Legal Action threatened by Centre for Women’s Justice if Home Secretary Fails to Take Urgent Steps to Tackle Police Perpetrated Abuse

Today, Monday 8 November 2021, the Centre for Women’s Justice (CWJ) have  taken the first formal step in bringing judicial review proceedings against the Home Secretary in respect of her failure to take adequate and timely steps to set up a statutory inquiry into the wider issues arising following the conviction of Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens. CWJ instruct Doughty Street barristers Caoilfhionn Gallagher QC, Harriet Johnson and Pippa Woodrow in this matter.

Further details are available in today’s press release from CWJ, which is attached and set out below.

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PR: Legal Action Threatened By Centre For Women’s Justice If The Home Secretary Fails To Take Urgent Steps To Tackle Police Perpetrated Abuse

November 8, 2021

CWJ, with the support of 21 national women’s organisations and others, have today taken the first formal step in bringing judicial review proceedings against the Home Secretary in respect of her failure to take adequate and timely steps to set up a statutory inquiry into the wider issues arising following the conviction of Metropolitan Police officer, Wayne Couzens. 

On 5 October 2021, the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, announced at the Conservative Party Conference that there will be a public inquiry “into issues raised by the conviction of Wayne Couzens.” The announcement was made in the context of the widely reported loss of public confidence in policing, highlighted following the murder of Sarah Everard, subsequent revelations that the man responsible was a serving police officer using police powers, the wider concerns about the extent of police perpetrated abuse nationally and the many failures of the police to tackle violence against women.

Despite the momentous levels of public concern and the calls of victims, women’s groups and MPs from all major political parties alike, the Secretary of State’s announcement indicated that the proposed inquiry would not be statutory and would therefore be denied powers to compel the production of evidence from the police, and to protect vulnerable witnesses and whistleblowers. The announcement also indicated that the scope of the proposed inquiry would be limited to looking at the case of Wayne Couzens alone, rather than considering the wider issues of police perpetrated abuse – of which many examples have been publicised in recent months including most recently the appalling admission by two Met police officers of taking photographs of the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, and a former senior officer in the Met police, Jaysen Veeren speaking publicly of the failure to deal with officers accused with violence against women.

On 15 October CWJ wrote to the Secretary of State raising serious concerns and requesting a response. No response has been received, apart from acknowledgment of receipt our of correspondence on 22 October 2021 and the Home Office having confirmed receipt of our letter in response to enquiries from journalists.

The Secretary of State accepted in her announcement of 5 October 2021 that public reassurance must be provided as “swiftly as possible”, yet no further steps have been taken over a month later, and CWJ’s urgent correspondence has gone unanswered.

In light of the Secretary of State’s failure to respond to CWJ’s letter or to take steps addressing the concerns raised, we have now taken formal steps to commence the process of taking the Home Secretary to court.

In our letter before claim, served today, we have demanded that she urgently takes the following steps in relation to the investigation into the Metropolitan Police Service:

  1. Convert the inquiry to a statutory one, by exercising her powers under the Inquiries Act 2005;

  2. Commit to expanding the scope of the inquiry so that it is not focused only upon one officer, Wayne Couzens, but instead address police perpetrated abuse and violence against women more generally; and commit to ensuring it will address key issues concerning the experiences of black and minoritized ethnic women and women with disabilities;

  3. Confirm that the Inquiry will be undertaken by a Panel that will include at least one person with established expertise in the area of violence against women and girls.

  4. CWJ also ask the Secretary of State to take immediate steps to address the problem of police treatment of women, and in particular to act upon the recommendations in the September 2021 report from the HM Chief Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS), for all police forces.

Harriet Wistrich, Director of CWJ stated, “It is clear that police perpetrated abuse of women has become a national scandal that demands an urgent and appropriate response. At CWJ we have gathered evidence showing the widespread scale of police abuse currently subject to a police super-complaint investigation. Recent revelations now demand immediate and meaningful action.”

Debaleena Dasgupta, CWJ’s solicitor leading the case, stated, “We wrote to the Home Secretary less formally over three weeks ago requesting urgent action. We are disappointed that not only has she failed to take that any action, but she has failed to even respond, despite being aware that our requests were echoed by many groups with experience and expertise on this issue. These are not the actions of a Home Secretary committed to speedily tackling police perpetrated abuse of women. Sadly we have now been forced to take formal steps to commence judicial review proceedings. We call on the Home Secretary to confirm that this inquiry will be a statutory one, backed up by full legal powers and safeguards.”