Support a public inquiry into police abuse of women

by Centre for Women's Justice

Support a public inquiry into police abuse of women

by Centre for Women's Justice
Centre for Women's Justice
Case Owner
The Centre for Women’s Justice is a legal charity that holds the state to account for failures around protecting women and girls.
on 03rd February 2022
pledged of £15,000 stretch target from 777 pledges
Centre for Women's Justice
Case Owner
The Centre for Women’s Justice is a legal charity that holds the state to account for failures around protecting women and girls.

Latest: Sept. 2, 2022

Yesterday's renewal hearing and the plan ahead

Dear supporters

As you know, the Court refused permission to proceed to a full judicial review hearing in this matter. Knowing the strength of feeling and support of so many women who want a statutory…

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Help us legally challenge the Home Secretary’s decision to limit the powers and scope of the public inquiry she announced following the murder of Sarah Everard.

We must ensure that this inquiry meets its stated aim, “to ensure that something like this can never happen again.”

The background

While a serving Met Police officer, Wayne Couzens kidnapped, raped, and murdered Sarah Everard. It was an horrific case which shocked everyone, even those of us working at the forefront of challenging police perpetrated abuse and police failures in tackling violence against women and girls.

After Couzens’ conviction and sentencing, day after day stories emerged about other police officers who had been accused or convicted for misogynistic crimes, including rape, domestic abuse and sharing sickening images.

The public, particularly women, have lost faith in the Metropolitan Police Service. They have lost faith that the service is capable of investigating crimes like rape, sexual abuse and domestic violence, when they cannot even root it out of their own ranks.

A YouGov poll in November 2021 found that just 29% of women said they still trust the police following Sarah Everard’s murder.

Last year the Home Secretary announced that there would be a “public inquiry” because the case had exposed "unimaginable failures in policing". The aim of the inquiry, she said, was “to give the independent oversight needed, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

This was welcome. But the inquiry she proposes is incapable of achieving these aims. It will look only at this one incident, and thereafter only at wider issues if they arise from that incident. It misses this once in a lifetime opportunity to look into and learn from many other cases of police perpetrated violence against women and the wider culture of police misogyny. It misses the opportunity to understand the different experiences of women who suffer multiple discrimination as a result of ethnicity, disability and other forms of oppression. It misses the opportunity to root out such behaviour. It misses the opportunity to restore faith in policing.

Arguably worse, Priti Patel has decided to sidestep the framework set up by parliament to conduct a statutory inquiry. The inquiry she has set up won’t have the power to: compel witnesses or evidence from the Met; to protect whistle-blowers within the Force who may be able to provide important insight and information; or to protect victims who want to speak up but fear doing so. It won’t be held in public and doesn’t invite evidence from others who could help reveal patterns of behaviour and systemic fault-lines and failings.

We will argue that her decision is unlawful because it will fail to meet its stated aims.

The Home Secretary is responsible for policing in this country. She has to ensure they are fit for purpose, and that women can begin to trust them again.

The case

We tried to avoid litigation. On 15 October 2021, we wrote informally to the Home Secretary, explaining why her approach was wrong and asking her to change course. We set out in detail the context and importance of getting this inquiry right. You can see those documents here.

Not only did she not respond to that letter, but she also didn’t respond when we told her that many frontline organisations working with victims of male violence are supporting our calls. Indeed she didn’t reply in full to the concerns we have raised until January. And by that stage she had doubled down, by pushing ahead with the inadequate inquiry by appointing a Chair and setting the terms of reference. As such, we are now going to Court to ask them to put this right.

We will be arguing that the Home Secretary is wrong not to conduct this inquiry as a statutory one, with all the powers that provides, and wrong to limit the scope such that it only examines one incident.

We want to be clear. We strongly believe that Sarah Everard’s family need and deserve an inquiry answering the questions in the current terms of reference. But while this must be a strand of an inquiry, we fear it will miss important evidence if it simply relies on the assurances of assistance provided by the Met and other police forces that employed Couzens. We also fear that the family may be failed. Without the powers to compel evidence and ensure whistle-blowers are protected enough to come forward, it will never be certain that everything has come to light.

The Home Secretary has said that there will be a second phase to the inquiry that can look at some limited wider issues, depending on what emerges from the first phase, but if the first phase is deliberately curtailed by a lack of necessary powers, then opportunities to properly explore this issue will be lost.

Who we are

The Centre for Women’s Justice is a legal charity that holds the state to account for failures around protecting women and girls. We work with frontline women’s service providers to improve access to justice for women and girls and to legally challenge failings by police and other criminal justice agencies. Through our partnership work we have gathered compelling evidence of misogyny in policing and of police perpetrated abuse. Last year we submitted a police super-complaint around this issue leading to over 160 women contacting us who had suffered abuse and been failed by the police. The lawyers working for CWJ, have between them, decades of experience working in human rights and actions against the police. We are so concerned about this issue that we have decided to be the Claimants, as well as the solicitors in this legal case, despite the financial risk this creates.

How much are we raising and why?

Our starting target is £10,000. This is to cover adverse costs; in case we lose. As a small charity losing even this much takes away from our vital work. Do visit our website to see the work we do. We do not charge our clients and we provide a free of charge enquiries line for frontline staff acting for victims of rape and domestic violence, where a legal issue arises. Our work is vital and unique, and we do not want to risk our ability to provide these services, should we lose the case and have to pay the Home Secretary’s legal fees.

Thereafter, any funds will go towards paying our own legal costs. We have an excellent all women barrister team (acting at reduced rates), who have already done so much work on this matter. 

If we were to win the case, our legal costs would be paid by the Defendant. In those circumstances, any money raised would go to assisting other victims of police perpetrated abuse. We have already been contacted by 160 women in that position. We want to be able to help them all.

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Update 4

Centre for Women's Justice

Sept. 2, 2022

Yesterday's renewal hearing and the plan ahead

Dear supporters

As you know, the Court refused permission to proceed to a full judicial review hearing in this matter. Knowing the strength of feeling and support of so many women who want a statutory inquiry into the Metropolitan Polie following the criminality of Wayne Couzens, we decided to renew the application. Before doing so, we were able to negotiate with the Defendant such that they agreed not to seek any costs for the renewal hearing. This means that we could proceed without the fear of losing raised funds.

We had the renewal hearing yesterday (31 August 2022). Despite the best efforts of our excellent barristers, permission was refused again. The Judge accepted the depth of public feeling around this issue, the numerous incidents of police perpetrated abuse, and specifically praised the work of CWJ, but decided that holding a non-statutory inquiry was a political decision open to the Home Secretary and that a claim could therefore not proceed. We are deeply disappointed, but see no grounds for appeal.

On the up side, he agreed with us that the lawyers acting for the Home Secretary had sought costs which were disproportionate to the work done, and nearly halved the costs awarded to them by the previous judge. This means that two thirds of your donations can now be kept by CWJ and used for our work acting for victims of police perpetrated abuse. As you may know from previous updates, over 160 women across the country reached out to us for help. The work is complex and unfunded, so your donations will be enormously helpful in covering some of the work we are doing.

We are so sorry that the decision did not go our way. However, within proceedings we reached out to the Home Secretary and the Chair of the non-statutory inquiry offering to meet and try to help ensure the inquiry is as good as it can be. The Chair has since responded to say that she is "keen to involve [CWJ] as she embarks on the second phase of the inquiry" so we will try to raise our concerns, which we know you share, including as to the non-statutory nature of this inquiry and its limited scope in person. The Chair still has the power to convert it to a public, statutory, inquiry. We believe that this litigation has brought us to this position where we can meet with her, and we will keep trying to make your voices properly heard.

We are now closing this CrowdJustice page but if you would like to continue to support our work please visit our website - or send us an email [email protected] 

Thank you for your support.

All at CWJ

Update 3

Centre for Women's Justice

June 22, 2022

Update on the application for a judicial review

Thank you all so much for your positive messages and donations.

As you know, we submitted our application for a judicial review several months ago. Sadly the judge who considered our application on the papers has recently decided not to grant permission for a full hearing to go ahead. He stated:

Having carefully considered the well-articulated complaints raised on behalf of the claimant, I have concluded that, taken as a whole, they amount to no more than cogently expressed reasons why a reasonably informed onlooker may have chosen to have taken a different course to that which has been adopted by the defendant. This, however, is not enough. Their cumulative still falls far short of surmounting the inevitably high threshold which stands in the way of arguable review in a case such as this.”

We disagree and are considering an appeal. However, an appeal comes with risks: not only increased costs but the risk that the further delay will mean that the issue is heard too late to improve the ongoing inquiry, possibly even after part one has been completed. Despite this ongoing case, the Home Secretary has pushed ahead and the inquiry began in January. The government stated that the inquiry would publish their report within 6 to 9 months. We worry as to how the inquiry is being conducted because at present it appears to be undertaking the work of an internal review, rather than a public inquiry.

The aim of this case is to ensure that the inquiry is conducted properly so that there can be real change in policing to prevent ongoing and further police perpetrated abuse. Given the court delays, even if the claim was successful it could be too late to rectify the problems we can see arise from the current format and scope.

To that end, we have written to the Home Secretary and the Chair of the Inquiry outlining that we will not proceed with an appeal if they will enter into full and open discussions with our legal team. We have a wealth of experience and examples from our own practice and from the frontline organisations that we work with across the country, which we are willing to share to ensure that this inquiry is properly conducted. In our view, that is the most important thing and whether this is done via successful litigation through the courts or the litigation simply brings them to the table to discuss and learn, then the aim of this matter will have been met.

We are waiting to hear if they will agree. We have made clear to them that litigation was always a last resort and that if the government is genuine in its desire to ensure nothing like what happened with Wayne Couzens can ever happen again, then they should meet with us so this matter can be settled outside the courtroom as swiftly as possible.

We will provide a further update when we have a response. However we wish to thank you all again for your incredible support. We know how important this issue is for you and all women and girls across the country. We will keep fighting to ensure your voices are heard.

Update 2

Centre for Women's Justice

Feb. 4, 2022

We have hit our first target!

Thank you so much for your donations and supportive comments. We really appreciate them all and they demonstrate the strength of feeling on this issue.

We’ve hit our first target and we will be filing the documents for the judicial review application shortly.

We are a non-profit charity working on limited funding so there is much more to do to ensure we aren’t at risk of having to pay large government legal fees which would affect our ability to provide the assistance we do to survivors of violence against women and girls. 

Please continue to donate and share so together we can challenge the Home Secretary to properly investigate and root out police officers who pose a risk to women.

Best wishes

All at CWJ

Update 1

Centre for Women's Justice

Feb. 3, 2022

Police misogyny : Why won’t Priti Patel act?

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel (who is ultimately responsible for policing) gave a statement at the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday in response to Tuesday's IOPC report into the horrific behaviour of officers based in Charing Cross. She stated:

 "that is why through the Angiolini Inquiry we are specifically looking at the culture of policing because we have to, we got to really pull back the layers, in terms of not just attitudes but what is that culture, .. that permeates in policing and what are we going to do, collectively to change that.”

Commenting on this, Harriet Wistrich, director of Centre for Women's Justice responded with the following:

“The Angiolini inquiry is not looking at the culture of policing. Anyone looking at the terms of reference can see that is untrue. An inquiry into only one specific incident, albeit an horrific one, cannot come close to uncovering what that culture is and why and how it permeates policing - let alone what we can do to change it. 

The Home Secretary continues to resist calls to put the inquiry on a statutory footing which would provide it with legal powers to obtain disclosure, compel witnesses and protect whistleblowers, victims and survivors. She continues to refuse to consider other incidents of police violence against women and girls. Even the second part will be constrained by the first. At best the second part will rely on a series of other investigations being conducted by the IOPC, HMICFRS, and the Metropolitan Police itself all of which will take place outside the public glare.

Only the review led by Baroness Louise Casey, instructed by the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and conducted behind closed doors, is currently tasked with investigating the culture and standards of behaviour within the MPS. This means that the extent to which the culture of the Met police is even looked at in Phase 2 of the Angiolini Inquiry is entirely dependent on the findings of one Met review, if it even takes those findings into account at all.

If she really wishes to provide assurance to the public and root out the misogyny, racism and homophobia we saw from those Charing Cross Officers, we again invite her to exercise the powers given her by Parliament under the Inquiries Act and make the Inquiry one that can seek the truth unimpeded and recommend real changes. If not, we will continue with our judicial review and hope the Courts will insist she do so.”

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