This week’s landmark judgement by the UK Supreme Court against the London Metropolitan Police for failing adequately to investigate the John Worboys case may bring some belated relief to women he drugged and raped.
The Court’s unanimous ruling is also a powerful affirmation of the importance of the UK Human Rights Act (HRA). For years, some tabloids and UK politicians have grotesquely misrepresented the Act, describing it as “a charter for terrorists and criminals.” Theresa May has even suggested it should be scrapped. But these claims are false and her proposal would undermine the rights of everyone living in the UK.
The act incorporates into UK domestic law the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), substantially drafted by British lawyers in the early 1950s and championed by Winston Churchill. It imposes duties on public bodies like the NHS, schools, local authorities, and the police, to protect people’s rights when delivering services.
The act has brought countless benefits to ordinary people in the UK, including in some high-profile cases. For example, the HRA played a pivotal role in securing justice for families of the 1989 Hillsborough stadium football disaster, when 96 fans were crushed to death. Without the Act, South Yorkshire Police’s gross negligence behind the deaths would almost certainly never have been uncovered.
And the HRA has now allowed Worboys’ victims to hold police responsible for their failure to properly investigate when the women first filed complaints. The case against the Metropolitan Police was brought by two rape victims, who reported their attacks back in 2003 and 2007. But their concerns were treated dismissively and no action was taken. Worboys went on to rape and assault women many more times, until he was finally convicted in 2009. The Met have said that Worboys may have committed up to 100 rapes in London between 2002 and 2008.
The Supreme Court made clear that the state is obliged to conduct an effective investigation into crimes involving serious violence, no matter who carried them out.
Thanks to the Human Rights Act, the Metropolitan Police will not only have to pay compensation to the two women, but much more importantly, to change the way they respond to violent crimes like rape in the future, treating survivors with greater respect, properly resourcing their investigations, and pursuing perpetrators with greater vigour.
Remember this when you read the next ill-informed attack on the Human Rights Act.