Violence against women and girls - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

8  Ratification

Ratification of the Istanbul Convention

223. The International Development Committee has called on the Government to do more to address violence against women and girls within the UK: "the UK's international leadership is weakened by its failure to address violence against women and girls within its own borders".[219] Professor Kelly argued in evidence to us that whilst the Government is undertaking good work abroad regarding violence against women and girls, more needs to be done in the UK:

    I think we have a hypocrisy about human rights. We talk about human rights internationally for others, and we are mealy-mouthed about it at home. If we could have a common discourse that, actually, this happens here, too—then I think we might be able to have a more constructive conversation about it.[220]

224. Witnesses called for the Government to ratify the Istanbul Convention as soon as possible as this would help the UK's position internationally in tackling violence against women and girls and would encourage other countries to follow suit.

225. The Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales said: "Ratification would emphasise that the state has a positive duty in law to intervene in a proactive way to modify practices that result in harm, violence and degradation to women and girls. It would provide a further basis in law for those who wish to persuade the state to provide adequate and meaningful resources to construct an effective mechanism to protect women from gender violence and harm."[221]

226. The Government's Action Plan said:

    From March 2014 we will: Work towards ratifying the Istanbul Convention to incorporate the treaty into UK law which will mean the UK will be legally bound to a set of standards to protect women and girls from violence.[222]

227. In January 2014, the Prime Minister said that the Government would ratify the Istanbul Convention as soon as the provisions which criminalised forced marriage in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill came into effect.[223] Those provisions came into force in June 2014. In response to questions in November 2014 regarding the delay in ratifying the Istanbul Convention, the Minister for Crime Prevention said: "The outstanding part that prevents immediate ratification is that […] article 44 of the convention requires the UK to take extraterritorial jurisdiction in respect of each of the offences established in accordance with the convention.".[224] The Minister for Women explained this further: "A specific statutory provision is required before any part of the criminal law can apply to conduct abroad. There will have to be one further legislative step."

228. Supplementary written evidence from the Minister for Criminal Justice and Victims said:

    Justice Ministers are currently considering the extent to which we need to amend the criminal law of England and Wales for compliance with Article 44 prior to ratification of the Convention. We will then seek collective agreement for what we conclude are the necessary legislative changes.

    Any changes necessary to the criminal law in Scotland and Northern Ireland prior to ratification are matters for the devolved administrations. Section 122 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 criminalised forced marriage in Scotland; and I understand that a Bill to criminalise it in Northern Ireland is currently progressing through the Assembly.

    We will consult Ministers in the devolved administrations about whether legislative changes on extra-territorial jurisdiction in England and Wales should extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland.

229. We are concerned by the Government's lack of engagement with devolved administrations regarding the ratification of the Istanbul Convention because they are responsible for implementing the same positive obligations in their territories. This strengthens our earlier recommendation that the work of the Inter-Ministerial Group should be broadened to include questions of compliance of devolved policy with the Istanbul Convention.

230. We are concerned that the delay in ratifying the Istanbul Convention could harm the UK's international reputation as a world leader in combating violence against women and girls. We acknowledge that, if the devolved administrations need to take further legislative steps, there may be a delay in ratifying the Istanbul Convention. We recommend, however, that the Government bring forward the necessary primary legislation regarding jurisdiction before the end of this Parliament, and that the devolved administrations also bring forward any legislative measures that they consider to be necessary, so that the goal of ratifying the Istanbul Convention can be given the priority it deserves.

219   International Development Committee, Violence Against Women and Girls (Second Report, Session 2013-14, HC 107) Back

220   Q 52 Back

221   Written evidence from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales (VAW0035) Back

222   A Call to End Violence against Women and Girls, Action Plan 2014: [accessed 24 December 2014] Back

223   Oral evidence taken before the House of Commons Liaison Committee, 14 January (Session 2013-14), Q 27-28 Back

224   Q 116 Back

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Prepared 19 February 2015