The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Metropolitan Police breached the rights of two women (known as DSD and NBV) who made allegations of rape against John Worboys by failing to investigate the allegations properly. Two of the women raped by the black cab rapist in 2003 and 2007 had been fighting for justice for four years. When they initially reported the attacks, the police failed to investigate the cases properly, meaning Worboys remained at large – he went on to commit similar offences on over a hundred more women until 2009 when he was eventually arrested and charged.
Liberty, independent campaigners for the protection of basic rights and freedoms, spoke for DSD and NBV, arguing that victims of serious crime have a right to an effective investigation and the right to hold police accountable when serious failings mean justice cannot be served.
Claims were successfully brought under Articles 3, 7 and 8 of the ECHR in the High Court. The police appealed to the Court of Appeal in 2015 focusing on Article 3. They argued that Article 3 does not impose a positive obligation on the MPS to investigate allegations that are serious enough to amount to torture or inhumane and degrading treatment and that any duty does not apply unless the state itself implicated in the allegation. They further argued that even if this duty did exist, on the facts of the case above, there was no breach.
The Court of Appeal did not accept any of these arguments and held that DSD and NBV's right to protection against inhumane or degrading treatment under Article 3 ECHR had been violated. The police took the case to the Court of Appeal with the backing of the then Home Secretary Theresa May which focused on Article 3 but lost. The police fought all the way to the Supreme Court resulting in a ruling against their plea.
The Supreme Court hearing in 2017 was to rule on two points; The first point is whether there is an obligation to investigate ill-treatment perpetrated by an individual without any involvement of a public authority under section 6 HRA 1998, in line with Article 3 ECHR. Secondly, the Supreme Court was to decide whether that obligation should be confined to establish a structure which will enable the investigation to just take place, or whether it should extend to the conduct of the police in individual crime investigations.
Another case brought against the Metropolitan Police proceeded alongside that of DSD and NBV. Alio Koraou was assaulted in a nightclub; his ear was partly bitten off in the attack, and similarly, numerous failings were found in the police investigation.
Mr Korau’s claim was dismissed by the High Court on the grounds that the circumstances of the case placed it in the margin of what can accurately be described to amount to inhuman or degrading treatment. The judge considered whether in all the circumstances the investigation carried out by the police was reasonable, and concluded that despite the failings, it was reasonable. The Court of Appeal dismissed Korau's appeal, establishing the courts' certainty on the point that it would be remiss to impose an excessive burden on the police, and that there should be consideration given as to resources available as well as the nature of the offence, and whether the victim was particularly vulnerable. It is therefore not the case that anyone who reports a crime will be able to sue the police for not investigating properly. Lord Mance said on the matter that from the way the European Court explained the assessment of the minimum level of severity it won't be easy to predict where it falls in any individual case.
The Supreme Court's will change the focus of the entire police system, where police must now commit themselves to upholding the rights victims of sexual violence.
Mark Kelly Sexual Offences Barrister in London, UK
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