Sunday, 29 April 2012

When perverting the course of justice is perverse

Imagine, if you can, the life of 'Sarah' A mother of 4 children and who was abused and raped by her husband.

This abuse included 'Sarah' being forced her to work in a massage parlour, providing sexual services for other men. It was reported that  "He drove her to the premises, to this brothel, waited for her and took her home again, took the proceeds and then proceeded to attack her emotionally for doing what she had done at his insistence and for his gain,"

Imagine, if you can, the courage & strength 'Sarah' had to muster in trying to stop the abuse by reporting it to the police. Imagine, if you can, how difficult this must have been for 'Sarah' taking into account the power and control her husband had over her. It should be of no surprise then that as her husband was allowed to 'get to her' in between the allegations being made and the case being heard she withdrew her allegations. 

It is however morally abhorrent that the Crown Prosecution Service should decide that this act of 'false retraction'; the act of a desperate woman under the control of an abusive husband fits the definition of 'perverting the course of justice' Her husband who the authorities were satisfied had raped 'Sarah' broke bail and perverted the course of justice yet remains free with no conviction against him.

Despite all the evidence pointing to Sarah being the victim of domestic violence and rape over a prolonged period of time; despite there being evidence of Sarah suffering from post traumatic stress disorder a prosecution against her was pursued, supposedly 'in the public interest' and Sarah was imprisoned.

Kier Starmer QC Director of Public Prosecutions

The positive rhetoric and apology from Kier Starmer QC the Director of Public Prosecutions about lessons learnt is of little help to Sarah. As a mother of 4 children she now has a criminal record, and is living with all the obstacles that this criminal record presents her with. She is also living with the fact that our justice system has let her down. She lives with the impact of the abuse upon her and her children and the impact on her and her children of her imprisonment and subsequent community service.

All of this happened in 2010, but it was only last month March 2012 that Sarah lost her attempt to get her criminal conviction quashed.

This appears to be a catalogue of failure of a range of agencies as highlighted by Vera Baird in her excellent 'comment is free' piece for the Guardian

The police, for failing to protect Sarah and make sure that her husband was not able to 'get to her'
The Judges and our Courts services for allowing her husband to be released on bail and allow him to 'get to her' despite the severity of the allegations against him;

The Crown Prosecution Service for deciding to prosecute Sarah rather than her husband when they are supposed to only prosecute when it is in the public interest
The Government and local authorities including health and education providers. These appear to consistently fail to ensure adequate support including investment into projects and community organisations to help women and children who experience domestic and other forms of violence.

 The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) Map the Gaps2 was a follow up report into services for women who experienced violence. It identified huge gaps in services for women issue across the country. It also identified that the majority of growth in the provision of specialist services was within the statutory sector whereas the majority of women choose not to report cases to the police. This reluctance to report is only going to be exacerbated by Sarah's story. The unique and nuanced support of the voluntary and community sector is vital.

 It is a worry that the implementation of the recommendations from this critical report are unlikely to be closely monitored as the EHRC is subject to massive cuts at the hands of the current government.

In my experience of 'partnership' working amongst criminal justice agencies and other public sector bodies relationships are far too safe. I have seen first hand how unwelcome 'challenge' is and how little emphasis is placed on the needs of the victims, rather a focus on structures and process. I have seen too how lessons learned from failures very rarely get embedded in policy moving forward. Voluntary and community groups representing violence against women issues are often not invited to Criminal Justice Boards and Community Safety partnerships. When they are there, if adequately resourced to do so, they are often marginalised or ignored.

The new Police and Crime Commissioner role, elections in November, presents an opportunity for change if the right candidate is appointed. An opportunity to generate dynamic, intelligent and challenging partnerships in a democratically elected candidate. A Commissioner that is committed to ensuring local accountability in order to address the unmet needs of victims and in doing so make our society a safer one. There is an urgent need to protect the human rights of women who experience violence against them and to engage in effective and specialist crime prevention strategies.

The right Commissioner could inspire trust and confidence in those most likely to need the confidence to come forward and report. This is critical in addressing the behaviours of violent abusers like Sarah's husband, in accordance with our criminal laws to ensure they do not go on to find other victims. Delivering the right sort of justice, not a perverse one.

No comments:

Post a Comment