Istanbul Convention: we need statutory legislation to clearly denounce violations of fundamental human rights of women and girls

“Violence against women and girls is the most common violation of the human rights of women, in Europe and beyond.”1

In the UK, it is estimated 4.3 million women have experienced domestic abuse since the age of 16.2 The International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was a reminder that the issue persists to this day and the fight against it continues to be necessary. In a country like the UK, one would hope that a legal framework, supported by effective policies enforced by relevant public bodies, would make it nearly impossible for women and girls to fall victim to such violence. Surveys and studies continue to demonstrate however a lack of adequate police and state intervention3  and only in 2017 did the government decide to pursue the adoption of legislation which may finally provide definitive legal structure to an issue that has struggled to find any footing in the law.   

The private members bill titled Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 27 April 2017 and came into force on 27 June 2017.4 It was created in response to the government’s policy on ratifying the Istanbul Convention.5 Reference to the bill was incorporated in the Queen’s Speech on 21 June 2017.6 The bill focuses on a timetable that must be updated by all UK legislative bodies in their effort to produce legislation that would “enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Istanbul Convention”.7 The two page act provides no set time table and demands only yearly reports on the progress made by the legislative bodies.

The first report was published last November, and in its many pages, it claims that the UK in fact already complies with many of the aspects of the Convention. The government equally published a statement on 25 November highlighting the UK’s leadership in the “global drive to tackle violence against girls and women”. The UK however, continues to be void of legislation clearly denouncing this type of violence.

As the Chairwoman of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe has recently stated, on the occasion of the international day for the elimination of violence against women, violence against women and girls is indeed an egregious breach of our human rights. In a traditionally political manner, our government has offered the suggestion they share our concern on this issue and will address it appropriately, in due course. The implementation of relevant legislation will not automatically eradicate the issue but it would offer stronger support to those who find themselves in need of protection. It would equally indicate that the UK has no tolerance for violence, be it against women, girls or men and boys. 

It must be added that in late December 2017 a first reading was held in the House of Lords on a new bill called the Secure Tenancies (Victims of Domestic Abuse) Act.8 The bill has now made its way to the Report Stage in the House of Lords. The bill would allow a local authority landlord to provide a victim of domestic abuse who is a secure tenant with a new home so as to ensure they are protected from their abuser. This legislative development may indicate the government is taking the issue of domestic violence further and introducing practical means of support to victims.

This appears at a time where there is concern as to whether the introduction in 2015 of the offence of ‘coercive control’ may lead to the reduction of funding for programmes geared towards victims of domestic violence.9 It is not the first time this offence has caused some controversy: a recent report stated that in fact only eight out of forty-three police forces in England and Wales have been adequately trained to respond to this new offence, which is meant to further criminalize domestic abuse.10

The issue of domestic violence appears to have made its way to the fore, particularly since the first report under the 2017 Act, thus demonstrating an element of awareness by public bodies and the government alike that the issue is far from resolved. It remains quite clear however, that whatever progress has been made, it has been made very slowly, and, as some sources suggest, inadequately implemented.

Britain in Europe Open Society Foundation Goldsmiths University