22 May 2015

When Laura*, a seventeen year old, reported to Hampshire police that she had been raped by an acquaintance, you might think that being able to give evidence proving the identity of her rapist would mean she was believed. Instead, the police put the evidence aside and, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, arrested her for perverting the course of justice.

Laura spent months on police bail, was twice attacked in the street for ‘lying’ about being raped and twice attempted suicide. The Guardian reported that police had decided two days after she reported the rape that she was lying and they would arrest her.

Finally, after a complaint by her mother about the way she was being treated, new officers took over the case. They conducted forensic tests, identified her rapist and in September 2013 he was jailed for six years.

How the Human Rights Act helped

When we are on the sharp end of serious failures by our public authorities, there needs to be a way of holding them to account. This is what our Human Rights Act does, it helped Laura and her mother hold the Hampshire Police to account. Hampshire Police agreed that her rights had been breached and offered to pay her £20 000. Damages in human rights cases are relatively rare (it is not the same as personal injury compensation). However, the large amount of money reflects the terrible impact on Laura of the arrest and the failure to believe her.

Why the Human Rights Act matters for victims of crime

Last year, we blogged about a similar case, where the High Court found that the Metropolitan Police had breached the right to be free from inhuman and degrading treatment of two victims of the ‘black cab rapist’, John Worboys, by failing to believe them and properly investigate their allegations of rape. You can also read our write up of this case study on the Human Rights Act in real life here.

We also recently blogged about how the Human Rights Act is helping Joanna Michael’s family to hold the police to account when they failed to respond to her 999 call for help after being attacked by her ex-partner. When they did arrive the police found Joanne dead.

Without the Human Rights Act ensuring our public services are held to account would be very difficult (there is a misconception that this is about negligence law. Read our blog on Joanna for why this isn’t the case).

The Human Rights Act has empowered victims to get justice. This is what the Human Rights Act can do that no other law can; without it, what happened to Laura could have passed quietly and gone unchecked. With the Human Rights Act, the police are held accountable. A spotlight is shone on their processes and practices driving change, strengthening work to stop more victims of rape being failed. 

This is just one of many reasons why the Human Rights Act matters for us all. Right now the Government is planning to “scrap” the Human Rights Act, if you are concerned about this find out more about standing Together for Human Rights here.


More coverage here: *BBC, The Telegraph