UK intends to ratify new international convention outlawing violence and harassment at work

Step will strengthen rights for women and men facing bullies and workplace sexual harassment

Almost unnoticed and surprising announcement from Therese Coffey

Unless any MP objects next month the UK government will start drawing up a submission to the International Labour Organisation to ratify a new convention outlawing violence and harassment at work.

The announcement hardly noticed by anyone was made by Therese Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, in a written answer to Parliament this month. MPs were told if there were no objections within 21 days a ratification submission to the ILO will be drawn up and it will come into force a year later. This will make the UK the tenth nation in the world to ratify this convention and it is the culmination of two years of work following an initiative started under Theresa May when she was PM.

Rare case of political unity

In a rare case of unity in the present polarised world that characterises the UK, the action has all party backing. It has the support of the Westminster Tory government, the Welsh Labour government, the Scottish National and Green Government and the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein Northern Ireland government. It is supported by both the CBI and the TUC and has the strong support of many international NGOs, women’s groups, Care International and the human rights organisations like Amnesty International.

The convention took time to draw up and it is – for an exclusively work orientated convention – remarkably inclusive..

Stephen Russell, policy officer at the TUC, says the convention itself is very broad based and also through ILO procedures means the UK will have to produce reports every two years on how it is being implemented.

The convention covers “persons working irrespective of their contractual status, persons in training, including interns and apprentices, workers whose employment has been terminated, volunteers, jobseekers and job applicants, and individuals exercising the authority, duties or responsibilities of an employer.”

It is also covers not just the workplace but also work related trips, accommodation provided by employers, harassment on social media, office parties and other work related social activities and commuting from home to work.

Amanda Brown

According to the TUC and the government the UK had a big role in drawing up the scope of the convention. One of the leading figures was Amanda Brown, deputy general secretary of the National Education Union , which represents teachers. She is on the governing body of the ILO and was on the committee that drew up the scope of the convention.

Therese Coffey said that the government already has the legal framework to meet the requirements of the convention in both criminal and civil law but proposed to go further following recent consultations on sexual harassment in the workplace.

She said she would introduce ” a new proactive duty requiring employers to take steps to prevent their employees from experiencing sexual harassment and introducing explicit protections for employees from harassment by third parties, for example customers and clients.”

The issue of sexual harassment and violence against women has been highlighted lately in the police and Parliament where one former Tory MP. Charles Elphicke, was jailed for assaulting a member of his staff, The House of Lords has also introduced compulsory training for peers after some were accused of harassing women, including Parliamentary staff.

Only Fiji and Uruguay have ratified this, Namibia is next

So far internationally only two countries, Fiji and Uruguay, have ratified it. Another seven countries are in the process of ratifying it, including Greece, Italy, Namibia, Somalia, Ecuador, Argentina and Mauritius. Namibia will ratify it from December 9.

While the UK has ratified four UN conventions covering the rights of the child, eliminating all forms of discrimination against women (CEDAW), racial discrimination, and the rights of the disabled, but has not introduced all encompassing laws to implement the conventions.

When Scotland tried to implement in full the ratified UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Boris Johnson instructed lawyers to go to the Supreme Court to block the move and succeeded. Similarly the government is not keen on implementing CEDAW in full with a Women’s Rights Bill.

Jocelynne Stutt

Jocelynne Stutt, president and patron of CEDAW in Law, said:
” This is a step in the right direction but does not go far enough in sexual harassment cases. There is harassment of tenants by landlords, there is rampant harassment of students in education, and sexual harassment in the home. None of this is covered by the new convention and the UK has not ratified the Istanbul Convention which comprehensively covers sexual harassment and violence towards women.”

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The cheapskate botched and useless investigations into child sexual abuse by Leicestershire Police that led to no timely prosecution of Greville Janner

Child Sex Abuse Inquiry keeps private more detailed report to protect victims

Another coruscating report from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has condemned Leicestershire Police and Leicestershire County Council for their handling of allegations from survivors of abuse.

Following damning reports by the inquiry into Rochdale, the London borough of Lambeth, the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, a picture is now emerging across many parts of England of failures among the police, social services and the churches to tackle this problem with thousands of survivors being let down by authorities that should have protected them.

The national press and the BBC have rightly highlighted the failures of the police and the council to adequately investigate claims by survivors yet again in cases of historic child sexual abuse.

However it is in the mind blowing detail of the report that exposes how incompetent the police and council were in handling the investigations. It reveals a picture of quarrelling under resourced police officers, hiding of key evidence, and a difference of approach to investigations into a VIP figure, Lord Janner, from other less prominent people.

Police incompetence

The report shows there were two separate police investigations into child sexual abuse by Leicestershire Police – one in 2000 Operation Magnolia – into abuse at two children’s homes and the second -Operation Dauntless in 2005 – into specific complaints against Greville Janner. The first also involved Lord Janner though it was mainly directed at suspected staff in the homes.

The initial budget for the first operation was just £10,000- and it kept being paused as investigating officers were put on other police work including murders.

The inquiry reports: “Detective Constable (DC) Nigel Baraclough, one of the team of officers involved in Operation Magnolia, told us that the Operation was a low-priority investigation, allocated to the least experienced SIO[senior investigating officer]and Deputy SIO, and was poorly staffed. The Operation was classed as a Category C investigation, the lowest of three gradings for a major investigation.”

During the investigation two residents alleged they had been sexually assaulted by Lord Janner which would normally trigger a reference to the assistant chief constable. This does not appear to be have been done and one officer thought the allegations were “lies”. Lord Janner was never interviewed. Nor were the two cases ever referred to the Crown Prosecution Service. The rest of the allegations against staff of physical or sexual abuse led to no prosecutions by the CPS. The statements given by the two children against Lord Janner were locked away in a drawer at Market Harborough Police Station.

They only resurfaced after fresh allegations were made against Lord Janner in 2005 when Operation Dauntless was launched. Even then no attempt was made to reinvestigate them or even find out whether the children were still alive. Officers argued whether Lord Janner should be arrested and his home searched.

“Staggering, bewildering and disappointing” a policeman’s verdict

Detective Sergeant Swift-Rollinson told the inquiry it was “incredible that an individual such as Lord Janner should be treated any differently by not interviewing him, not arresting and searching” his properties. He stated that the fact that Lord Janner “was not allowed the opportunity to dispel those allegations or provide a reasonable account is staggering, bewildering and disappointing”.

This time the CPS was informed but before any further investigations took place. The CPS advised not to interview Lord Janner or pursue this any further. The inquiry describes the view as complacent. The case was wound down despite protests from some officers.

It was not until 2012 when Leicestershire Police launched a further investigation, Project Enamel, that Lord Janner was finally charged when 33 former children came forward. By then Lord Janner was not well and died before any trial could take place.

This has left a situation where all the complainants have no resolution to what happened to them and Lord Janner’s family are left denying the charges but cannot challenge them in court. Daniel Janner, his son, has however been wrong in trying to stop the inquiry investigating the circumstances as this report will remain a permanent guide on how not to investigate child sexual abuse cases. Without it other police forces could be tempted yet again to dismiss such allegations.

One issue the inquiry has decided I find rather difficult. This comes from the decision to produce two reports – an expurgated report-now published – and a much longer and more detailed unexpurgated report. The inquiry’s explanation is that they have to protect the anonymity of those who allege were sexually abused for life. They did not answer my questions on whether the survivors will see the report, whether they also took this decision to prevent any litigation from Lord Janner’s family who have been opposed to the inquiry and would find the details of the allegations pretty damning.

A spokesman told me: “In order to protect the identity of complainants, who are entitled to lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, a part of the public hearing for this investigation was held in closed session, reflecting the necessity for a restricted report.  The Inquiry took steps to ensure that as much evidence was heard in public as possible, and the same approach was taken in regard to the unrestricted report. Whilst the restricted report cannot be publicly published due to anonymity issues, it will still be used by the Chair and Panel to inform findings and any recommendations they choose to make in the Final Report. ”

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry

Chair to the Inquiry Professor Alexis Jay said:“Despite numerous serious allegations against the late Lord Janner, police and prosecutors appeared reluctant to fully investigate the claims against him. On multiple occasions police put too little emphasis on looking for supporting evidence and shut down investigations without pursuing all outstanding enquiries.”

“It was a similar picture for Leicestershire County Council, which had a sorry record of failures in relation to the sexual abuse of children in its care over several decades. A number of council staff had concerns about Lord Janner’s association with a particular child in residential care, and further enquiries should have been carried out.”

“This investigation has brought up themes we are now extremely familiar with, such as deference to powerful individuals, the barriers to reporting faced by children and the need for institutions to have clear policies and procedures setting out how to respond to allegations of child sexual abuse, regardless of the prominence of the alleged abuser.”

Previous Blogs https://davidhencke.com/2017/04/11/independent-child-sexual-abuse-inquiry-will-investigate-the-late-greville-janner-and-whether-there-was-a-cover-up/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/10/16/why-the-children-of-greville-janner-believe-he-must-be-innocent-of-33-child-sex-abuse-allegations/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/09/11/abuse-of-trust-a-horrible-reminder-of-a-child-sex-scandal-as-the-jay-inquiry-prepares-to-examine-greville-janner/

https://davidhencke.com/2014/12/13/police-re-open-child-sex-abuse-investigation-into-labour-peer-greville-janner/

https://davidhencke.com/2016/09/06/daniel-janner-is-wrong-to-say-all-allegations-of-child-sex-abuse-against-his-father-must-be-fabricated/

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EXCLUSIVE: Half baked and half hearted: DWP’s help for women facing domestic abuse and violence

With the horrendous murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met police officer dominating the headlines by coincidence the government’s benefit watchdog this weekend released minutes of a meeting with officials from the Department for Work and Pensions on tackling domestic abuse.

Domestic abuse Pic credit: HelpGuide.org

The little known Social Security Advisory Committee was examining new regulations from the ministry due to come into law on payments and help for victims (usually women) of domestic abuse.

You might not think the DWP would have any role in domestic violence but actually it can help by removing benefit penalties and also open the door to money to improve security measures in a victim’s home.

The ministry must have been pretty tardy in doing anything about this as the reason for the new regulations stemmed from a government defeat at the European Court of Human Rights.

At the centre of this case was the much loathed ” bedroom tax ” where 14 per cent of your housing benefit payment can be clawed back if you have more bedrooms than you need.

Women who throw out an abusive partner or grown up member of the family could find themselves liable for this ” tax” if they want to stay in the family home. This regulation exempts them.

No relief from benefit penalties if you are pursued by a stalker

But as the committee found it is a pretty narrow concession. If you are being abused by a stranger or a stalker you can’t escape the penalty. The ministry has decided they are not ” family” even if they are being as violent or frightening as any member of the family.

And it only applies if you live a council house or flat – is you live in private rented accommodation you have to apply for a discretionary housing payment – and given it is discretionary you may not get it. And that applies whether it is family or a stalker.

That’s why I think the change is half hearted and half baked -designed to help a minimum number of people.

But the meeting also disclosed much more. To qualify for these payments and removal of penalties you have to enrol in a sanctuary scheme. This is service which can protect you in your home -by installing extra locks, fireproof letterboxes and in some cases a ” panic room” with a reinforced door where you can flee from attack from an abusive partner or intruder and call the police.

But guess what? The onus is on the claimant to find out about the sanctuary scheme – not on the Department to tell them about it. Just like the millions of 50swomen over their pensions and the millions of people opted out of SERPS who have lost out on a guaranteed minimum pension, the ministry is not bothered to ensure they know. Both of these issues led to rulings of ” maladministration” against the ministry by the Parliamentary Ombudsman.

Department for Work and Pensions hasn’t a clue

But it is even worse than that. The ministry hasn’t a clue how many people are in sanctuary schemes because there is no central record.

Only next year will local authorities have a duty to collect this information but otherwise it is being left to charities, the police and other bodies to tell claimants. The minutes say: “A number of ways to identify claimants in scope of the measure were attempted – requests were made to local authorities, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Home Office – but the information is not available”

Details of the sanctuary scheme are here – it is aimed at charities.

Stephen Brien;:Chair of the Social Security Advisory Committee

Such a situation has led the chair of the committee, Stephen Brien, to write to the DWP:

“Given the vulnerable situations of those affected, there is a compelling case for the Department to examine what options exist in terms of proactively identifying those potentially affected. This should be supplemented by a strong communications strategy that sets out clearly the criteria for this exemption, along with guidance on how to access it.”
“There is a risk that a number of claimants entitled to take advantage of this scheme, particularly those who have already benefitted from a sanctuary scheme security adaptation prior to these regulations coming into force, will be unaware of this change.

” A number of claimants will be unaware “-Stephen Brien

“Given the vulnerable situations within which this group finds itself, there is potential risk of harm should these claimants remain unaware of the support available to them resulting in their leaving a home where additional security has been installed.”

He also said the definition of who could escape the penalty was too narrow and should be extended to stalkers and that there was not enough being done to support people in private rented accommodation.

“The narrow focus adopted by the Department could lead to inconsistent treatment of people at risk of violence because their circumstances fall outside of those defined by the regulations.”

The SSAC has not formally objected to the new regulation but is seeking some improvements.

This seems to be yet another example of the ministry not informing people of their rights and in this case in an area where public concern has been heightened by the issue of male violence makes it doubly important that something is done. Will the DWP do it though?

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Revealed: The shocking hidden world of child sexual abuse in faith organisations – new inquiry report

Professor Alexis Jay, chair of the inquiry

After some highly critical reports into the cover-up of appalling child sexual abuse in the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse has now produced a new report into other faith organisations in England and Wales – notably Muslim and Orthodox Jewish faith groups, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It also covers a wide range of other faiths from the Methodists and Baptists to Buddhism and Sikh religions.

The report contains more horrific tales of abuse by people in charge of these organisations, their denial and cover up of what is happening, their failure to safeguard vulnerable children and the lack of measures to ensure proper inspection of the schools they run.

Worse of all after holding this inquiry the IICSA reveals that they don’t know the extent of the problem in these faith organisations because a number of them don’t want to co-operate with state institutions. Even police forces don’t keep records of how many recorded child sex abuse cases there have been in these faith organisations. And some of them even don’t carry out basic security checks on the people they employ to make sure they do not have criminal records.

Abuse at an Orthodox Jewish community

Examples of the horrific abuse stories include Todros Grynhaus, a prominent member of the Charedi Jewish community in Manchester and a Rabbi’s son. He sexually abused over 20 years two girls and a boy – one girl regularly between the age of seven and 15. Only when one of the girls went to Israel and told a rabbi there did the abuse become known and Grynghaus was offered counselling. Two years later when she was 18 she told prominent Jewish members of the Charedi community and was offered £5000 compensation and told not to go to the police or she would be regarded as a Moiser – what we know as a snitch – by informing on another Jew. When he faced charges Grynghaus fled the country on a forged passport and had to be extradited from Israel. Eventually the case did go to court and Grynghaus in 2015 was sentenced to 13 years in jail. But only after one of the rabbis was compelled by a judge to give evidence.

Abuse at a Muslim Madrassah school

Another example involved years of abuse at a Muslim madrassah school -held in a home- of a girl from the age of the age of eight to 11 by the 16 year old teenage son of the family ending in her rape. When she told of the case at the age of 14 she was abused as ” a tart” and a “slag” by the Muslim community who did not want the boy’s family disgraced. Eventually it did go to court and he went to prison for a year.

Four year old girl sexually abused at a Jehovah’s Witnesses Bible class

Another example involved the sexual abuse of two young girls by a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses during Bible classes. One of the girls was as young as four and the abuse continued until she was nine. Peter Stewart was a ministerial servant in Kingdom Hall responsible for the organisation. He was arrested in 1994 when another person accused him of sexual assault. The girl did not tell her mother for six years about the sexual abuse and only decided to tell her after he was released from prison for the first offence. By the time the police got around to arresting him, he had died. The mother pursued a civil claim against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and won the case – despite the organisation fighting the claim.

The report goes into detail about the failure of many faith organisations to protect and train people in safeguarding and take the issue seriously rather than try and cover it up. In the three cases above the organisations tried to cover up what had happened and not take responsibility.

Two immediate recommendations

The report makes two immediate recommendations . They are that all religious organisations should have a child protection policy and supporting procedures;

and  that the government should legislate to amend the definition of full-time education to bring any setting that is the pupil’s primary place of education within the scope of a registered school, and provide Ofsted with sufficient powers to examine the quality of child protection when undertaking inspection of suspected unregistered schools.

It estimates that 250,000 children are given supplementary education by faith organisations and none of the schools need to be registered or inspected.

They also have some long term proposals that will appear in a further report. These include whether mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse should be introduced; whether criminal checks should be compulsory for all faith organisations; and whether child protection policies should be compulsory for every faith organisation.

Professor Alexis Jay, Chair of the Inquiry said:

“Religious organisations are defined by their moral purpose of teaching right from wrong and protection of the innocent and the vulnerable. However when we heard about shocking failures to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse across almost all major religions, it became clear many are operating in direct conflict with this mission.

“Blaming the victims, fears of reputational damage and discouraging external reporting are some of the barriers victims and survivors face, as well as clear indicators of religious organisations prioritising their own reputations above all else. For many, these barriers have been too difficult to overcome.”

“We have seen some examples of good practice, and it is our hope that with the recommendations from this report, all religious organisations across England and Wales will improve what they do to fulfil their moral responsibility to protect children from sexual abuse.”

Damning inquiry report reveals 40 years of horrendous child sexual abuse and racism by Lambeth Council in London

Lambeth Town Hall

The independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse today published its worst ever findings of the scale of child sexual abuse in the United Kingdom. It looks like large numbers of paedophiles got away with the mass sexual abuse of children.

An investigation into Lambeth Council’s children in care revealed that over 700 children had alleged they had been sexually abused and treated as worthless by council staff. And this is certainly an underestimate. The scandal continued from the 1960s right through to the late 1990s.

The report which only looked at five of the council’s closed homes makes incredibly grim reading. The report said:

Cruelty and sexual abuse ” hard to comprehend”

“It is hard to comprehend the cruelty and sexual abuse inflicted on children in the care of Lambeth Council over many years, by staff, by foster carers and their families, and by volunteers in residential settings. With one or two exceptions, a succession of elected members and senior professionals ought to have been held accountable for allowing this to happen, either by their active commission or complicit omission. Lambeth Council was only able to identify one senior Council employee, over the course of 40 years, who was disciplined for their part in this catalogue of sexual abuse.”

It goes on: “By June 2020, Lambeth Council was aware of 705 former residents of three children’s homes in this investigation (Shirley Oaks, South Vale and Angell Road) who have made complaints of sexual abuse. The biggest of these homes – Shirley Oaks – was the subject of allegations against 177 members of staff or individuals connected with the home, involving at least 529 former residents. It was closed in 1983.

“Frontline staff employed to care for these most vulnerable children frequently failed to take action when they knew about sexual abuse. In so many cases they showed little warmth or compassion towards the child victims, who were left to cope with the trauma of their abuse on their own. 

Hostile and abusive treatment of black children

…”There were many black children in Lambeth Council’s care. In Shirley Oaks in 1980, 57 percent of children in its care were black. During 1990 and 1991, 85 percent of children who lived at South Vale were black. Racism was evident in their hostile and abusive treatment by some staff.

” Shirley Oaks and South Vale were brutal places where violence and sexual assault were allowed to flourish. Angell Road systematically exposed children (including those under the age of five years) to sexual abuse. 

“Nor did foster care routinely provide a safe alternative for children in care. For many years, foster carers were not adequately vetted by the Council and were not the subject of criminal record checks.”

Some of the cases described are horrendous.

Children screaming at night while they were raped

“LA-A307 was taken to Shirley Oaks at the age of nine. He described hearing other children screaming at night and he himself routinely experienced violence and sexual assault, including being photographed whilst being raped.

LA-A147 was in the care of Lambeth Council in the 1990s and 2000s, from the age of three. Over ten years, she was placed in nine children’s homes and with four sets of foster carers. She described being raped by a foster carer’s teenage son at the age of nine, and was also frequently sexually abused by older men she met whilst in care. By the age of 13, she had developed a drug addiction and was “selling herself” to fund it.

LA-A2 was found dead in a bathroom at Shirley Oaks in 1977. Lambeth Council did not inform the coroner that he had alleged being sexually abused by Donald Hosegood, his ‘house father’. In the course of Hosegood’s employment at Shirley Oaks, six out of eight children looked after by him and his wife alleged sexual abuse by him.

LA-A7 described sexual abuse by three male members of staff, including two from South Vale. Two of them separately photographed him at their private homes when he was either naked or wearing only his underwear. One of them, Leslie Paul, was convicted of indecent assaults against LA-A7.”

Only six perpetrators prosecuted

Extraordinarily just SIX people have been successfully prosecuted by the police, meaning that hundreds of people must have got away with the vile sexual abuse of children.

All this took place against a background of fraud, corruption, racism, nepotism by both staff and some councillors. Those who tried to stop it were intimidated and threatened. The report shows even two chief executives, Herman Ouseley and Henry Gilby were the subject of intimidation.

Lord Ouseley – staff bugged his home and office when he was chief executive and his family was threatened

“Lord Ouseley described how both his office and home were ‘bugged’ at the instigation of one of his own staff. He also received threats to his family. Mr Gilby’s office was the subject of a serious arson attack. His home and office were broken into and computer records were stolen during a time when he was attempting to deal with corrupt practices. Dame Heather Rabbatts was Chief Executive from 1995 to 2000. She described how she inherited a Council with a culture of “fear and sexism and racism”. No witness identified which individuals or groups were the driving force behind this vicious and regressive culture, but there was little doubt that a succession of leading elected members were mainly responsible, aided and abetted in some instances by self-serving senior officials.”

The inquiry has decided to ask the Met Police to investigate whether there are grounds for a criminal investigation into Lambeth Council’s actions when providing information to the coroner about the circumstances surrounding LA-A2’s death.

Richard Scorer, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, who is representing the sister of a teenage boy who killed himself in a care home after making allegations of abuse against staff member Donald Hosegood, told Mail On Line: ‘It is clear from today’s report that Lambeth Council deliberately withheld information from the coroner in order to give the impression that our client’s brother was happy in care.”

All in all this report shows why it was necessary to have a full scale inquiry into child sexual abuse – which despite naysayers trying to deny the extent of the problem – was obviously rampant in some parts of the country. The council has apologised .The real tragedy is that so many people have got away with it leaving their victims with broken lives.

Tory MPs “egregious behaviour” in pressurising judges to hide their lobbying for convicted sex offender colleague

Charles Elphicke , former MP and sex offender

If ever there was a case of one rule for the well connected and another for ordinary plebs, the exposure of this ruling out today by the House of Commons Standards Committee is a great example.

It centres round the conviction of Charles Elphicke, the former Tory MP for Dover,  of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in last September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.

The MPs had given glowing character references for Mr Elphicke in the hope of mitigating his sentence and became alarmed when newspapers wanted the judge involved in the case to release the names of everybody who had given character references for him.

So instead of publicly objecting the MPs decided to write on Commons notepaper to Dame Kathryn Thirwall, Senior Presiding Judge for England and Wales, and Dame Victoria Sharp, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, copied to Mrs Justice Whipple. Mrs Justice Whipple had heard the trial of a former Member, Charlie Elphicke, and was to hear and decide on an application to release the pre-sentencing character references.

Natalie Elphicke MP – organised the letter for her husband

The five Tory MPs were Mrs Natalie Elphicke, the former MP’s wife; Sir Roger Gale, former Cabinet minister, Theresa Villiers, Adam Holloway and Colonel Bob Stewart. Natalie Elphicke organised the letter.

The MPs said  to disclose the references would be a “radical change to judicial practice” which “could have the [sic] chilling effect and harm the criminal justice system”. 

They got a stiff reply from the Private Secretary to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales November to the letter stating that “It is improper to seek to influence the decision of a judge in a matter of which he or she is seized in this way. [ … ] It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary”.

Their names- along with life peer Lord Freud- became public when Mrs Justice Whipple released them in a court ruling.

Theresa Villiers MP – as a barrister should have been aware it was an improper act

The Standards Committee ruled today that what the MPs” by acting as they did risked giving the impression that elected politicians can bring influence to bear on the judiciary, out of public view and in a way not open to others. Such egregious behaviour is corrosive to the rule of law and, if allowed to continue unchecked, could undermine public trust in the independence of judges.”

The committee recommends that three of the MPs Mrs Natalie Elphicke, Sir Roger Gale, and Theresa Villiers be suspended from the House for one sitting day, and should apologise to the House by means of a letter to the Committee.

Sir Roger Gale -Unrepentant ” I would do it again”. Pic credit: Twitter

The other two MPs, Bob Stewart and Adam Holloway – who decided to sign the letter after glancing at it for 20 seconds- should apologise to the House of Commons in a personal statement.

The committee recommends all five Members should also apologise to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales by letter copied to the Committee. The terms of all the apologies (both by letter and by personal statement) should be agreed in advance by Mr Speaker and the Chair of the Committee.

Four of the five MPs have been contrite about bringing Parliament into disrepute after being summoned by the committee – but Sir Roger Gale has refused to apologise and said he would do it again. He told the committee: “I would find a different way of doing it, but would I do it again—would I seek to achieve the same effect? Yes, I would”.

The report points out that Theresa Villiers is an experienced Member of the House, a trained barrister, and a former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. “We would have expected a Member of her seniority and experience, with legal expertise, to have been particularly aware that her actions in this case were an attempt improperly to interfere in judicial proceedings.”

Earlier this year Lord Freud was ordered by the Lords Commissioner for Standards to apologise and make a statement. A report was published on my blog here.

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.

Ex MP loses claim for striking out defence and summary judgement in defamation case over child sex abuse allegations

Esther Baker

In the latest move in a long running saga over the reporting of child sex abuse allegations made by Esther Baker to journalists, former Liberal Democrat MP, John 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.

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 judge also allowed Sonia Poulton to amend her defence when the case goes to a full trial. There is a separate case for damages being pursued by Darren Laverty.

The full judgement can be read here. It includes the history of a previous case between John Hemming and Esther Baker and the circumstances that surrounded a film interview Sonia Poulton gave which went on YouTube.

Independent panel of judges announced to head tribunal examining discrimination against women

Dr Jocelynne Scutt. Pic credit: Cambridge Labour Party

The campaign to introduce a comprehensive bill of rights for women by implementing in full the UN Convention for the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) takes a major step forward this weekend.

Five high profile women -one a former judge – have agreed to serve on the panel which will sift evidence to be presented at the CEDAW People’s Tribunal later this year presided over by John Cooper, QC, a human rights lawyer,.

CEDAW is “like motherhood and apple pie” – John Cooper QC

John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.

He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.

” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”

The movement to implement comprehensive changes in the law for all women and girls has come from the historic unequal treatment of women and the exposure of poverty and hardship by women born in the 1950s who had to wait an extra six years for their pension. Campaigners pointed out that Margaret Thatcher had signed up to the convention as long ago as 1986 but it had never been properly implemented into UK law -despite Gordon Brown’s government passing the Equality Act in 2010.

Worse the position of the 50s women was just the tip of the iceberg of unequal treatment which covers everything from unequal pay to discrimination in the workplace and women being subject to harassment and sexual abuse and even given poor treatment in jails.

The tribunal will take place as the devolved governments in Scotland and Wales are considering implementing laws to apply the convention – leading to an extraordinary situation where women will have more rights and redress against discrimination and inequality in Scotland and Wales than in England. All this will bring home the issue to the present Tory government whether it wants to do anything about it or not.

The president of the new panel is the Hon. Jocelynne Annette Scutt, an Australian feminist and human rights lawyer and senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She has written about money, marriage and property rights and more recently about plastic surgery, women’s bodies and the law. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.

The other panel members are:

Christine Chinkin

Christine Chinkin, FBA is Emerita Professor of International Law, Professorial Research Fellow and Founding Director of the Centre of Women Peace & Security at LSE. 

She is a barrister, a member of Matrix Chambers. Together with H. Charlesworth, she won the American Society of International Law, 2005 Goler T. Butcher Medal ‘for outstanding contributions to the development or effective realization of international human rights law’. She is a William C Cook Global Law Professor at the University of Michigan Law School.

She has held visiting appointments in Australia, the United States, Singapore and the People’s Republic of China. She is currently a member of the Kosovo Human Rights Advisory Panel and was Scientific Advisor to the Council of Europe’s Committee for the drafting of the Convention on Preventing and Combatting Violence against Women and Domestic Violence.

Jane Gordon

Jane Gordon MA (Oxon) LLM (Distinction) is a human rights lawyer with over 20 years’ experience working in human rights legal practice and policy at domestic, regional and international levels. Jane co-founded Sisters For Change with her sister, SFC Executive Director, in 2014. Jane was Human Rights Advisor to the Northern Ireland Policing Board (2003-2008) where she co-devised the first ever framework for monitoring the human rights compliance of the police.

In 2009-2010, she was appointed Human Rights Advisor to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s national policing protest review. Jane has litigated cases of serious human rights violations against Russia, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine before the European Court of Human Rights, and advised national human rights institutions, public authorities and oversight mechanisms in Jamaica, India, Malawi, Iraq, Ireland and across the UK. Between 2008-2017,

Jane was a Senior Fellow at LSE’s Centre for the Study of Human Rights and LSE’s Centre for Women, Peace and Security where she delivered LSE’s practitioner short course on Women’s Human Rights. In 2013-2014, Jane served as gender advisor/SGBV investigator with the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Jane is additionally a member of the Foreign Secretary’s Human Rights Advisory Group.

Aisha Gill : Pic Credit: Putney local website

Professor Aisha K. Gill, Ph.D. (University of Essex) CBE is Professor of Criminology at University of Roehampton. Her main areas of interest focus on health and criminal justice responses to violence against Black, minority ethnic and refugee (BMER) women in the UK, Georgia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Libya, India, Pakistan and Yemen. Professor Gill is often in the news as a commentator on early/child/forced marriage, violence predicated on ‘honour’, and sexual violence in South Asian communities.

Professor Gill has been involved in addressing the problem of violence against women and girls (VAWG) at the grassroots level for the past 21 years. She is invited adviser to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) strategic support group on investigations and complaints involving gendered forms of violence against women in the UK (including domestic violence); member of Liberty’s Project Advisory Group; member of Kurdish Women’s Rights Watch; Imkaan and Chair of Newham Asian Women’s Project (2004-2009). In October 2019, she was invited to join the Victims’ Commissioner’s Advisory Panel, chaired by Dame Vera Baird, QC.

Professor Fareda Banda Pic Credit:Black Female professors Forum.

Professor Fareda Banda, at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University.

She joined SOAS in 1996. She has convened and taught English Family law, Human rights of women and Law and Society since then. She has also contributed to various courses including Alternative Dispute Resolution, Law and Development, Law and Development in Africa and Legal Systems of Asia and Africa.  She has supervised PhD theses on topics including children’s rights, sexual violence against women, post-conflict reconstruction and gender. She writes on women’s rights, family law, and, more recently, religion. Fareda has been an active member of the School’s Equality Committee, first in her capacity as the union equality officer and more recently as the representative of the Faculty of Law and Social Sciences.

The new panel members are delighted and honoured to be appointed. Dr Davina Lloyd, Chair of the CPT Steering Committee, said:” The well being of future generations is in excellent hands”.

Expect more of this on my blog as the campaign gains momentum throughout the rest of this year.

The Tories who tried to pressurise judges to keep secret their character references for a sexual offender ex MP

Lord Freud :” failed to act on his personal honour”. Pic credit: gov.uk

This week a peer and former Tory government minister Lord Freud was ordered to apologise to the House of Lords for breaching the code of conduct by “failing to act on his personal honour.”

The peer was among the signatories to two letters sent to two senior judges, Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp and to Lady Justice Whipple, seeking to persuade her not to publish his name giving a good character reference to the ex MP who is now a convicted sex offender.

Charlie Elphicke Ex MP Now in jail

The MP was Charlie Elphicke, Tory and later Independent MP for Dover until 2019. He was convicted of three counts of sexual assault on two women in July last year and sentenced in September to two years in prison. He is currently appealing the case.

In November last year three newspapers, The Guardian, the Times and the Daily Mail, sought permission from Lady Justice Whipple to publish the character references from prominent people who were supporting him.

Dame Victoria Sharp pic cap : Judiciary.uk web site

This led four other Tory MPs and the peer to write to two senior judges to persuade them to intervene in the case. The Lords Commissioner for Standards,Lucy Scott-Moncrieff , ruled this week in Lord Freud’s case was “was intended to persuade Lady Justice Thirlwall and Dame Victoria Sharp to intervene.”

She added: “Similarly, the letter to Mrs Justice Whipple was written in terms intended to influence her thinking.”

Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers

MPs say intervention ” a point of principle”

The MPs action became public when Col Stewart asked for a ruling from Jacob Rees Mogg, leader of the House, – but he kept away from committing himself to intervene. The MPs claimed their action was on a point of principle to stop all character references being released but were shot down by the Lord Chief Justice’s office saying it was “improper” to seek to influence the decision of a judge who would ultimately rule on the basis of evidence and argument in court.

Now the Lords Commissioner for Standards has described the letters as ” emotive” and ruled: “I believe doing so in private correspondence to senior judges in terms designed to influence the trial judge must also be considered outside the standards of conduct expected of individual members.”

Existence of inquiry into MPs a secret

This leaves the question of the conduct of the MPs. They come under the Commons Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone. Under the rules of the House of Commons since 2018 it has been decided that no information on whether a complaint has been laid against an MP will be published until a final report is made. So officially it remains a secret whether there is any investigation. However the Guardian has reported that Helen Jones, the Labour MP for Warrington, North until the last election when the Tories won the seat, has put in a complaint.

It would be egregious if Lord Freud , who appears from the Lords report to have been encouraged by the MPs to write and complain, took the entire blame for this. It also, in my view, would encourage MPs to try and influence the judiciary without facing any penalty. And it smacks of the new chumocracy – one rule to protect the powerful and influential and another for Joe Bloggs.

The MPs of course say they are acting for the public who will be frightened to give character witnesses for convicted criminals if they are to be published.

Mrs Justice Whipple’s deft ruling

But this was shot down by Mrs Justice Whipple in a very deftly worded judgement. She distinguished between the ordinary Joe and public figures in releasing the names and references. Only those who had a public role in society were revealed – keeping to the right to know principle of public interest. As a result we also now know that Jonathan Aitken, a prominent former MP once jailed for perjury and now a vicar provided one . As did prominent local Roman Catholic priest, Father Jeff Cridland; Neil Wiggins, a community non executive director of the Port of Dover; and David Foley, chief executive of the Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce. But we don’t know about 21 private individuals who are not prominent in public life.

Let’s see if anything comes from the sphinx like Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on this one.