Abuse of Process Campaign Launches to help victims

Voice4Victims is launching today their new Parliamentary Campaign, ABUSE OF PROCESS which aims to prevent perpetrators making vexatious court applications and complaints across the whole of the Criminal Justice System. This legal abuse, often sanctioned by the Courts and Justice agencies, is placing victims at great risk of harm and causing emotional and financial distress.

Voice4Victims has received scores of cases of victims of stalking, harassment, domestic violence and coercive control, who are being re-victimised by their perpetrator initiating baseless claims or complaints via the Courts or the Police. The perpetrator’s only motive is to cause further damage, humiliate, discredit and frighten the victim.

Voice4Victims held a conference in July this year, in the House of Commons, with key note speakers Keir Starmer, MP and Jess Phillips, MP to highlight the different legal platforms, perpetrators have the right to access and exploit, in order to keep unwanted contact with their victims and abuse them further.

Voice4Victims is today launching their Abuse of Process report with their recommendations abuse-of-process-28th-november-report-final-1-pdf
based on this conference and their work so far in supporting victims experiencing this form of abuse. Their report highlights the alarming rise in cases where victims are being cross examined, stalked, harassed and abused by these proceedings.

There is a common misconception that perpetrators have an absolute right to access a range of legal processes. These include the civil courts, often with spurious financial claims and the family courts through contact orders. Due to cuts to legal aid, perpetrators have the ability to cross examine their victims in person. In addition, private prosecutions and false allegations to the Police are being initiated for a range of matters including sexual harassment, stalking, theft, fraud, professional misconduct and malpractice.

The impact on the victims is further fear, anxiety, distress and financial hardship causing a severe effect on the quality of family life. Often children are deliberately used as part of this abuse of process in the Family Courts and victims are forced to respond and engage with their perpetrator’s legal claims or else they will face penalties. This process makes the victim become isolated as many are not eligible to access legal aid nor specialist support to help them achieve justice and protection from this form of abuse. The predominantly female victims are being re-victimised by the State with agency or court officials allowing these vexatious claims to proceed due to a lack of understanding of the real intention of the perpetrator. These perpetrators are fixated and obsessed with the victim and have a strong desire to control their lives and are using the courts and legal processes as a weapon of power and control. Many have criminal convictions or are subject to restraining orders or prohibitions orders and the Family & Civil courts are often unaware of their existence. Voice4Victims is finding that the state is often complicit in this abuse by facilitating these unsafe proceedings and as a consequence, the voice of the victim is lost in the process.

Today, Voice4Victims is launching this much needed campaign through a combination of Parliamentary activity and test case advocacy. This will involve the drafting of a Parliamentary Bill and with the support of a specialist Human Rights legal team, the evaluation of cases in order to pursue remedies for the victims. These will be through Judicial Reviews and other actions which will help bring about much needed change through case law and directives.

Voice4Victims will draft a bill which is likely to gain All Party Support. The Bill will:
• Place a duty on all Court jurisdictions to cooperate and communicate when the same victim is involved
• Strengthen the sanctions for breaches of all prohibition and restraining orders
• Give victims the right to bring to a court details of their perpetrators behaviour and convictions
• Place a duty on the complainant to give the court details of any convictions, restraining orders or past applications involving the victim
• Allow the Family or Civil court to investigate a victim’s claim of abuse of process
• Allow the courts to strike out vexatious applications before impacting the victim
• Introduce mandatory training for all court personnel and justice agencies on abuse of process
• Ensure that directions and guidance are issued by the Secretary of State.

Claire Waxman Founder and Co -Director of Voice4Victims said ‘Voice4Victims has seen an extraordinary rise in the number of perpetrators initiating legal proceedings against their victims, in order to emotionally harm them and continue unwanted contact with them. It’s very worrying that the Courts, Police and CPS are not recognising this abuse and often collude with the perpetrator by sanctioning it. Our campaign will ensure that this abuse is recognised and that the courts and agencies understand that these perpetrators are fixated and that they do not have an absolute right to bring these legal claims, when they are doing it just to further their objective of harming and harassing their victim.”

Harry Fletcher Co -Director of Voice4Victims said “There is an urgent need for training on abuse of process for all involved in the Courts and Justice System. Perpetrators are able to assert their basic human right to continue to abuse victims through the legal system. The Bill being drafted by Voice4Victims will ensure that perpetrators can no longer use vexatious applications and complaints to the Courts and the Police and that the victim’s safety is paramount”.

Link to Abuse of Process report abuse-of-process-28th-november-report-final-1-pdf

One of the Victims Rights Amendments for Policing and Crime Bill

This amendment calls for sexual assault and rape victims to have their identities protected when the attacker is a stranger. For full article

Voice4Victims Draft Amendments to Change Unduly Lenient Sentences

After a few recent high profile cases on stalking and sexual abuse of children, Voice4Victims was appalled to see that the unduly lenient sentences could not be referred to the Attorney General due to a technicality that the scheme was out of date.

Thankfully, we could add this vital amendment to the up and coming amendments to the Policing and Crime Bill, which gives victims legally enforceable rights.

Claire Waxman, Director who highlighted this flaw in the system said ” It takes a lot of courage for a victim to come forward and face the ordeal of the justice process. When an unduly lenient sentence is then passed and the victim cannot have their case referred to the Attorney General, because the scheme is outdated , then justice has failed. This is devastating for a victim, especially when all perpetrators have the right to appeal their sentences but it’s not the same from the victim’s side. This imbalance of rights must be addressed.”

Harry Fletcher, Director, who drafted the amendments said “The law on the the ability of the Attorney General to refer such cases to the court of appeal needs urgent revision”.

To see full article in Guardian

15th September 2016 Backbench Debate on Domestic Abuse in Family Courts

A backbench business debate was held on Thursday 15 September 2016 on Domestic abuse victims in family law courts. This debate was scheduled by the Backbench Business Committee following a representation from Angela Smith, Maria Miller and Peter Kyle. This debate was sparked by a January 2016 Women’s Aid report highlighting the cases of nineteen children killed by perpetrators of domestic abuse. The killings were made possible through unsafe child contact arrangements, formal and informal. Over half of the child contact arrangements were ordered through the courts.

This report and campaign supports the Voice4Victims Abuse of Process campaign, which looks specifically at how perpetrators are abusing their rights to various legal platforms – family courts, civil courts, private prosecutions, false allegations – in order to continue their unwanted contact and harassment of their victims.

Sir Keir Starmer, MP has been supporting our work and said the following about our work during Thursday’s debate ‘ The second point that I want to make concerns the abuse of process, an issue that I think is rising on the agenda. Perpetrators of domestic abuse use our courts— both criminal and civil, but it is on the civil courts that the torch has not been shone—to continue the perpetration of control and harassment of victims. I pay tribute to Claire Waxman, herself a victim of harassment. She and Voice4Victims have raised this issue on numerous occasions. There are two types of abuse of process. First, there are the individuals who bring proceedings in which they have no legitimate interest: they are doing it simply to ensure that the person whom they have been stalking or harassing is forced to come to court to strike out their claim. Because these are people with no legitimate interest, the courts will strike out the claim when they get to grips with it, as a vexatious claim. However, the victim will have to go to court to argue that it is vexatious, and that is all that the perpetrator wants: for that person to come to court. That is what happened to Claire Waxman, and it has happened to other victims. This problem could be solved by Christmas. Again, I am looking straight across at the Government Front Bench. It ought to be possible for someone working for the senior judiciary to devise a way to ensure that such cases are subject to a special strike-out procedure that does not require the victim to go to court and take the initiative, and some third party does it instead. I honestly think that a month or two of hard work, and some real courage and determination, could produce a system whereby a practice direction could be issued and the problem could be put to one side. The second type of abuse of process is more difficult to deal with. In these cases, the perpetrator has an interest—a child, for instance—and it is therefore not possible to say that that individual simply should not be allowed to be in court at all. In those circumstances, it is a question of looking at special measures, support and different ways of arranging family and other courts to ensure that they are not used with ulterior motives, because there is growing evidence that is happening. These are difficult cases, but it must be possible to provide support for victims, special measures and, indeed, a more proactive role for judges. A big change in the criminal courts was that judges began to be much more proactive and to say, “This is my problem. I must deal with it. It is my duty to provide a better environment for victims on their journey through our courts.” What today’s debate throws up is that these issues are not going to go away. They need to be solved, and I think they can be solved across the House, but that will require listening, non-defensiveness and commitment to bringing about real change. Real change has already happened in the criminal sphere; it can happen in the family courts as well, and it need not take 15 years if lessons from one jurisdiction are borrowed by the other.’

Abuse of Process Conference 11th July

Voice4Victims is hosting the Abuse of Process conference at the House of Commons on Monday 11th July 10am – 12pm. This conference will look at the problems victims are facing when perpetrators are allowed to access legal processes to further campaigns of abuse against their victims. The impact on victims is prolonged and devastating and we will be highlighting the legal loopholes and pathways that enable this abuse to continue.

Over the past few years, there has been positive work to address some of these issues but without a joined up approach, the situation remains unresolved and means that cases brought against victims in the civil and family courts have a long-lasting and highly detrimental impact on their lives. Voice4Victims, which has led the campaign on the victims’ rights legislation, is hosting this event with the view of producing a report and launching the ‘Abuse of Process’ campaign to redress the imbalance of rights through legislation and test case advocacy.

Speakers and panelists will include: victims experience of this abuse, Sir Keir Starmer, MP, Jess Phillips, MP , Jane Monkton Smith, senior lecturer in criminology, DC Candler, Metropolitan Police, Mitchell Woolf, Human rights solicitor and Harry Fletcher, criminal justice expert, formerly NAPO. The conference will raise the issues of rights of access to courts, breaches of human rights, victim’s experience, the motivation and psychology of the perpetrator and the issue of courts and legal aid.

Queen’s Speech fails Victims of Crime

The Queens Speech yesterday highlighted this government’s commitment, or should I say, lack of commitment, to victims of crime by introducing a Bill of Rights, scrapping the Human Rights Act and failing to commit to their manifesto promise of a Victims’ Law ‘to guarantee keys entitlements to victims’. The government told us in March that a Green paper would be published by early May and yet there is no sign of it and infact, the official responsible for drawing this up has now retired!

The Human Rights Act has played an important part in my own journey as a victim of crime. When the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped the prosecution against my stalker, stating that he had an absolute right to access the civil courts to continue his campaign of stalking, I was able to challenge this decision under the Human Rights Act that the CPS had failed in its duty to protect me. This landmark victory saved me a few years later when my stalker used the same tactic and thanks to the Human Rights Act , the CPS successfully prosecuted him and he was sentenced to 3.5 years. This victory has also set a precedent for other victims of stalking facing similar ordeals and is used to remind the Police and CPS of their duty to stalking victims suffering these forms of harassment.

The Human Rights Act has helped not only me but many other victims of crime. From the women raped by the ‘black cab rapist’ where under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act , Police had failed these victims in their investigation and in their treatment of them, to victims of slavery and human trafficking. Their landmark victories also establish a much needed precedent and hopefully will make the police aware of the consequences for failing to act and protect victims.

We’ve had a man sue the CPS for not taking further action against the man suspected of biting part of his ear off. The CPS felt the history of the victim’s mental illness would work against him at a trial. The CPS had wrongly discriminated this man for his mental health. The man was successful as the Human Rights Act showed that the CPS had failed in its duty to protect this man. This case, thanks to the Human Rights Act, has helped to challenge the CPS view of the model victim.

More recently, the Human Rights Act has helped, under Article 2, the families of the Hillsborough disaster, receive their long awaited justice.

The protection of victims of crime is fully entrenched in the Human Rights law and yet to abandon this and to continue to ignore the need for a Victims Law, giving victims’ legally enforceable rights, is to continually fail victims of crime and to silence their voice.

In 2014, as a knee jerk reaction to Labour’s manifesto, this government committed to a victims’ law, and they continue to assure us that ‘victims are at the heart’ of the justice system yet their actions of wanting to take away the Human Rights Act and not realising their promise of a Victims’ Law, shows us otherwise.

Our campaign team have spent the past three years meeting with countless victims of crime and we have extrapolated from their cases to formulate a Victims’ Law. These proposals have been strongly supported and strengthened by Sir Keir Starmer, this country’s lead in Human Rights . Together, we will challenge this government to make sure that we do not go backwards when it comes to Victim’s Rights and that this government leaves the Human Rights Act as it is. We will continue to push the government to spend its resources on focusing on the much needed Victims’ Law which will give Victims easy access to justice, fair treatment, the right support, up to date information, reviews and appeals and will enforce a much needed cultural shift in the way Victims are treated.

If you believe in the Victim’s voice and Victims’ Rights, then please continue to support our Victims’ Law campaign.

National Stalking Awareness Week #NSAW16

This week was National Stalking Awareness week and what an incredible week it’s been.

Since my journey as a stalking victim started over 12 years ago, this has been an overwhelming week of support for stalking victims and I honestly cannot believe how far we have come, although the journey still has a long way to go. I remember in those days how alone I was and how no one understood or knew what being stalked was like. Thanks to the courage of so many victims, our voices have been heard, loud and clear on the countless radio and TV interviews we have done.

But as the week draws to a close and the next news item takes our place, what do we now have to do to ensure that my story, Lily Allen’s story, Tracey Morgan’s ,Ann Mould’s, Sam Taylor’s, Rana Faruqui’s, Clare Bernal’s and Jane Clough’s and the many others, are not quickly forgotten? What do we do to make sure that lessons are learnt and improvements are made to help improve the journey to justice, support and protection for ALL stalking victims?

I know that our campaigns for a Victims’ rights law supported by Digital Trust; tackling stalking through the family and civil courts; pushing for treatment programmes for perpetrators; treatment support for victims and robust training for all agencies on stalking, is an ongoing job and could make a difference. I know others are pushing for tougher sentences and a stalker register and collectively, we are trying our hardest to protect stalking victims.

Together we hope that the Police will recognise it when a victim makes it’s first complaint. The Police will signpost them to available, local support and work hard on the victim’s behalf to bring their perpetrators to justice. The CPS will apply the stalking legislation and involve the victim in the process and that the sentences given will reflect the need for rehabilation and treatment. We want a victim to get support and protection and feel that the justice system served them well.

So with that in mind, let’s aim that by next awareness week in 2017, when the Suzy Lamplugh Trust do their next FOI requests, we will see just how far we have come and that together, we all played a part in saving and supporting so many more victims.

To everyone this week, well done for your incredible work. From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU.

Claire Waxman wins Suzy Lamplugh Trust , Taking Stalking Seriously award

SLT award 2 SLT award

Claire Waxman, founder of Voice4Victims, today won the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Taking Stalking Seriously award at the National Personal Safety Awards. She was nominated alongside two other fantastic organisations, Hollie Gazzard Trust and the Digital Trust.

Claire has campaigned since 2010, to raise public awareness of stalking and has trained justice agencies and Parliamentarians in recognising the pattern of stalking behaviour and the impact it has on the victims. She now offers invaluable peer support to other stalking victims and shares her journey and experience in order to advise, signpost them and challenge the obstacles they face when trying to navigate the justice system.

During Claire’s twelve year ordeal, she successfully challenged the Crown Prosecution Service’s decision not to prosecute her stalker. Her landmark victory means the Judgement she received sets a precedent for other stalking cases with similar experiences. She now works with the human rights legal team from her own case, to help advise victims being stalked via legal processes in the family and civil courts.

Claire said after the event, ‘ Today was a recognition of many years of hard work, alongside many dedicated people, to try and improve access to justice and support for stalking victims. I am committed to extrapolating the vital learning from both my own case and the case of many other stalking victims, so authorities respond to stalking robustly ensuring better protection of victims. We have made great steps so far but the work must continue if we are to see a real culture shift in attitude to the way stalking victims are supported and treated.’

Claire is currently working alongside Sir Keir Starmer and Harry Fletcher on a Victims Law, to legislate the rights of victims.

Rights of Domestic Violence Victims Recognised

The Rights of Women have been campaigning against the evidence requirements for accessing Legal Aid, and thanks to their hard work and campaigning, they have had a victory today recognising that these requirements are legally ‘flawed’.

Today’s Judgment is a promising sign for Victims of Domestic Violence. Changes in legal aid funding have been placing victims of domestic violence at increased risk and harm in family courts. Victims are being forced to remain in contact with their abusers or stalkers. Some are being cross-examined by them or forced into court situations or inappropriate contact orders, all of which have a devastating impact on their lives, emotionally, financially and physically.

The cuts in legal aid have been denying victims of Domestic Violence access to justice and allowing abusers to use the court process to continue their abuse of their victims. Victims, through lack of legal aid support, are not able to access the support, advice and justice that they need to protect themselves from their abusers. Often gathering evidence or getting medical reports done in order to access the gateway to legal aid is timely and costly and is a great stumbling block to many victims.
Today’s judgement will hopefully put pressure on the government to rethink their legal aid strategy and ensure it is now accessible to those that need it most.

We continue to campaign for victims rights and we will be working closely over the coming months with the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Citizen Advice Bureau, Veritas Justice and other organisations, to ensure the legal loopholes that are allowing abusers to stalk and harass their victims are identified and closed down.

Crime victims Are Out Of Pocket but Ms May you told us that would not be the case!

‘CRIME victims are £35million out of pocket because crooks are refusing to pay compensation ‘ was yesterday’s headline, spearheaded by Andy Slaughter, MP

Unsurprisingly, it seems that the victims’ surcharges remain unpaid by offenders. Hardly breaking news to those that work with victims of crime. I say unsurprisingly, as having been a victim of stalking for over a decade, I know too well how slow and ineffective Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service are, in chasing money from the offender.

After 10 years, I am still owed the compensation awarded to me in 2005. This was the compensation that the Crown Prosecution Service insisted I needed and as result, the stalker avoided any other form of punishment. Whilst I have very little interest in receiving the money from the stalker (as this creates a tie and connection that is empowering for the stalker), it was still the only form of punishment that he received for the first time he stalked me. So to me, on a matter of principle, it is important that the money is paid otherwise my stalker received impunity for the crime that had a devastating effect on my life. I need that crime recognised and therefore, need that compensation paid as that was the justice I was afforded.

For the courts, there is very little incentive to chase this money and ten years down the line, I receive regular letters from them asking for my views on whether this compensation order can now be ‘discharged’ or ‘reduced’ so they can ‘close the case’. In other words, they cannot be bothered to have this case on their system anymore and so I should accept it being written off.

Is this shocking that an offender can wilfully refuse to pay for their crimes? No, I am not unique. When Voice4Victims undertook a victims’ rights survey in 2014, the figures showed that 42% of victims who conducted the survey ticked the ‘extremely poor’ category when dealing with the HMCTS, with 77% of victims still chasing for their court awarded compensation. So there really is no surprise that the figures released yesterday show that half of the £61.1 million in court imposed surcharges are still unpaid. It’s clear that offenders are savvy and know that our ineffective , overstretched system is incapable of getting money from them and that if they refuse for long enough, the debt, will be ‘written off’. This ‘writing off’ makes the victim feel worthless. That charge is recognition of the crime and the impact it has had on the victim. Writing it off, whitewashes the whole thing and leaves the victim feeling re-victimised and that justice has failed them.

In 2013, I had a meeting with Theresa May regarding support services for stalking victims , as there was nothing on offer in the way of therapy and peer support for stalking victims. As a point, there is still nothing! That’s for a different blog…..Anyway, she assured me of the following and below are Ms May’s words:

..’ there will be an increase in revenue of victim support services which will be raised through financial impositions on offenders to ensure they make reparation for the harm they have caused to the victim. The reform to victim surcharge is to ensure that those given the most serious sentences will make the greatest contribution to support services. These imposed orders will add an additional £50 million, from the current £10 million, from offenders directly to victims services.’

After yesterdays news, it doesn’t look like Theresa May has kept to her word and commitment to victims.
If these surcharges are not upheld and offenders flagrant refusal to pay these charges and the courts continue their ineffective approach in chasing this money, then victims are failed twice. Failed by the lack of funds in victims services to help them recover from the crime and failed by the courts for not recognising the impact of the crime and ensuring offenders are made to pay for it. It undermines the justice process completely.

As part of our victims’ rights law we campaign for, we want to ensure that victims will have a legal right to access compensation and support services and that every agency, will be held accountable if they do not provide the service victims of crime are entitled to.

If you believe that victims have a right to their compensation and access to support services, then please ask your local MP to support Keir Starmer’s Victims Bill. Together we can make things better for victims of crime.