Judge orders ex MP and his supporter to pay £14,000 costs in child sex abuse defamation and harassment cases

Former MP John Hemming outside Parliament. Pic Credit: Wikipedia

The long running saga by former Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming to take legal action against journalists and people who had reported or shared unproven child sex abuse allegations against him made by Esther Baker took a new twist last month.

I have already reported the judgement in a case brought by John Hemming and a counter claim by Sonia Poulton in full on this blog last month but there has now been a further hearing to ascertain costs.

Summary judgement case lost by Hemming

Hemming lost a case for a summary judgement giving him aggravated damages against journalist, Sonia Poulton. The case will now go to a full trial.

As reported before Hemming was also unable to strike out most of her defence and the judge ruled that a counterclaim by her for damages for harassment and injunctive relief, pursuant to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 could go ahead. The latter counter claim was also against Sam Collingwood Smith and Darren Laverty, whom the judge said with the MP ” have been in some communication with one another, and have to some extent supported and assisted one another in various activities, not least litigation.”

The cost hearing began with an attempt by John Hemming’s lawyers and Darren Laverty to argue that as Sonia Poulton had refused an offer of mediation they should not pay her costs. But the judge did not accept this -particularly as her counter claim involved harassment of Sonia Poulton by Hemming, Laverty and Sam Collingwood Smith.

In the end the judge argued that Hemming should pay 85 per cent of her costs amounting to £8000 and Laverty should pay £6000. Laverty objected but has been told he has to pay by November when a case management hearing will be held prior to all the cases going to a full trial. Laverty has a separate claim for damages against Sonia Poulton.

The judge Deputy Master Bard also issued a general warning that litigation should not be used as a means of oppression.

European Court of Human Rights rules against review of the cause of Yasser Arafat’s death

PLO CHAIRMAN YASSER ARAFAT PICTURE by Yaakov Saar

The European Court of Justice has thrown out an attempt by Yasser Arafat’s widow and daughter to have a case that examined the death of former Palestinian leader who died 17 years ago re-opened again.

As predicted by @NewsEchr the court chaired by a Ukrainian judge decided that his widow’s claIm that there had not been a fair trial in France was ” inadmissible” because it was beyond the power of the court to re-examine the evidence.

Yasser Arafat, who died on 11 November 2004 in France at the Percy Military Hospital where he was being treated following a decline in his state of health at a time when he was in Ramallah, Palestine. On his widow’s request, no post mortem was carried out.

Traces of highly radioactive polonium alleged to be found on Arafat’s belongings


In March 2012 traces of polonium 210, a highly radioactive material, suggesting that Yasser Arafat might have been poisoned, were found on his personal belongings that his widow had recovered after his death. They were entrusted to a journalist from the Al Jazeera television channel, C.S., to be analysed.

On 28 August 2012 the public prosecutor of Nanterre opened a judicial investigation on a charge of premeditated murder

Three investigating judges were appointed and three experts were asked to determine the cause of the decline in Mr Arafat’s health. Their operations took place in the presence of French and Swiss teams, together with a Russian team at the request of the Palestinian Authority.

The French judicial expert’s report concluded that the result of radiological analyses did not prove the existence of exposure to polonium 210. The Swiss report disagreed with the French findings. An additional expert’s report, ordered by the investigating judge, confirmed the findings of the French report.

The dispute began when the applicants wanted to submit another expert report and this was refused by the French judges. This led them to appealing to the European Court of Human Rights because they did not think the trial was fair.

The ECHR said that it couldn’t re-open the case again on a quarrel over the admissibility of evidence, this being primarily a matter for regulation by domestic law. It therefore did not fall within the Court’s remit to substitute its own
assessment of the facts and evidence for that of the domestic courts, its task being to ensure that
the evidence was taken in a manner that guaranteed a fair hearing. The judges ruled the application was “inadmissible” thus ending a long legal fight by his widow and daughter.

The new human rights battle: Scotland v Westminster goes to the Supreme Court

Nicola Surgeon: Official Portrait. Scotland’s Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the move was “politically catastrophic and morally repugnant “.

This week the Supreme Court held a ground breaking hearing that could have huge implications for human rights legislation in this country.

The UK government under Boris Johnson took the Scottish government to the Supreme Court to stop them incorporating into Scottish law a United Nations Convention which the UK ratified in 1990 under Mrs Thatcher.

The United Nations The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights. 

It is one of four UN Conventions – the others cover race equality, the disabled – and of course CEDAW- which covers all forms of discrimination against women.


Boris Johnson: pic credit: UK Parliament Jessica Taylor

Just like CEDAW the UNCRC has not been properly implemented. It covers everything from the age of criminality of children ,detention of children, rights for asylum seekers children, and the ill treatment of children including issues like using solitary confinement.

A scathing report from Parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights in 2009 expressed severe disappointment on how little the government had done and how fine words used by ministers were not put into practice. Since then there has been a big drop in the number of children being arrested and detained but a lot of other issues, including raising the age of criminal responsibility have not been implemented. The report can be read here.

Now Scotland’s decision to implement it – passed unanimously by the Holyrood Parliament – with every party backing it, has infuriated Boris Johnson who ordered his aides to block it.

This is what happened this week – and the Scots were joined by the Welsh – in fighting the government.

Scotland’s Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the move was “politically catastrophic and morally repugnant “.

Her deputy, John Swinney told MSPs during the final debate on the UN convention bill that the UK government’s request that it be amended amounted to a “orchestrated and sustained assault” on Holyrood’s powers.

Sir James Eadie: now wanting to stop Scotland forcing UK ministers to improve children’s rights

Step forward Sir James Eadie ,the Treasury Devil, who also blocked 50swomen getting any restitution for lost pensions and told the courts that the government was not obliged to tell anybody the value of the state pension.

He has been engaged by Johnson to fight it and it soon emerged why.

He told the court the case concerned “whether the Scottish Parliament has the legislative competence to subject acts of the UK Parliament with the need to comply with the UNCRC and to assign or delegate to the Scottish courts powers to strike down, rewrite or declare incompatible provisions of the acts of the sovereign UK Parliament”.

The UK Government has said their concerns “are not about the substance of the legislation” but whether the Scottish Parliament has the legal ability to pass the bills. In written arguments, Eadie said: “Both bills, [ there was a local government bill as well] in slightly different ways, purport to bestow upon the Scottish courts extensive and, in part, unparalleled powers to interpret and to scrutinise the legality of primary legislation passed by the sovereign UK Parliament at Westminster.”

Don’t give a damn about implementing human rights

It means in slightly less legal language that putting these powerful UN conventions into Scottish law could lead to the Scottish courts striking down unfair and discriminatory laws passed by Westminster – in this case involving the treatment of children. This is precisely why the government fear CEDAW.

So the game is finally up – and it explains why this government is so tardy in putting these conventions into law. They want to bathe in the fine words of these conventions – but really they don’t give a damn for extending human rights to anyone – whether it is a 10 year old child, a 1950s born woman, an asylum seeker, a disabled person or someone who isn’t the same skin colour as the majority of the population.

As MSP Neil Gray warned: “Not only are they threatening the powers of Holyrood but also the rights of Scotland’s children. Scotland’s Parliament has been under sustained attack from the Tories who have been using Brexit, which people in Scotland overwhelmingly rejected, to tighten Westminster control.

“Now they are threatening to strike down legislation that was passed unanimously at Holyrood.”

The all male judges in the Supreme Court who heard the case are reserving judgement.

Nuclear industry leaders contradict each other in landmark whistleblowing case

Whisteblower Alison McDermott

Guest Blog from journalist Philip Whiteley who is covering the whistleblowing case with me

A split emerged between two leading employers in the UK nuclear industry at Leeds Employment Tribunal, in a case where they are both respondents in a whistleblowing claim, in the session on Tuesday 29 June. Representatives of the governing body the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority overwhelmingly backed the version of events put forward by the whistleblower, undermining the defence of Sellafield, the nuclear reprocessing plant.

The case is being brought by Alison McDermott, an experienced equalities professional, who is claiming her sudden termination of contract by Sellafield in October 2018 was in response to her making protected disclosures on acts of bullying at the nuclear reprocessing site in Cumbria. Sellafield’s management initially claimed that the reason for her dismissal was financial only, although at the tribunal it has produced witnesses reporting concerns over her performance.

On Tuesday three senior executives from the governing body, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, offered sharply contrasting evidence. All expressed admiration for Ms McDermott’s contribution to improving policies of equality diversion and inclusion (EDI), and all confirmed that there had been concerns over the competence of the HR director who sacked her, Heather Roberts, and the HR function at the nuclear site.

Sellafield Human Resources department ” not fit for purpose”

All said the reason they were given for Ms McDermott’s dismissal was financial. David Vineall, Group HR director at the NDA, said that Ms McDermott had been integral to the EDI ‘journey’ that the industry was embarking on. Under questioning from Ms McDermott’s barrister James Arnold, Mr Vineall conceded that the HR function at Sellafield was ‘not fit for purpose’, the words used in a damning report he had commissioned by external consultancy PricewaterhouseCoopers.

The court heard how the governing body had recommended that Ms Roberts be replaced by Mike Barber, an HR manager at the NDA. Mr Barber, one of the witnesses for the NDA on Tuesday, said he had ‘a very good working relationship with Ms McDermott’ and was ‘surprised’ to hear of her sudden dismissal.

Some of the most damning evidence undermining Sellafield’s case only came to the court’s attention in recent weeks. Mr Arnold pointed to the date of 26 April 2021 when the claimant first learned of an email from 23 October 2018, just a few days before Ms McDermott learned of her dismissal, in which Mr Vineall wrote to colleagues following a meeting with the then Sellafield CEO Paul Foster the day before, where he suggested that Ms Roberts be replaced immediately.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority ” very nervous” about Ms McDermott’s dismissal

Just last week, the tribunal heard for the first time evidence from Ms Roberts that she had a made a note stating that the NDA was ‘very nervous’ about the timing of Ms McDermott’s dismissal so soon after her critical report.

The revelation that the respondents had hidden evidence from the claimant and the tribunal that was helpful to her case until this year is particularly significant, because there were earlier hearings in the case. There was a preliminary hearing in July 2019, and Ms McDermott had been granted a strike-out hearing, on the basis that her case was strong.

The strike-out hearing took place on 7 July 2020, some nine months before the revelation of Mr Vineall’s email, and 11 months before more evidence from Ms Roberts, also central to the case, was made available during the hearing itself. Judge Lancaster did not rebuke the respondents for this, but it potentially constitutes a breach of tribunal rules by the respondents, as well as a potential breach of whistleblowing legislation, as it potentially caused detriment to the claimant.

Had Judge Batten, sitting alone last July, been made aware of all the relevant evidence, she may have awarded a strike-out in Ms McDermott’s favour, sparing her the ordeal of a further year of litigation and a three-week full hearing.

Section 47 (A) of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, under which the case is being brought, specifically prohibits employers from imposing a detriment on a whistleblower as retaliation for raising issues of concern in the workplace.

Mr Arnold reminded the court that much of the evidence has only been made available to the tribunal as a result of the claimant’s own efforts through subject access requests and Freedom of Information requests. This would indicate a strong claim of failure to follow tribunal rules – potentially a criminal offence by the respondents – though Mr Arnold did not press the case.

Ms McDermott’s data protection rights breached by Sellafield

Sellafield already has a ruling against it in the case. In January, the Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that it had breached Ms McDermott’s data protection rights in the handling of three letters of evidence on which Sellafield is relying to support its case in the tribunal over her performance issues. The letters were produced on non-secure home PCs. The tribunal has permitted Sellafield to use unlawfully produced evidence.

On one of the letters, the metadata was wiped while in possession of DLA Piper, Sellafield’s law firm, temporarily hiding details on the document’s authorship and time of creation. The law firm is separately under investigation by the Solicitors Regulation Authority over the issue.

The case continues.

Exclusive with @NewsEchr: Murder or death by natural causes? European Court of Human Rights ruling 17 years after Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death

Picture of Yasser Arafat by SA’AR YA’ACOV at the time he won the NOBEL PEACE PRIZE in 1994.

Family raise suspicions over his death

As the Middle East is still in turmoil an extraordinary ruling will be made by the European Court of Human Rights concerning events around the death of the Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat nearly 17 years ago.

His family have been suspicious he died from poisoning in 2004 and claim there was not a fair trial looking into this after he died in a French military hospital.

The applicants to the ECHR Suha El Kodwa Arafat and Zahwa El Kodwa Arafat, are French nationals.The case concerns a criminal complaint filed by the applicants, the widow and daughter of Yasser Arafat, who died on 11 November 2004 in France at the Percy Military Hospital where he was being treated, claiming that Mr Arafat had been the victim of premeditated murder.

They claim that the French authorities didn’t give their case a fair trial by refusing to include additional expert evidence.

They wanted an additional expert report on the cause of the decline in Mr Arafat’s health, as they had requested on account of their doubts concerning the origin and traceability of the sample used for that assessment, the methodology applied and the results, which were contradicted by the results obtained by Swiss experts.

They also criticise the refusal to order a fresh expert report on their behalf and to grant their other claims, based on contradictions between the results obtained by the different experts, Swiss and French, from their respective measurements and analyses. In French courts, Arafat’s wife and daughter were unsuccessful with their lawsuits and appeals. In 2017, they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights In French courts, Arafat’s wife and daughter were unsuccessful with their lawsuits and appeals. In 2017, they appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

The court decision will be announced on Thursday raising an issue that has literally thought to have gone away and could not come at a worse time for Palestinian and Israeli relations. A ruling in their favour might re-open the issue but ECHR News believe they may lose the appeal.

Cedaw People’s Tribunal: Muslim women, migrants and domestic violence victims lives destroyed by no legal aid

Successive governments’ decision to cut drastically the legal aid budget has caused enormous damage to diverse women and girls groups according to witnesses who gave evidence today to the CEDAW People’s Tribunal.

They cover the plight of Muslim women who are forced to seek divorces at Sharia Courts because they cannot afford to go to a civil court, migrants denied access to legal aid and married women fleeing domestic violence going to family courts over the custody of children and divorce settlements. The tribunal is looking at how the Un Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination can be put into UK law.

Legal aid ban putting Muslim women at the mercy of patriarchal fundamentalism

Pragna Patel founder and director of Southall Black Sisters (SBS)
[SBS is, a multi-award-winning women’s organisation founded in 1979 to address the needs of black and minority women experiencing gender violence.
It successfully campaigned for the release of Kiranjit Ahluwalia, a landmark case in which an Asian woman was convicted of the murder of her violent husband. The case reformed homicide law, creating greater awareness within and outside minority communities.]

A damning indictment of the drastic effect of legal aid cuts which had created formidable barriers for all women – but especially black and ethnic minority women – was made by Pragna Patel.

She was particularly critical of the plight of Muslim women fleeing a marriage and unable to access the civil courts because of the lack of legal aid. Instead decisions were taken by unofficial religious courts dominated by conservative patriarchal fundamentalists. ” The woman has no status there, no right to keep her children, no property rights and no inheritance rights. This completely contravenes human rights.”

She cited a case of one woman who has only had a religious marriage – which had never been followed by a civil marriage. As a result when she went to a civil court to get her rights – the court could not rule on the marriage as it has never been legally recognised. The case has gone to the Law Commission but it has so far not ruled on it.

She also attacked the funding system – having won a judicial review against Ealing Council – when it withdrew funding. She said most of the money was now given to ” generic services ” based on getting results set by targets rather than specialist services offering long term support to people.

“Domestic abuse perpetrator given custody of children at his former wife’s expense”

Dr Charlotte Proudman – barrister at Goldsmith Chambers

Dr Proudman highlighted the lack of legal aid holding back women to defend their rights in family courts after quitting their marriage over domestic abuse. She said there was an inequality of arms when they had to appear as a litigant-in-person because they could not afford to pay a barrister. She also said the courts had the discretion on who should pay and where the children should reside in cases – leaving in one instance a woman who had left her husband because of domestic abuse having to pay for her children to be looked after by her abuser – her husband.

She was highly critical of the lack of training for barristers and judges on handling domestic abuse cases – and the failure of the government after the passing of the Domestic Abuse Act to specify what training will be given. She also said that many of the lawyers eyes glazed over when they the issues of women’s rights and certainly CEDAW were mentioned.

She also thought that judiciary was dominated by elite men -” male, pale and stale” – educated at private schools and Oxbridge. She said most of the women were also from the same elite -privately educated and with Oxbridge degrees – meaning neither knew much about the life of the people who came before their courts. She came from a working class background and had gone to a state comprehensive school.

Equality Act has left people working in silos

Esua Jane Goldsmith

Esuantsiwa Jane Goldsmith, from Anona Development Consultancy on International Developments on Human Rights. Esuantsiwa  was one of the first black VSO volunteers, serving as a teacher in Tanzania 1977-79. Esua was a leading figure in the UN process for women, attending the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, Beijing 1995, as a member of the UK Government Delegation representing Development INGOs. She was founder and Chair of the Beijing Forum which co-ordinated the input of UK development NGOs.  She was the first black woman Chair of the Fawcett Society, Chair and Co-founder of the Gender and Development Network

Esua has highly critical and disappointed by the failure of the 2010 Equality Act. She had great hopes that the Equality and Human Rights Commission by putting all the equality issues together would be a big improvement. But instead she said it was still working in silos and relying on individual litigation.

She thought putting CEDAW into domestic law would create a much more holistic approach bringing together business, politicians, civil society, ngos and the women’s sector together by breaking down barriers.

She was scathing about the lack of progress of BAME women in Parliament – 35 out of 650 MPs. She also attacked the way white males trolled and pursued prominent black women like Diane Abbot, just because they were powerful people.

Dramatic rise in on line sexual abuse during the pandemic

Kelly Johnson – researcher

Dr Kelly’s areas of research/expertise include domestic and sexual violence, policing, and more broadly violence against women and girls; including Rape Crisis. She has particular research experience in the policing of domestic abuse, image-based sexual abuse (including ‘cyberflashing’, so-called ‘revenge porn’ and ‘upskirting’) and feminist theory.

An alarming picture of the rise in ” revenge porn” during the pandemic leading to sexual violence against was women during the pandemic left the police unable to have the resources to act to control it, Dr Kelly told the tribunal. She said this caused “significant and devastating harm for women”. Black and ethnic minority men were disproportionately involved and many of the attacks were misogynistic with a sense of male entitlement that they could do what they wanted.

When sexual violence followed this the police were not always able to cope – with basic resources like police cars in short supply – so they couldn’t get out to see people. Perpetrators were getting away scot free and were also using on line dating sites.

She called for long lasting cultural changes including much better education of young boys, teaching them the need for consent.

Media stereotyping of women puts pressure on women politicians at national and local level

Sofia Collignon -politics researcher

Sofia is Co Investigator in the ESCR-funded Representative Audit of Britain project, part of Parliamentary Candidates UK and principal investigator in the Survey of Local Candidates in England. Fields of expertise: Gender equality, Participation, Policy design and delivery

The media were criticised for stereotyping women politicians and putting extra strain on women in public life. Some times they were the victims of a campaign of disinformation or not given the opportunity to reply. She called on journalists to be more accurate and carefujl in their reporting of women ;politicians and local councillors.

She said that though there were more women MPs -originally from a low base – an analysis of candidates standing for Parliament showed they were often given unwinnable seats so never got elected. She praised three countries -Sweden, New Zealand and Mexico – for giving women politicians a pro active role. Mexico was particularly praised for having a gender equal role which saw a massive increase in the number of women politicians.

She thought Parliamentary candidates should have compulsory training in equal rights before they stood for Parliament – as part of an initiative to bring CEDAW into domestic law.

The secret UK world of polygamous marriages

Yasmin has worked for more than 30 years predominantly on violence against women, race, faith and gender, and human rights.  She has acted as an expert witness in legal cases providing expert reports on faith based abuse and Muslim marriage practices including polygamy and temporary marriage.  Yasmin is chief Executive Officer at JUNO WOMEN’S AID (formerly Women’s Aid Integrated Services).

An extraordinary picture of the unknown scale of polygamous marriages in the UK was given to the tribunal by Yasmin Rehman.

She said nobody knows the scale of the marriages and the government is blind to the problem. It is hidden because Imans often give secret ceremonies for Muslim men who have one civil marriage to marry other women. There is also a ban on sex outside marriage for Moslems, she said, – which is why there are some additional marriages. Other polygamous marriages avoid bigamy laws – as UK men with a wife and family at home, marry another woman in countries where polygamous marriages are allowed.

She said the religious practice was harmful to women who are given a subordinate role – but the real problem was the clash between the freedom of practices allowed by religion with gender and equality issues. Worse there was some evidence that women were trafficked into the UK for forced polygamous marriages.

” The issue is seen to be in the too difficult box which is why there is not a single politician who is prepared to take the issue up.”

She said only one politician – the former Tory Chancellor, Sajid Javid – had raised part of the issue – but only over children being forced to marry an older man.

Other witnesses

Baljit Banga, executive director of Imkaam, a UK based black feminist umbrella organisation, gave a detailed run down on what was wrong with the Domestic Abuse Act and why there is a need for a much better alternative and Dr Annette Lawson, chair of the national Women’s Commission, abolished in 2010 on why there is a need for some successor funded body to pull all women’s groups together to implement CEDAW.

The hearings are now over and the next stage is to draw up a report.

High court judgement on 50swomen pension’s cannot stand – Jocelynne Scutt tells CEDAW People’s Tribunal

Dr Jocelynne Scutt

The president of the Cedaw People’s Tribunal, and a former judge, Jocelynne Scutt, said today that the decision by the Court of Appeal to turn down the judicial review into the handling of the rise of the pension age for 50s women will be overturned.

She was commenting on evidence to the tribunal from Christine Cooper, chair of accounting at Edinburgh Business School on the plight of 50s women and how CEDAR could redress the issue. She was giving evidence in a personal capacity.

Christine Cooper pointed out that the ruling -part based on the fact that the 1995 legislation allowed the Department for Work and Pensions to say they had no obligation to tell the 3.8 million women about changes to their pension would have wider implications for the rest of government policy if it was applied in other areas. For this reason alone it is likely to be challenged in other cases.

If the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was part of UK law it would seen as discrimination against a particular group on that ground alone.

Christine Coooer

Christine Cooper strongly defended the 50swomen saying ; ” This is a group of women who did all what was expected of them in society, brought up families and went back to work when they could. The way they have been treated is mad.”

She said if the government had spent the £6.5 million on an advertising campaign to get people to take out a second private pension instead on informing women about the change in 2001 they would have been more prepared. Instead it had only spent £80,000 47,000 leaflets many going to private finance advisers – the people who were most likely to know about it anyway. She said the worst affected people were those who were in low paid jobs, single women, divorced women, women from ethnic minorities and those who had worked part time.

She it was clear that there had been no impact study in 1995 on the effect it could have on the women and the impact study which covered the 2011 Pensions Act was based on how men would be affected. Most women only had months notice – while men had seven years notice of the rise in the pension age from 65 to 66.

She also revealed that the DWP does not keep any information on the gender pay gap ,the gap between the pension earnings of women and men. Instead a survey is done by Prospect, a Whitehall trade union, which revealed that the difference has remained stubbornly at 40 per cent for the last five years -meaning men will get a pension worth £7,500 more than women.

Occupational pension pots for women aged 65 are at present £35,800 – a fifth of the figure for men at the same age.

Government pressure to get trade deals will hit women’s pay – former civil servant

Janet Veitch- former civil servant with extensive knowledge of CEDAW

A former senior civil servant warned that both Brexit and the hostile environment against migrants were going to have a disproportionate effect on women’s rights.

Janet Veitch OBE  is a consultant in the UK and internationally on women’s rights, having worked for ten years for the UK Ministers for Women and as Director of the UK Women’s National Commission.

She is a founder member of the End Violence Against Women Coalition; Vice-Chair of ‘Equally Ours’ and an associate adviser on gender for the British Council. Janet was awarded the OBE for services to women’s rights in 2011.

Janet Veitch said that the UK leaving a market of 500 million people would profoundly affect the British economy because it had yet to find alternative markets. Pressure to get trade deals would lead to a downward pressure on wages and labour conditions, which would predominately affect women, as many were already in low paid jobs.

The ” hostile environment ” against migrants would also lead people to start to condone a critical attitudes against people who looked visually different to themselves. CEDAW might not be a complete panacea but it would force the government to do due diligence on a host of issues.

Horrendous statistics on how women are treated over maternity leave and costly child care

Joeli Brearley – campaigner on maternity rights

A horrendous picture of discrimination against pregnant women was outlined by Joeli Brearley to the tribunal.

Joeil,founder and CEO of ‘Pregnant Then Screwed’, a charity which protects and supports women who encounter pregnancy; maternity discrimination and lobbies the Government for legislative change. This was after being sacked when she was four months pregnant.  Joeli was awarded the 2019 Northern Power Women ‘’Agent of Change’’; and is an International Women Human Rights Defender.

She described the appalling position of pregnant women who were often sacked by employers but then found they could get no redress under the employment tribunal system She said they had, while heavily pregnant only three months to lodge a case, found it would cost them £8000 to do so and many had no knowledge of the law. As a result there were very few cases.

She said women were hit by two major issues -facing pay cuts if they lost their jobs as they had to seek part time work on low pay – and paying for the second most expensive child care costs in Europe.

Typical child care costs took 33 per cent of their salary while single mothers, it took 67 per cent of their earnings. The difference between maternity leave and male parental leave of just two weeks meant only three per cent of men took a major part in looking after the new born baby, even though many more men would have liked to do it. Those who did had a 40 per cent more chance of staying together.

She said the situation had worsened during the Covid 19 pandemic. She thought CEDAW would make a big difference.

Loneliness and misery for women in rural Britain

Nick Newland

Poor transport and health services, loneliness in the remote areas of the UK were all part of the problems facing women in rural England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.

Nick Newland is from the Association of Country Women Worldwide The organisation exists to amplify the voices of rural women, so that the problems they face and the solutions they raise are heard and acknowledged by international policy-makers and legislators. Rural women are the backbone of families/communities but they go unheard
in legislation, and they remain unprotected and unsupported. ACWW exists to change that.

He hoped CEDAW would lead to women have a much greater say in rural areas – and not just in the odd focus group -so they could get change in their area. He said transport was a major problem for many women – though it was better in Scotland and Wales than England.

He cited an example of one woman living in Monmouth who had to spend seven hours travelling to get a 15 minute jab against Covid 19 in Newport because of the bus timetable.

He also said that loneliness and isolation of women was a major issue – and had been made worse for women by the raising of the pension age. He said getting health care was also a big issue and there was a serious mental health crisis in rural Britain – some times aggravated by their farmer partners committing suicide. There were also cases of brain damage among women who had tried to commit suicide but had not succeeded.

” There is a desperate need for a national strategy , a better quality of life and equality for women in education and health.”

” We have already got one Pakistani here , we can’t take another one” – women’s refuge owner

Rosie Lewis at TUC backed rally

Rosie Lewis is Director of the Angelou Centre , Newcastle supporting the organisation’s services for Black women and girl survivors and has been involved in social justice activism for more than 25 years.

She has given evidence to CEDAW and to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse in order to ensure that the findings of both reflect the state response to violence against Black and minority ethnic women and girls. 

An appalling picture of the treatment of women from ethnic minorities now migrant women and children had been excluded deliberately by the government from new domestic abuse legislation was given by Rosie Lewis

She said they were now being excluded from access to justice, help from specialists and many professional organisations no longer want to know or help them. She cited the case of one woman fleeing a forced marriage being told by the person running a women’s refuge, ” We already have one Pakistani here, we can’t take another one.”

She said a city like Durham now had no specialist organisation that could help people in the surrounding rural areas.

She thought if the UK did adopt CEDAW in UK law it would raise awareness, and improve access to services for ethnic minorities.

Other witnesses.

There was also evidence given today from Catherine Casserley, a barrister specialising in employment, discrimination, and Human Rights law. Co author of ‘Disability Discrimination Claims: An Adviser’s Handbook’. She said CEDAW would make a big difference to the plight of disabled women, including increasing awareness, creating a willingness to change and give a proactive approach to achieving equality.

Cris McCurley, who studied Law at the University of Essex and is a Partner in Ben Hoare Bell LLP; and a member of The Law Society’s Access to Justice Committee. gave some damning evidence of the treatment judges gave in family courts towards ethnic minorities.

Rebecca J. Cook from Toronto University who has made a contribution to international women’s rights as an author, legal educator, editor, lecturer, and participant in numerous conferences sponsored by such organizations as the World Health Organization and Planned Parenthood. She gave a video interview on abortion issues facing women.

Lisa Gormley from the LSE Women’s Peace and Security Policy, gave a talk on violence against women and the role of the Istanbul Convention, which the UK has yet to sign up.

She is an international lawyer specialising in equality for women and girls. She has also worked closely for several years with the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences Lisa a legal adviser in Amnesty International’s International Secretariat (2000-2014).

Finally there was also a video from Professor Diane Elson and Mary-Ann Stephenson analysing how much the government spends on women and the huge pay gap between women and men.

Mary-Ann is the Director of the Women’s Budget Group and has worked for women’s equality and human rights for over twenty years as a campaigner, researcher and trainer. She was previously Director of the Fawcett Society and a Commissioner on the Women’s National Commission.

Professor Diane Elson is Emeritus Professor at University of Essex; member of the UN Committee for Development Policy; and consultant to UN Women.  She has served as  Vice-President of the International Association for Feminist Economics and as a member of G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council (2018).  She one of the pioneers of gender analysis of government budgets.

CEDAW People’s Tribunal opens with powerful attack on decades of neglect of women’s rights and views

Margaret Owen, first witness at the CEDAW People’s Tribunal

A leading women’s human rights barrister yesterday launched a wide ranging attack on the failure of the UK to stamp out discrimination against women -during the 41 years after the UN convention on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW) was passed.

Margaret Owen,-from the National Council of Women founded in 1895 and which has more than 40 women’s organisations affiliated to it – criticised the government, Brexit and Liz Truss, the current women’s minister and international trade secretary for all contributing to either ignoring or downgrading women’s rights.

She was the first witness to a unique tribunal – the CEDAW People tribunal – which has been set up with the help of one of the country’s leading human rights law firms, Garden Court Chambers. The tribunal will hear evidence and then with the help of judges and leading QC’s plans to draw up a women’s bill of rights aiming to implement the convention into UK law.

The UN convention was ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 but has never been implemented by the UK.

Ms Owen’s position was that women’s groups used to have a statutory right to be consulted about government legislation but all this was swept away when more wide ranging changes were introduced. She thought CEDAW could introduce new procedures restoring statutory rights for women’s groups.

” Now all we have is consultations with the Government Equalities Office.”

She said that the civil servant there was sympathetic but had already told women’s groups that the provisions of CEDAW was “unlegislatible” -saying there was already human rights legislation. Shed said this amounted to an ” oxymoron”.

She accused Liz Truss of having ” a conflict of interest ” in being both negotiating trade deals -including arms deals – with regimes – some of whom were misogynistic – while standing up for women’s rights. She attacked the recent cuts in overseas aid which she said had damaged help for women and girls-partiuclarly in health and providing contraception.

Scottish developments on legislation

Kasey McCall-Smith from Edinburgh Law School

Developments in Scotland, which is preparing to legislate to put the UN Convention into Scottish law, were explained by Dr McCall-Smith, a lecturer in Public International Law and Programme Director for the LLM in Human Rights. She is a US qualified lawyer and an adviser to the Scottish government.

She explained that Scottish interest in women’s rights had grown out of the country having a more progressive policy towards children’s rights than in England.

She said there were three ways of introducing CEDAW into Scottish law. One was to create a framework of law putting the entire convention on the statute book. The second, as had happened in South Africa, was to put it in the country’s constitution, and the third was to introduce sectional changes into individual laws. She thought the most effective was the first.

She also pointed out that the present 2010 Equalities Act failed because it was ” gender neutral ” rather than ” gender sensitive ” to women – when much of the existing discrimination affected mainly women.

She also said the current CEDAW convention- written before the introduction of the internet and social media – should not be regarded as a static situation but should be developing all the time. She said it was important it covered economic, social and cultural rights.

As a US lawyer she said a Women’s Bill of Rights should be able to strike down legislation that would become incompatible once it was law. She added that Britain leaving the EU also had created a problems because EU law – while not perfect- was more supportive of women’s rights.

Women ambassadors told to go to the ” diplomat wives room”

Jennifer Cassidy – Oxford University

Jennifer Cassidy , a policy adviser, and a former UN diplomat, gave a grim picture of the way women diplomats were treated. She said that while the Foreign office always used statistics to show there were more women diplomats, they were not sent to the most important capitals in the US, France or Brussels. In some countries where women were not given equal status, some women ambassadors were told by their hosts to go to the ” diplomats wives room” until they had to point out they were the ambassador.

Wales “gender sensitive” act on domestic abuse

Rachel Minto Cardiff University

The most positive picture was given by Dr Rachel Minto, a politics lecturer at Cardiff university. She said that Wales already had passed new legislation on domestic abuse which was ” gender sensitive” legislation on domestic abuse recognising that most of the victims were women not men. This was in contrast to the Westminster legislation which was ” gender neutral”. She also said that women’s groups were keeping up links with the EU despite Brexit

Over 18000 trafficked people awaiting a Home Office decision about their fate

Kevin Highland, former first Anti Slavery Commissioner

Kevin Highland, former head of the Met Police’s Human Trafficking Unit, gave a grim picture of the treatment of trafficked victims in the UK. The Home Office is currently holding some 18,000 awaiting a decision whether they can stay here. He thought CEDAW could help improve the treatment of women and girls, particularly pregnant women, who have just been offered a paltry extra £3 a week by the Home Office to help them.

He was highly critical of failures by police forces to investigate trafficking because it was complicated crossing police borders – and found investigators had treated trafficking as ” a game of tennis” passing the ball from one force to another.

He was also revealed that the” county lines ” drug dealers who used vulnerable children to carry drugs across the country also ran a ” county lines” trafficking in young girls – often for prostitution. He told the tribunal they often targeted vulnerable children in care homes, promising them a new life only to be dragged down into alcoholism, drugs and prostitution.

Northern Ireland ” years behind in women’s rights”.

Rachel Powell – Women’s Resource and Development Agency, Belfast

A startling picture of how far women are behind in Northern Ireland in gaining their rights was highlighted by two witnesses, Rachel Powell, and Jonna Monaghan, from the Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform.

Rachel Powell provided some alarming statistics showing how 30 per cent of women in Northern Ireland, earn nothing, staying at home. Many others with higher qualifications take low paid part time jobs because they have unpaid caring responsibilities.

Opposition to women’s rights from the Democratic Unionist Party and to CEDAW in particular, were highlighted by both of them. The current first minister, Paul Givan, is piloting the Severe Fetal Impairment Bill, through the Northern Ireland Assembly to restrict abortion despite the UK government in Westminster passing an anti abortion bill. The Assembly is at the moment refusing to implement the UK legislation.

There were also fears that the people in Northern Ireland would not get new rights if the EU passed further laws now the UK has left Brexit even though Northern Ireland is still in the single market.

CEDAW People’s Tribunal: Exclusive coverage this week on this blog

Tomorrow is the start of three days of hearings in London of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will examine the case for the UK to introduce into domestic legislation the ground breaking UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of discrimination against women and girls

I am planning to have a daily blog on the highlights of the hearings as the issues raised will be wide ranging and effect the future of women in all walks of life from pensions to domestic abuse and equal pay.

Britain is unusual in ratifying the convention some 36 years ago under Mrs Thatcher but in not implementing the changes into UK law – though some issues have been partially implemented through the 2010 Equality Act.

The majority of other countries did both – ratification followed by legislation. The hearing also comes at a key time.

Scotland has decided to implement the convention in full and the Parliament at Holyrood is already working out how to do it – after the Scottish National Party included it in its manifesto and won the election.

In Wales the Labour Party which won the Welsh Parliament elections is also committed to introducing it.

And very recently Jersey decided to ratify the convention – leaving just England and Northern Ireland as laggards in this respect.

The hearings are being organised by a very powerful team of women lawyers from Garden Court Chambers and have attracted enormous interest from women’s groups – some of whom have sent in written submissions and others are planning to give evidence. Each evening I will publish details of those who have given evidence. Watch this blog for future coverage.

Sellafield bullying cover up: Important three week whistleblowing tribunal case opens

Alison McDermott – whistleblower Pic credit: BBC News

A potentially ground breaking case bought by whistleblower Alison McDermott, a former consultant to the nuclear reprocessing plant at Sellafield, began a three week hearing at Leeds Employment Tribunal this week.

The case of McDermott versus Sellafield, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority and former Sellafield HR director Heather Roberts has been brought under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 – also known as the Whistleblowers’ Act.

Alison McDermott, an HR professional and diversity specialist, claims that the sudden termination of her freelance contract in October 2018 by Sellafield was linked to her protected disclosures containing evidence of systemic bullying, and racist and sexist incidents at the Sellafield site in Cumbria. The original story was reported in Byline Times

Since the report came out the BBC did an investigation into what it called toxic bullying, homophobia, sexual harassment and racism at the nuclear plant.

At the beginning of hearing Employment judge Philip Lancaster told the tribunal: “This, of course, is not a public inquiry into an alleged toxic culture at Sellafield and it is certainly not a forum to investigate specific allegations of improper behaviour on behalf of named individuals.”

The case has been complicated by one of the organisations fighting her, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, changing its stance and is distancing itself from Sellafield. More will come out later in the case.

Ms McDermott faced aggressive cross questioning of her stance by Deshpal Panesar QC, representing Sellafield and Ms Heather Roberts, the plant’s former human resources director.

” I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here”- HR director

Ms McDermott was paid £1,500 a day – the same sum paid to previous consultants Capita -to monitor equality, diversity and inclusion at the nuclear fuel reprocessing and decommissioning site in September 2018.

Mr Panesar pointed out that she had taken no action when she first met Heather Roberts who is said to have told her “”I hope you’re not going to tell me we’re going to start letting women in burkas in here.” He said this was a reference by Ms Roberts because of security at the plant where people had to have photo passes. She said she was horrified by the reference but did not raise it with her because it was their first meeting.

Yet later after she had investigated other complaints she had pressed for a formal inquiry into a series of complaints and allegations about bullying, homophobia and sexual harassment. He accused her of ” weaponising” the issue at the plant.

Ms McDermott denied this,

She said Ms Roberts then asked her to take part in a covert investigation to “flush out” issues raised in the report, but she refused and advised her there needed to be a formal investigation.

Mr Panesar suggested she had agreed to take part in an undercover investigation, using focus groups to question staff.

The case continues next week.