19:28, March 03 113 0 theguardian.com

2018-03-03 19:28:05
Ministers shelve pledge on women’s safety

The government has been accused of failing women who have been subjected to sexual, psychological and violent abuse after it emerged that a clutch of new laws and codes to protect them have been shelved.

Among the proposed measures were laws to stop rape victims from being cross-examined in court about their previous sexual history, and tougher action on domestic violence. Both have now been sidelined.

“While the government dithers and makes excuses, women are being abused by repeat offenders who should be on a register, victims are being cross-examined in court by their own stalkers, and rape victims are facing the torment of their own sexual history being used as evidence against their credibility,” said Liz Saville Roberts, a Plaid Cymru MP and the party’s justice spokesperson. “The government needs to remember its priorities and bring forward its delayed legislation as a matter of urgency.”

In January 2017 the home secretary, Amber Rudd, pledged that the government would hold a 12-month consultation on a victims’ bill of rights. The initiative, giving victims new legal rights, including the right to be consulted on the conditions of their assailant’s release, was a Conservative manifesto commitment last year. But 13 months later, the consultation has not even begun.

Lady Brinton, president of the Liberal Democrats, said that since Rudd made the promise the strategy had been subject to repeated delays. “They are not serious about doing this,” Brinton said.

The Ministry of Justice has, since July 2017, been promising a courts bill, which it said would include clauses tabled by opposition parties. The bill would bar convicted offenders from cross-examining their victims in person in the family and civil courts.

Liz Truss, the former secretary of state for justice, also promised last April to introduce amendments limiting cross-examination of rape victims on their past sexual history and their appearance at the time of their ordeal. However, the bill, originally due to be introduced before the last general election, has yet to appear.

The Tory 2017 manifesto outlined further plans for a new domestic violence bill. But Theresa May confirmed in parliament last month that the government was to consult on the matter before bringing forward legislation, an announcement that dismayed charities supporting vulnerable women.

“Action is needed urgently to protect victims of domestic violence and serious crime,” said Harry Fletcher, an expert on victims’ rights and co-director of Voice4Victims. “The government promised action last year but has not moved forward. For as long as this continues, victims will suffer abuse and distress will escalate.”

Ministers have been accused of using Brexit as an excuse for the failure to bring in the legislation. But Saville Roberts said: “The government chooses to bring forward bills about smart meters and space technology, while gender-based violence legislation is postponed time and again. When will the government stop procrastinating and start delivering on its duty to improve women’s lives?”

A Home Office spokesman said it was committed to introducing a domestic violence bill in this parliamentary session and it was only right that a consultation process should precede it. He said a courts bill would be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allowed and that the department was committed to publishing a victims strategy this year.

“We are also providing increased dedicated funding of £100m to support victims of violence against women and girls,” he added.