sleep and go to the toilet.
Sandra Horley, the chief executive of Refuge, said she did not believe that criminalising coercive control was the right solution. “We already have enough laws – the problem is that they are not being implemented properly,” she said. “The police don’t even arrest when there is evidence of serious physical violence, so how are police and juries ever going to understand complex concepts like coercive control?
“Controlling behaviour can be incredibly subtle and isn’t always coercive. Extreme jealousy and possessiveness, for example, can be dressed up to look like care or concern. Providing evidence of such behaviours to satisfy criminal standards is likely to be extremely difficult.”
However, Polly Neate, of Women’s Aid, strongly supported the move, saying it was a significant step in protecting women experiencing domestic violence.
“We welcome the home secretary’s announcement that the government will criminalise the patterns of coercive, controlling, and psychologically abusive behaviour which lie at the heart of the abuse so many women experience,” she said. “We hope this new law will lead to a real culture change, so that every woman experiencing control can get the support she needs to break free safely.”
Legal aid and domestic abuse: we need bureaux input By Imogen Parker, Senior Policy Researcher Published 18 December 2014
Last Friday, a case was brought against the government which claimed reforms had restricted access to essential legal aid for victims of domestic abuse.
Rights of Women described the changes to legal aid as having a devastating impact on women’s access to justice. Specialists have recounted anecdotal cases of women returning to abusive partners, or giving up their rights to joint-assets, because they were reluctant or unable to go through the legal process alone. Some victims may have evidence of abuse with either failed to meet the necessarily criteria, or which expires before legal proceedings are concluded.
In a time of austerity, with half of public spending cuts yet to kick in, the prospect of return to pre-crash spending levels is unfeasible. But it’s critical that cuts don’t leave the most vulnerable in society unable to exercise their legal rights and access the support they urgently need. It is unacceptable that victims of domestic abuse could be required to face their perpetrators in court without legal representation.
The Ministry of Justice have taken some action to improve access for victims of domestic abuse to legal aid. The evidence required to provide abuse has been broadened, and the time limit when the evidence expires has been extended to two years. In response to Friday’s case, a spokesperson has stated that “the government is exceptionally clear that victims of domestic violence should get legal aid wherever they need it to help break free from the abusive relationship.” Since the cuts to legal aid, thousands of applicants have successfully accessed legal aid in situations of domestic abuse.
We want to hear from frontline bureaux advisers as to whether they have noticed changes to legal aid entitlement, or whether cuts or changes to the commissioning of services have affected their ability to refer victims of domestic abuse to appropriate support.
We know this may vary hugely from one area to another, and want to gain a clearer picture of the reality on the ground for the clients the service supports. We have developed a short survey – taking no more than five minutes – and would be grateful if advisers or social policy staff across bureaux could fill it in. The results will help to inform citizens advice’s campaigning and policy work on domestic abuse, and allow us to play an important role in informing this debate.
This is a key opportunity to ensure that red tape doesn’t prevent access to legal aid for people who have experience domestic abuse and desperately need assistance.