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Supreme Court Worboys Case: Clear and Final Ruling – Police Must Investigate Rape Properly & Failing to do so Breaks the Law

21 Feb 2018

Rape Crisis England & Wales, the End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), nia, and Southall Black Sisters (SBS) – four women’s groups who intervened in a Supreme Court case where the Metropolitan Police and Home Secretary tried to argue police cannot be held to account when they fail to investigate serious crimes adequately - are delighted at today’s (21st February 2018) historic ruling by the Supreme Court, which makes clear police must investigate rape properly to ensure human rights are protected. 

The women’s groups paid tribute to the victims of John Worboys who have fought this case all the way to the Supreme Court outcome today.

The Metropolitan Police, supported by the Home Office, sought to challenge the High Court’s landmark ruling, which established that the police have a duty under the Human Rights Act to investigate serious violence against women, and when they fail to meet this duty they can be held accountable in the courts.

The case is significant not because of small amounts of compensation for harm inflicted, but because it means the police can be held to account by victims when they significantly fail in their duty, and be required to change their daily policy and practice. 

In seeking to overturn this ruling, the police and government threatened to undermine a key safety net for the general public and take away the right of victims to get redress for police failings. 

Rape Crisis England & Wales said:

“Today, Rape Crisis England & Wales congratulates and pays tribute to the two women survivors who took their case to the highest court in the land and won. Thanks to their phenomenal effort and tenacity in the fight for justice, we are celebrating an historic ruling, which will have long-lasting and wide-reaching implications for others victims and survivors.
Rape Crisis England & Wales chose to intervene to ensure the human rights of women and girls impacted by sexual violence are protected, and that the state is held to account. The details of this case highlight that when there are 'substantial and significant' police failings it can have catastrophic impacts, on both personal and wider social levels.  

When women and girls report sexual offences, it is critical they are taken seriously, treated with respect, empathy and impartiality, and their complaints are acted on promptly and effectively. It is also essential that victims and survivors have access to reparation when the state fails in this duty.
Unprecedented numbers of sexual violence victims and survivors are coming forward year on year to seek both criminal and social justice, for example in the form of access to specialist support. Last year, our Rape Crisis network handled an average 4,000 calls per week and provided ongoing services, like counselling and advocacy, to over 67,000 individuals. 
But the vast majority still choose not to report to the police. And for those that do, the process can too often feel re-traumatising and routinely takes too long. Last year, only 16% of cases that were reported reached court. 
Meanwhile, specialist Rape Crisis support services, including Independent Sexual Violence Advocates (ISVAs) whose job it is to support survivors through the criminal justice process, remain chronically under-resourced.
The criminal justice system is currently failing on sexual violence, in multiple ways and at every stage of the process. Today's historic ruling sends the clear message that Time's Up on letting victims and survivors down."
Rape Crisis, EVAW, nia and SBS are now calling on the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary to read the judgement in full, which makes clear the State has a responsibility to have effective laws on rape and sexual violence, which are properly enforced. This means they have to step up on addressing across the board failings in justice for rape victims, from initial police report through to prosecution.

For media interviews with Rape Crisis England & Wales, please contact [email protected] 

Background to the case

John Worboys, also known as the ‘black cab rapist’, committed more than 100 rapes and sexual assaults on women in his cab between 2002 and 2008. He used identical methods over many years but, despite many women reporting him to the police, a catalogue of police failings including not taking the women seriously, not collecting evidence or CCTV information, and failing to search Worboys’ home, meant he was not caught and was left to continue his horrific offences [1].

Two of the women raped by Worboys (known as DSD and NBV), who had reported the crimes at the time of the offences in 2002 and 2007, sued the Metropolitan Police at the High Court alleging serious failings in the police investigations which might have prevented Worboys from raping the women.

It is estimated that 85,000 women are raped every year [2] and only about 15% of those women ever report to the police. The police have a huge job to do in building the confidence of women who do report, and not failing as catastrophically as they did in the Worboys case. 

The importance of Human Rights to women

Human Rights Act obligations which have been at stake in this case are relevant for anyone who has been the subject of a grave police failing. They are particularly relevant for women because all the evidence shows that cases of reported violence against women (whether rape, domestic violence, stalking, trafficking and other forms of gender based violence) have particularly poor detection, prosecution and conviction rates. In other words, women are disproportionately affected by police failings [3].

Notes to editors:

1. See the High Court judgment for a full account of the facts of the DSD/NBV case.

2. Approximately 85,000 women and 12,000 men experience rape, attempted rape or sexual assault by penetration in England and Wales alone every year. These figures come from An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office 2013.

3. In October last year EVAW and SBS published Violence against women and girls: Protecting women’s human rights and holding the state to account, which contains a detailed examination of multiple cases of police failings in cases of serious violence against women and girls. 

Rape Crisis England & Wales Vice Chair Jodie Woodward speaking outside the Supreme Court after the Ruling: