SUPREME COURT CONCLUDES THAT THE POLICE HAVE A LEGAL DUTY UNDER THE HUMAN RIGHTS ACT TO EFFECTIVELY INVESTIGATE ALLEGATIONS OF RAPE AND SERIOUS SEXUAL ASSAULT IN WORBOYS CASE

The Supreme Court has today handed down judgment in a landmark case against the Metropolitan Police Service, brought by two women who were victims of John Worboys, “Black cab rapist”.  The judgment is a conclusive ruling that the Human Rights Act provides a remedy for victims of serious sexual and violent crimes where the police fail.

DSD was one of Worboys’ first victims, attacked in 2003, and NBV was attacked in 2007. Both women reported their allegations to the police, but both felt disbelieved and let down when informed that no further action would be taken. It was not until 2008 that the police finally noticed the pattern of offending (after at least 10 victims had reported him).  Following a media appeal and subsequent trial, 105 allegations of similar offences were linked to Worboys.

Birnberg Peirce commenced proceedings on behalf of the two claimants in 2011 and the case went to trial at the High Court in 2013, with judgment in favour of the Claimants  was handed down in 2014.  The police appealed the decision to the Court of Appeal, who dismissed their appeal in 2015.  The police then appealed to the Supreme Court assisted by an intervention from the then Secretary of State for the Home Department (Theresa May).  It was argued by them that British Courts have long held that the police should not be subject to negligence claims with regard to their duty to investigate crime and that a decision holding that there is such a duty under the HRA would be inconsistent.

However, the Supreme Court have unanimously held that the appeals should be dismissed, finding in favour of the two women who have been assisted by interventions from Liberty and a coalition of women’s organisations including Rape crisis, End Violence against Women, Southall Black Sisters and the Nia project.

The judgment has important repercussions for the future of investigations of rape and other serious crimes of violence and will require the police to act with care and diligence.  The Court have, however made clear that errors in an investigation that give rise to a breach of article 3 must be “egregious and significant.”  The Court also concluded by a majority that operational failures by the police (as well as systems failures) can constitute a breach.

DSD said, “When I was told by the police back in 2003 that they were dropping the case, I warned them he would do it again, although never in my wildest dreams did I think there would be so many women harmed by Worboys.  Neither did I imagine that I would become embroiled in a 15 year battle for justice.  Today I can celebrate because the highest court in the land has today delivered justice.”

Harriet Wistrich, solicitor for DSD and NBV said: “This is a historic judgment that finally determines the police are not immune from legal action where they fail victims of crime.  It reminds us that the Human Rights Act is a powerful tool in defending the rights of victims and we must fight government proposals to repeal it”.

Notes to editors

As victims of serious sexual assaults, the claimants are entitled to anonymity under s1 Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. Publication of their names, addresses,  photographs or any identifying details is a criminal offence.

DSD and NBV are the same claimants who are also bringing a judicial review challenge of the recent parole board decision to release John Worboys, now known as John Radford, from prison. Permission was recently granted and a full hearing of that claim will be heard on March 13 and 14.

 

 

Harriet Wistrich

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