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Letter and Response in regard to question on s.76 Serious Crime Act 2015

Here is the letter we wrote to Maria Miller MP (and Jess Phillips MP)

see the Responses to the letter below (PDF link)_

16 January 2018

Dear Ms Miller (and Ms Phillips),

On Oct 26 2017, you met one of our founders, Eleanor Lisney, at Bringing Women’s Voices into the Heart of Government , Women Resource Centre, House of Common. She mentioned our concerns about the defence to controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship under s.76 Serious Crime Act 2015. You asked her if we would put this in writing to you.

You will be familiar with the offence. We welcome its introduction for all victims of abuse but it is specifically important to disabled women because:

  • Disabled women are twice as likely to experience domestic violence as non-disabled women;
  • Disabled women are disproportionately more likely to be trapped in emotionally abusive relationships and/or households where their ‘carers’ receive financial benefits as a result of the victim’s disability; and
  • [ethnicity/cultural risk element?]
  1. Content of s.76(8)

In light of the high risks for disabled women, we are therefore very concerned that s.76(8) states that it is a defence to show that:

(a) [the accused] believed that he or she was acting in [the victim’s] best interests, and

(b) the behaviour was in all the circumstances reasonable.

We understand that the defence was intended to protect carers. Notwithstanding disabled women have a heightened need for the protection of s.76, we pose the follow questions:

  1. Once the case for ‘abuse’ has been made out, why is a defence necessary?
  2. S.76(8)(b) is an objective test of reasonableness, but s.76(8)(a) is subjective and wholly irrelevant. Does the Government believe that abuse is permissible if the perpetrator believed it was acceptable?
  1. Application of s.76(8)

Turning to the application of this defence, what guidance has been provided to judges? There is a serious risk that cultural stereotypes may wrongly influence the judiciary eg that disabled people need ‘care’, that disabled people need guidance from others, that a carer is a ‘good, kind and selfless person’. In her report the former UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, noted that the justice system is ‘widely perceived to be biased in favour of men’ and that disabled women in particular may be subjected to stereotypes that infantilise them.

  1. Consultation on s.76(8)

Our fourth question is to what extent were disabled women consulted on s.76 and its defence?

You will be aware that last Summer, the UN Committee on the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) published its concluding observations1 following its first review of the UK government’s compliance with the Convention. The Committee frequently noted that disabled women and girls’ rights “have not been systematically mainstreamed into both the gender equality and disability agenda”. We fear that s.76(8) demonstrates this.

Once you have had a chance to consider the issues, we should be grateful for a response to our questions and to hear whether you intend to take further action.

Yours faithfully,

eleanor

Eleanor Lisney

Co founder/coordinator

[email protected]

Sisters of Frida CIC

@sisofrida

United House,

North Road, London, N7 9DP

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