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Prostitution: support the judicial review hearing

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prostitution convictions, judicial review hearing, Janaury 2018, support, The women bringing the claim were all pimped into prostitution when teenagers. 

Early next year the High Court will consider a ground breaking legal challenge brought by several women challenging the criminalisation and continued punishment of prostituted women.

If successful, it will bring to an end a shameful practice in modern day Britain, where those who are victims of abuse and exploitation continue to be labelled and punished for something that was in a large part done to them.

Please come to the Royal Courts of Justice on 17 and 18 January 2018 – time to be confirmed – to show your support for these women as they challenge the government.

The claim, brought by three women and supported in evidence by several others, will argue for the first time that the government’s legislative scheme in respect of the recording, retention and disclosure of criminal convictions arising from street prostitution is unlawful.

It will be argued, amongst other things, that scheme discriminates against women and is contrary to the UK’s legal obligations in respect of the trafficking of women.

The women bringing the claim were all pimped into prostitution when teenagers.

All suffered serious violence and abuse on the streets and all struggled after years of such abuse to exit prostitution.

The way in which street prostitution has been historically policed means that these women almost invariably have multiple convictions for soliciting.

Now, many years after their convictions are spent, each time they wish to apply for a job or volunteer in certain occupational areas, they must disclose these criminal records.

Fiona Broadfoot, one of the claimants, explained how she met a pimp when she was aged 15 “and two weeks later I was thrown into the violent and abusive world of prostitution.

“Rape became an occupational hazard, but I was arrested, charged and criminalised for loitering for the purposes of being a common prostitute.

“After more than twenty years out of prostitution, I am still having to explain my criminal record to any prospective employer. It feels like explaining my history of abuse.”

The current law requires that anyone with more than one criminal conviction, however long ago it was sustained, must disclose those convictions when applying for a range of occupations or volunteer activities. For example, an application to be a carer in a home for learning disabled adults or to become a parent governor in your local school will require a DBS certificate.

These certificates, which must be presented to prospective employers and others, will provide a list of all criminal convictions, whether spent or not.

Following a legal challenge to the scheme in 2013, the policy was altered to exclude the mandatory disclosure of single convictions that didn’t result in a suspended or custodial sentence.

Whilst disclosure of such convictions is not a statutory bar to certain types of occupation or activity, the disclosure provides information and a discretionary right to refuse employment or bar the person from certain activities such as participating in school trips with their children.

Street prostitution has been treated in many ways as a nuisance offence and tends to be enforced when police decide to ‘clean up’ the streets. Women who have been historically arrested for soliciting and loitering, almost invariably have multiple convictions.

The policing of these ‘offences’ was used less as a deterrent and more as a palliative to neighbourhood concerns.  Unlike most crimes where repeat offending results in more severe punishments over time, the sanctions for soliciting tend to remain the same regardless of the number of offences that have been committed.

Most women who were on the street for any period of time have multiple convictions for soliciting and these show up on their DBS checks, creating an impression of serious criminality just by virtue of the lengthy list of convictions on their certificate.

The government will be defending all parts of the claim.

In a somewhat bizarre defence to the discrimination ground, they will argue that, whilst the vast majority of those with soliciting convictions are women, overall the majority of crimes are committed by men.

They cite, for example, statistics for sexual offences and say, “For instance, in 2016 7,357 men were convicted of sexual offences in comparison to just 120 women.”

Harriet Wistrich, solicitor for the claimants, said: “The government’s argument in respect of discrimination somewhat misses the point, because they quote statistics without looking at context.

“We say that women in street prostitution, have in the large part been exploited and subject to abuse, whereas men convicted of sexual offences are perpetrators of abuse.

“The purpose of the scheme it to protect vulnerable people from contact with those who may seek to abuse or exploit them.”

Further details about the claim, the background facts and legal arguments relied on by both sides, click here.

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