Supreme Court rules Met breached human rights of Warboys' victims

By agency reporter
February 26, 2018

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Metropolitan Police breached the human rights of John Worboys’ victims by failing to properly investigate reports of his crimes – after a four-year fight for justice by two of the women he attacked.

The women – known as DSD and NBV – were raped by John Worboys in 2003 and 2007. When they reported the attacks, police did not believe them. Worboys was able to continue attacking women until 2009.

The landmark ruling issued on 21 February 2018, confirms police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to properly investigate serious crime – and is a crucial victory in the battle to end violence against women and girls.

Liberty, the human rghts and civil liberies organisation, intervened in the case which saw the Met – backed by the Home Secretary – argue that they were only legally obliged to put in place necessary structures to investigate serious crimes, and not to actually execute those investigations effectively.

The Met’s argument was based on submissions by then Home Secretary Theresa May – who has since expressed sympathy with victims’ concerns about the recent decision to release Worboys on parole, saying she wants to ensure victims of crime “feel confident that the police will take action”.

The UK’s highest court has today upheld a 2014 High Court ruling and 2015 Appeal Court decision, backing the victims’ arguments and Liberty’s intervention. It found that:

  • Police must have systems in place to allow serious violent crimes to be investigated effectively and apply those systems in individual cases so those effective investigations actually take place – whether the crime is carried out by the State or individual criminals (pars 20 and 48).
  • There is no serious possibility that requiring police to do so for very serious crimes would inhibit operations, divert resources or lead to high numbers of legal claims about minor crime, as the police had argued.
  • In fact, requiring police to properly investigate serious crime would “act as an incentive to avoid those errors and to deter, indeed eliminate, the making of such grievous mistakes”.

The Home Secretary and the Met also argued that a win for the women would lead to people bringing more claims for minor policing errors – but the original High Court judgment set out that this was not about mere failures to apply internal guidance. There had been a fundamental failure to join the dots of the various complaints received by police about Worboys.

Martha Spurrier, Director of Liberty, said: “From the very start this has been a catalogue of devastating failures by the people who are supposed keep us safe. Having already let these women down in the most horrific way, the Met could have accepted the High Court’s ruling four years ago. Instead they used taxpayers’ money to drag them all the way to the highest court in the land, with the full backing of the Home Secretary.

“What was obvious from the start is now in black and white – the police are legally required to properly investigate very serious crimes. Instead of focusing their resources on wriggling out of their fundamental duties under the Human Rights Act, the Government and police must now commit themselves to protecting survivors of sexual violence and standing up for victims’ rights.”

Background to the case

Article 3 of the Human Rights Act protects people’s right not to be tortured or suffer inhuman or degrading treatment and puts a positive duty on police to properly investigate very serious crimes.

In 2014, the High Court found the Met had breached that duty by failing to properly investigate Worboys’ crimes. This was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 2015.

The Met appealed the decision at every stage, arguing that having policies and guidance in place adequately fulfilled their Article 3 duty – even if they never followed them in practice.

The Supreme Court appeal was granted only after then Home Secretary Theresa May took the highly unusual step of making submissions to the Supreme Court in support of the police’s application before there had even been a decision.

In December 2015, the Supreme Court informed the Met that their grounds were unarguable – but that those submitted by the Home Secretary were “potentially arguable”. The Met adopted those grounds and were granted an appeal. Current Home Secretary Amber Rudd continued her involvement in the case.

Liberty’s intervention argued that the duty to investigate extended beyond an obligation simply to provide proper structures – and that a duty to establish those structures with no legal duty to operate within them would create no more than a bureaucratic fiction.

A coalition of women’s rights groups – Rape Crisis, the End Violence Against Women Coalition, Southall Black Sisters and the Nia Project – also intervened in the case.

The Human Rights Act does not allow people to take legal action against police over minor investigative failings. The Article 3 duty arises only in cases of particularly severe violent crimes, and where serious errors have taken place.

* Liberty https://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/


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