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Hampstead mother’s campaign to change law on domestic violence reaches United Nations

Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women. UN Photo / Jean-Marc Ferré

Friday, April 18, 2014
8:00 AM

A mother’s campaign to scrap a legal time limit that is robbing countless domestic violence victims of justice has been taken to the United Nations.

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Story from the front line

WAR has submitted a dossier to Rashida Manjoo’s investigation so she can hear “the real story from the front line”, says spokesman Lisa Longstaff.

As well as the six-month time limit that has blighted the quest for justice of the Hampstead mother, and many more like her, the Kentish Town pressure group says the UK is “flouting its obligations” towards victims in other ways.

One of the biggest concerns for WAR is the separation of rape and domestic violence cases by police, which the organisation says is a major obstacle to securing convictions.

“Different units deal with rape and domestic violence, so the full picture of the violence suffered by victims remains hidden – as a result cases are dropped and prosecutions fail,” it says.

The conviction rate for rape is just 6.7 per cent of reported cases and WAR says the “sexism, laziness and incompetence” of the authorities is partly to blame.

Among a series of recommendations in its submission to the UN probe, it calls for:

* An end to the six-month limit on common assault charges

* Police to stop the separation of rape and domestic violence cases

* The decriminalisation of prostitution, to make sex workers safer

* An end to prosecutions against women accused of lying about rape

Ms Longstaff added: “One of our hopes is that these issues will be discussed at an international level.”

Kentish Town pressure group Women Against Rape (WAR) has submitted evidence to the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, on how the six-month limit on common assault charges protects many domestic abusers and is harming justice in Britain.

Ms Manjoo has been conducting an official UN inquiry over the past two weeks into Britain’s record on tackling violence against women.

WAR submitted 13 pages of evidence, writing: “The time limit is routinely used by police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) not to prosecute domestic violence attackers.

“This limit should be dropped. We are working with a local woman left disabled after years of domestic violence who is taking legal action on this point. She speaks for thousands.”

Lisa Longstaff from Women Against RapeLisa Longstaff from Women Against Rape

Under the UK’s legal system, prosecutors are unable to charge people with common assault after six months, which means they must have enough evidence to support more serious crimes like grievous bodily harm (GBH) for historic cases of domestic abuse.

WAR is calling for the law to be changed because it often takes longer than six months for victims of domestic violence to report attacks by spouses or partners.

The organisation has also raised the matter with Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights in recent weeks.

It is backing a campaign that was started by a Hampstead mother-of-two, in partnership with the Ham&High, who was allegedly assaulted by her ex-husband in the 1980s and ’90s and left disabled.

Doctors believe the 58-year-old was hit so hard in the head in 1994 that she suffered a brain haemorrhage which led to subsequent strokes. She has been plagued by debilitating nerve damage and neurological problems ever since.

WAR recently sent a scathing letter to the CPS accusing it of mishandling the case, after prosecutors said there was not enough evidence for GBH charges – and ruled out common assault because it was “time barred” by the six-month limit.

WAR spokesman Lisa Longstaff said: “They are taking a very cold and hard-nosed approach, which is the usual reaction victims get – they are told there is insufficient evidence and they just have to go away and live with it. Even if she can’t take things further, we’re still going to keep campaigning.”

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