Lawyer profile: Harriet Wistrich

The CrowdJustice Team

posted on 07 Jun 2019

Harriet Wistrich is a solicitor at Birnberg Peirce and founder of the Centre for Women's Justice. In this blog post, Harriet speaks about her work representing victims of  'Black Cab Rapist' John Worboys. Their challenge to a decision of the Parole Board to release him from prison was funded on CrowdJustice.

1) Why were your clients raising funds on CrowdJustice?

I represented women who were victims of John Worboys, the ‘Black Cab Rapist’. In 2009, Worboys was convicted of serious sexual offences, including rape and sexual assault. The charges related only to 12 victims but there was strong evidence that he was responsible for much wider offending, involving as many as 100 victims. He used date rape drugs and assaulted women in his cab.

After 8 years in prison, Worboys became eligible for parole and the Parole Board ordered his release. Two of his victims, known as DSD and NBV, were horrified by this. They set up a CrowdJustice page and raised £66,000 to bring a judicial review.

It was unprecedented because there hadn’t been a successful challenge to a Parole Board decision by victims before. Fortunately, we were well placed to bring a judicial review as we had a huge amount of information about Worboys’ wider offending from a separate action against the police, who hadn’t investigated the women’s allegations properly.

2) Do you have any thoughts about the underlying issues?

The women I represented were extremely distressed by the decision to release Worboys. Their concerns were echoed by other victims and members of the public, who were shocked at how someone who perpetrated such serious, calculated crimes against women was no longer considered a risk to the public. There was an important issue of principle about victims’ rights in the parole process which my clients were keen to pursue.

When the High Court overturned the decision to release Worboys in March 2018, his victims were vindicated. My clients had felt so diminished, but being able to bring this legal challenge and succeed made them feel empowered, and that’s really important.

3) Which costs were funded through CrowdJustice?

The women I represented weren’t eligible for legal aid and they were understandably concerned about liability for the other side’s costs. The funds raised gave them valuable protection against the risk of adverse costs. It also covered disbursements and assisted with solicitors’ and counsel’s fees. It allowed us to take the case on a ‘no win no fee’ basis.

In the end, the defendants agreed not to seek their costs, but the women would not have been in a position to bring the judicial review without some surety of costs protection. The only way they could get that was through CrowdJustice.

4) Did raising funds on CrowdJustice make a difference to the legal action?

It meant that we were able to bring the legal action at all - we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Because of the unprecedented nature of the challenge and the involvement of a number of experienced counsel, it would have been a high costs risk, had the claimants lost. We needed to make sure the women could bring the judicial review without significant personal financial risk.

5) What was your favourite part of the case?

Winning! When the High Court struck down the Parole Board’s decision to release Worboys as irrational, my clients felt like they could breathe again, and so did many others. It was very important that these women were not sidelined, but were able to have their voices heard. My clients were hugely relieved and vindicated, and I was delighted for them.

6) What did you find most surprising about funding on CrowdJustice?

This was my first experience with CrowdJustice and I didn’t really know how it worked beforehand, but using the platform in this case demonstrated its potential as a source of funding for other legal matters where the parties wouldn’t be able to proceed without adverse costs protection. Raising funds on CrowdJustice proved highly valuable to my clients and it provides us as lawyers with the ability to bring claims that otherwise could not get off the ground.

You can see Harriet's clients' CrowdJustice page here.

The Centre for Women's Justice has launched a new CrowdJustice page, raising funds to challenge the Crown Prosecution Service's drop in pursuing rape complaints. Learn about the new challenge here.

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Questions? Get in touch: [email protected].