This is the joint website of  Women Against Rape and Black Women's Rape Action Project. Both organisations are based on self-help and provide support, legal information and advocacy. We campaign for justice and protection for all women and girls, including asylum seekers, who have suffered sexual, domestic and/or racist violence.

WAR was founded in 1976. It has won changes in the law, such as making rape in marriage a crime, set legal precedents and achieved compensation for many women. BWRAP was founded in 1991. It focuses on getting justice for women of colour, bringing out the particular discrimination they face. It has prevented the deportation of many rape survivors. Both organisations are multiracial.

 

 

 

FANTASTIC NEWS: NOELA CLAYE HAS WON HER CASE!

On Friday 2 May, Noela Claye received the wonderful news that after ten long years in the UK she has won the right to stay.

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Ms Claye reports her victory at the All African Women's Group

The many people who have supported Ms Claye in her fight for justice and protection will know that she suffered gang rape during the civil war in Sierra Leone and was applying under the Human Rights Act (Article 8, right to a family life) to stay in the UK with her only surviving family. She won that right in November but the Home Office appealed. Women Against Rape’s support was essential in enabling Ms Claye to speak about her traumatic experiences and WAR gave evidence in court on her behalf.

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Ms Claye says:

I could not have won my case without all the kind support I received from my friends, family, women from WAR, the public and from lawyers who worked for free after I was refused legal aid. During this time, I was also caring for my niece, a mother of two, who was suffering from breast cancer. She passed away on Mother’s Day which has caused us so much shock. I feel that what the Home Office put me through hastened her death. I must now keep a steady head and take care of her precious children to try to bring love and happiness into their lives.

LEFT: Ms Claye speaking outside the Houses of Parliament in March, at a 1000 strong demonstration organised by Justice Alliance, against the legal aid cuts.

Ms Claye heard she had won when she went to court last week for a "case management review". Instead the Judge ruled there and then that the Home Office had failed to take into account what Ms Claye had suffered and WAR’s evidence about its ongoing impact, and granted her Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK.

Whilst government ministers hobnob with celebrities and profess concern for warzone rape victims [i], and despite recognition that rape is increasingly used as a military strategy in war [ii] (and was widespread during Sierra Leone’s civil war [iii]), when women escape and seek safety and protection in the UK they face massive obstacles.

• Ms Claye suffered rape but couldn’t speak about it because of the associated stigma and fear of discrimination. This is not uncommon. WAR’s research found that 20% of women asylum seekers were unable to speak about rape before the Home Office considered their case; and 14% still had not reported by the time of their hearing. [iv]

• Without information about the rape, the only application Ms Claye could make was under Human Rights Act on the grounds that it would be a breach of her right to a family life if she were returned to Sierra Leone. But since April 2013 there is no legal aid for such applications. Her family had to raise money for a lawyer who was not experienced or very diligent.

• After Ms Claye met WAR and got the appropriate support she was able to speak about what she suffered. But WAR’s experience told us that the delay in reporting the rape would be used against her (especially considering the Home Office’s institutionalised hostility to rape victims). This is despite a precedent ruling that we helped win that “women may be unable not unwilling to report rape”. [v]

• An expert psychiatric report was needed to corroborate her account but there was no legal aid to pay for pay for this.

• All these difficulties were exploited by Home Office. Without a detailed statement which should have been prepared by her lawyer, Ms Claye had to go through her experiences in excruciating detail in court. The Home Office Presenting Officer, Ms P Ellis, mercilessly interrogated Ms Claye and accused her of lying to the point that Ms Claye broke down in tears. Many women describe this experience as the second rape and as equally traumatising as the actual assault. Thankfully Ms Claye had the backing of the All African Women’s Group and WAR, and won.

• Unbelievably the Home Office (HO) appealed. A second judge, Judge Frankish, allowed the appeal to proceed by wrongly stating that there had been doubts about Ms Claye’s account of rape. Ms Claye faced months more insecurity, the terror of being returned, the prospect of going through another court case and recounting details of rape again.

• Even worse, Ms Claye then got caught up in the Kafkaesque world of legal aid. In 2013 legal aid was cut for all immigration cases except asylum claims. The government justified the cuts by referring to the “Exceptional Cases Funding” scheme, describing it as ‘a human rights safety net’.[vi] But considering the “impenetrable process” [vii] and a 1% success rate [viii] for applications it is widely seen as a “fig leaf” to neuter opposition to the cuts.

• Ms Claye, whose first language isn’t English, was expected to show that she is too traumatised or ill to represent herself, that her case was too legally complex by addressing detailed legal points and precedents – clearly impossible. In a terrible “Catch 22” situation, she needed a lawyer to apply for lawyer.

• With the help of WAR and an organisation called Public Law Project, which specialises in exceptional cases funding, an application was submitted.

• But the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) refused to accept it because Ms Claye had not outlined the “merits” of her case. No matter that Ms Claye had won her case so at least one judge thought her case had “merit”.

• Just before last week’s hearing, Ms Claye got legal aid -- not for a lawyer to represent her but for a Judicial Review of the LAA’s refusal of her application for legal aid. Thankfully, the Upper Tribunal Judge stepped in to halt the misery.

Over the past six months over forty people have written to Home Secretary, Theresa May, supporting WAR's demand that the Home Office drop its appeal. Ms Claye has spoken publicly against the legal aid cuts. We are in no doubt that this campaigning helped win her fantastic victory!

Our work on Ms Claye's case is not finished. We are making formal complaints against the Home Office presenting officer and Judge Frankish for their hostile and abusive treatment of Ms Claye and for flouting "Gender Guidelines" to protect victims' rights.
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Footnotes
i. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/william-hague-and-angelina-jolie-on-j...
ii. https://www.unfpa.org/emergencies/symposium06/docs/finalbrusselsbriefing... (Ward & Marsh 2006)
iii. Based on the outcomes of a study undertaken in 2000, researchers concluded that approximately 50,000 to 64,000 internally displaced women may have been sexually victimised during Sierra Leone’s protracted armed conflict. (Ward & Marsh 2006)
iv. Misjudging Rape Breaching Gender Guidelines & International Law in Asylum Appeals by Black Women’s Rape Action Project & Women Against Rape, published by Crossroads Books 2006.
v. RvSSHD ex parte Ejon, (QBD) [1998] INLR 195.
vi. The Ministry of Justice said the exceptional funding provision would 'provide funding for excluded cases where, in the particular circumstances of a case, the failure to do so would be likely to result in a breach of the individual's right to legal aid under the Human Rights Act 1998 or European Union law'.
vii. http://www.lag.org.uk/magazine/2013/12/exceptional-funding-'a-human-rights-safety-net'.aspx
viii. http://www.publiclawproject.org.uk/data/resources/10/exceptional_funding...
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