Exclusive: What’s missing for women’s rights in the UK: Former judge Dr Jocelynne Scutt and former chief prosecutor Nazil Afzal talk about CEDAW

Dr Jocelynne Scutt, President of panel of judges of the CEDAW People’s tribunal , Nazir Afzal Legal Consultant to the tribunal

Two of the leading people talk in advance of the planned People’s Tribunal in London

Later this year there will be a People’s Tribunal in London to evaluate the need for the UN Convention on the elimination of all discrimination against women to be put into domestic law. The convention, signed and ratified by Margaret Thatcher in 1986 has never been put into domestic law though parts of it are in the Equalities Act, 2010.

The tribunal will examine the failure to integrate CEDAW into domestic legislation; decide whether those delays are legitimate or not; and make necessary recommendations as to how the Convention can be given full effect in the UK, advancing women in all aspects of society and recognising historic inequalities.

Dr Jocelynne Scutt, the Australian feminist who is president of the panel of judges CEDAW People’s Tribunal and Nazir Afzal, newly appointed Legal Consultant to the tribunal. have talked about their hopes for a massive legal change.

Jocelynne Scutt is a senior law fellow at the University of Buckingham. She was Tasmania’s first anti discrimination commissioner and is a member of the Labour Party in Cambridge and the Australian Labor Party. She is a former judge in Fiji.

Nazil Afzal, is the former Chief Crown Prosecutor for NW England and formerly Director in London. Most recently, he was Chief Executive of the country’s Police & Crime Commissioners. During 24 year career, has prosecuted many high profile cases and advised on many others and led nationally on Violence against Women & Girls, child sexual abuse, and honour based violence. His prosecutions of the so called Rochdale grooming gang and hundreds of others were groundbreaking and drove the work that has changed the landscape of child protection. He is the new legal consultant to the tribunal.

Jocelynne Scutt believes there are many cases -particularly those involving violence against women and rape cases- where women are still not seen as credible because of prejudice or the way they dress. She points to protests from women groups over rape cases with placards saying ” Wearing a dress does not mean yes” as a good example of the way women are treated by men. She says this is similar to the ” stop and search” policy by the police where just because a black man is driving a posh car it is assumed it is either stolen or he is a drug dealer.

She said one of the big changes CEDAW could bring is to change the law to make people treated as a whole human being instead of being categorised in different legal columns. She cited a discrimination case brought on both sex and gender and racial discrimination.

” The law as it is either treats the case as a sex and gender case with a bit of ethnicity added on or a an ethnicity discrimination case with a bit of gender discrimination. People are not like that.”

The standard in courts is still based on ” Benchmark Man”

She says courts are still dominated by white male values despite the fact we have more women barristers and judges. ” As one of my colleagues says the standard is Benchmark Man- that is still the standard for everything.”

She thinks that middle class women have an advantage over working class women to progress in their careers.

” Middle class women in professional jobs can get through the glass ceiling or at least see it . For working class women – such as cleaners and care workers – they are stopped by a concrete canopy- they can’t even see the glass ceiling let alone break through it” This is something that CEDAW would change.

Both she and Nazil Afzal believe CEDAW will bring about big changes. She is optimistic that support for CEDAW will build and build to become a major issue.

Nazil believes there is no legal impediment to introducing CEDAW only a political one. He also believes that if Scotland and Wales decide to implement CEDAW while England declines to do so – it ” will lead to an even greater postcode lottery in judicial decisions than it is now.

” Probably only one per cent of lawyers understand CEDAW”

He believes that at present the vast majority of lawyers don’t understand CEDAW even though its is recognised by the courts as international law.

” Probably only one per cent of lawyers -unless it is their speciality – don’t understand it and probably among that one per cent only one per cent understand it fully “

He thinks the passing of the Domestic Abuse Bill has made the case for putting CEDAW into domestic law and also for the United Kingdom to sign up to the Council of Europe Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic abuse.

Some 45 countries have signed up and 34 have ratified the convention. The UK is not one – one of the stumbling blocks for the UK is that it would have to give migrants equal rights.