Any of us could be the victim of a crime. When that happens, we expect the authorities to listen to us and take action. If the state falls short, victims of crime can turn to the Human Rights Act. The Act protects us all – and last week a case in the Supreme Court put down a very clear marker for victims’ rights.
The case of John Worboys, the London taxi driver who raped numerous women between 2002 and 2008, has become notorious, more so now that he has been deemed fit for release.
But the case in the Supreme Court on 21 February 2018 was about a different issue. It was about the treatment of two women, DSD and NBV, not by Worboys, but by the Metropolitan Police.
In 2003 DSD went to the police to report being raped by a London taxi driver. This was the first such case to be reported to the police. DSD told the police that the taxi driver told her that he had won a cash prize and asked her to join him in a celebratory drink of champagne. The drink was spiked and when she woke up she was aware she had been raped.
The police failed to believe her. DSD reports the police officer as saying “A black cab driver wouldn’t do that.”
Over the next few years a dozen women reported similar cases to the police. What followed was a catalogue of police failings. These included failing to take the women seriously, to interview witnesses, to collect relevant CCTV evidence and to establish links between the many similar complaints they were receiving. This resulted in Worboys continuing to be free to attack women. He was finally convicted in 2009 by which time he is believed to have raped or sexually assaulted more than a hundred women.
In the Supreme Court last week, DSD and NBV argued that, by failing to investigate their cases effectively, the Metropolitan Police had breached their human rights. The Human Rights Act doesn’t just mean that the police shouldn’t harm you themselves. It also means that they should investigate if a member of the public has breached your human rights. But the question was how far does this requirement go?
The human right DSD and NBV focused on is freedom from inhuman and degrading treatment – Article 3 of the Human Rights Act.
The Human Rights Act works on a number of levels. Under Article 3 state authorities such as the police
- must not do anything that amounts to inhuman and degrading treatment
- must put in place measures to protect its citizens from such treatment by other people
- must have a system of laws and procedures so that such treatment can be investigated, prosecuted and punished
And since last week’s Supreme Court ruling, the police
- must conduct an effective investigation into such treatment
So what does this mean for victims of the most serious crimes? And what does it mean for the police?
It means that victims of serious crimes denied justice due to failings by the police have a right to challenge this in court.
It means that the police can be held to account by victims when the police significantly fail in their duty.
It means that it is not sufficient for the police to have procedures in place to investigate serious crimes. They have to implement these procedures.
In welcoming the Supreme Court’s decision, DSD stated that had the police done their job properly there would have been only one victim, not a hundred. She said that this ruling should force the police to do their job. This would increase women’s confidence to report such crimes.
This is just one example of how the Human Rights Act can help ordinary people in their ordinary lives. You can see short films about two other cases here.
Debora Singer is a member of René Cassin’s ‘Protecting Human Rights in the UK‘ Campaign Group
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