Dominic Raab

Ellie Reeves: Conservative Bill Of Rights Con Is A Brutal Attack On Women’s Rights

today22 June 2022

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Ask most commentators in Westminster and they will tell you that Boris Johnson has a problem with women.

There can be no better example than his government’s legally incoherent, indefensible decision to do away with the Human Rights Act (HRA) and replace it with a spurious Bill of Rights.

The Human Rights Act has been an important safeguard for victims of crime since the Labour Government introduced it in 1998, but it has been a particularly important weapon in the fight to tackle violence against women and girls.

The Human Rights Act plays a critical role in the ability of women who have been the victims of rape and sexual violence to challenge the state’s failures to protect them from violence.

In 2018, the victims of John Worboys, the “black cab rapist” convicted of 19 sexual offences in 2009, but who is believed to have carried out more than 100 rapes and sexual assaults on women in London between 2002 and 2008, won an appeal against the Metropolitan Police for its failure to bring Worboys to justice.

They successfully argued that their right under Article Three of the European Convention on Human Rights – the right not to be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment – had been infringed.

Their victory in court set an important precedent, placing an additional pressure on the police to investigate crime properly while reinforcing a “positive obligation” imposed by the HRA on the state to protect citizens from crime.

The police’s failure to bring Worboys to justice was summed up emphatically by the first of Worboys’ victims to make a complaint to the police in 2003, a woman known as DSD, who said of the police, “had you done your job properly, there wouldn’t be 105 victims, there would be one. I can take the one. I can’t take the 105.”

The terrifying reality of this Government’s so-called “Bill of Rights” is that it will remove the positive obligations on which Worboys’ victims relied to seek justice as well as the duty of the state to prevent further crimes by monsters like Worboys.

And given that the police’s capability to investigate crime has been reduced by twelve years of Conservative cuts, what guarantees do women have that another serial rapist will not be allowed to act with the same impunity as Worboys?

That the rights of women to be protected against rapists is another casualty of this disastrous Tory Bill of Rights con should come as no surprise given that it’s the brainchild of Dominic Raab, who has long wanted to destroy it.

In a recent interview before the Queen’s Speech, Raab accused lawyers of “taking advantage” of the protections offered by the Human Rights Act. I wonder if he thinks that about the lawyers acting for the victims of John Worboys?

Raab, like Boris Johnson, has no interest in tackling violence against women because the criminal justice system is continually failing women who report violence and seek justice.

On his watch, the typical delay in rape cases reaching court after being reported has reached three years, the numbers of cases postponed at short notice has soared, while the numbers of convictions and prosecutions remains at near-historic lows.

This is a Government for which violence against women is an afterthought. While Labour published a landmark Green Paper with a raft of measures to tackle Violence Against Women and Girls, the Conservatives have sat on their hands.

It’s precisely because the Conservatives are so complacent about the horrific impact that their Bill of Rights con will have on women that they have come to be seen as soft on crime and soft on rapists.

Labour will fight tooth and nail to defend the Human Rights Act and the rights of victims of rape and sexual assault to be protected from crime. We will not stand for this brutal attack on the rights of women.

Ellie Reeves is the Labour MP for Lewisham West & Penge and a shadow justice minister.

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