In light of the confirmation of intentions to scrap the Human Rights Act women's advocacy groups stress importance of legislation to women
WOMEN'S advocacy groups have told the UK government not to “gamble” with the Human Rights Act (HRA) as the protection it offers to women is “fundamental”.
The comments came in response to the news last week that Liz Truss, the UK justice secretary will seek to introduce a British Bill of Rights and Responsibilities during the current parliamentary term.
Groups including Rape Crisis Scotland and Scottish Women's Aid have stated that the HRA has been an important tool in guaranteeing certain rights for women in terms of access to legal aid and rights to privacy during criminal prosecution for rape.
“In the context of the significant political upheaval it's quite clear that the Human Rights Act must be strengthened not abandoned and we strongly urged the UK government not to gamble with these fundamental protections.” Dr Marsha Scott
Speaking to CommonSpace, information & resource worker for Rape Crisis Scotland, Eileen Maitland, said: “Until February this year, complainers in Scotland had no access to legal aid or guaranteed right to be heard when their medical or sensitive records were being sought by their alleged rapist/abuser as part of a criminal prosecution.
“This meant that women were in the position of being served with legal papers saying their alleged abuser wished to access often years of their private records, and they had no access to legal aid to enable them to oppose this.
“To us, this was a clear human rights breach.
“In February this year, following an application for judicial review of Scottish Ministers refusal to make legal aid available in these circumstances, Lord Glennie ruled that any person whose human rights may be infringed by an order for recovery of medical records must be given the opportunity to be heard in opposition to the application before an order is made.
“His judgement was clear that access to medical or other sensitive records was a breach of someone's Article 8 right to privacy. European human rights legislation played a crucial role in this decision.
“Rape Crisis Scotland intervened in the judicial review in support of the petitioner, and our intervention relied heavily on the rights outlined in the European Convention for Human Rights.”
Article 8 of the Human Rights Act
Earlier this year in response to this medical files case, Scottish ministers confirmed that the Scottish legal aid board would put in place interim arrangements for complainers to apply for legal aid on a non means tested basis to enable women to challenge applications for their records.
Where personal and sensitive material is concerned, the convention rights of witnesses under articles 2, 3 and 8 of the HRA must be considered, especially if there has been any threat to their “physical or psychological integrity” or to their “sexual life.”
In 2014-15, 1,797 rapes and 104 attempted rapes were reported to the police in Scotland yet there were 270 prosecutions and 125 convictions.
Rape Crisis Scotland said it was but one of many examples of how women's rights are being upheld legally through the application of provisions and articles of the Act.
The proposed British Bill of Rights was promised by the Conservative Government in their 2015 election manifesto as a replacement for the HRA passed in 1998 by the Labour government of 1997-2001.
Responding to the UK justice secretary's announcement on BBC radio 4's Today programme, Dr Marsha Scott, chief executive officer of Scottish Women's Aid, said: “The Human Rights Act safeguards and promotes the rights of women and children and young people across Scotland protecting them from and precipitating action on domestic abuse, honour based violence, forced marriage and other forms of violence against women.
“In the context of the significant political upheaval it's quite clear that the Human Rights Act must be strengthened not abandoned and we strongly urged the UK government not to gamble with those fundamental protections.”
According to Scottish government figures much criminal activity is in decline, however for sexual offences they continue to rise and reporting rates for rape are notoriously low with estimates suggesting that between 75 and 95 per cent of rapes are never reported to the police.
“Rape Crisis Scotland intervened in the judicial review in support of the petitioner, and our intervention relied heavily on the rights outlined in the European Convention for Human Rights.” Eileen Maitland
In 2014-15 the rates of sexual crimes reported in Scotland were at the highest level seen since 1971, the first year for which comparable crime groups were recorded.
Over the course of the year 1,797 rapes and 104 attempted rapes were reported to the police in Scotland, yet there were just 270 prosecutions and 125 convictions meaning a 46.3 per cent conviction rate for cases that reach court.
In the same period, 9,557 sexual offences were reported, an increase of 11 per cent, from the 8,604 sexual offences recorded the previous year with at least 32 per cent of these relating to a victim under the age of 18.
In 2014 the Scottish Social Attitudes Survey titled ‘Attitudes to violence against women in Scotland’ showed evidence that people believe that in certain situations women are at least “partly to blame if they are raped.”
In fact only 58 per cent said that a woman who wore revealing clothing on a night out was “not at all to blame” for being raped, and 60 per cent said the same of a woman who was very drunk.
Up to 23 per cent of respondents agreed that “women often lie about being raped” and nearly 2 in 5 agreed that ‘rape results from men being unable to control their need for sex’.
Picture courtesy of UN Women Asia and the Pacific
Check out what people are saying about how important CommonSpace is. Pledge your support today.