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Witnesses ask for videolink not travel


Domestic Abuse Bill, Committee, witnesses, in person, Jacob Rees-Mogg, letter, COVID-19, coronavirus crisis, travel, public transport, Wales, BME communitiesThe unacceptable condition of attendance only serves to jeopardise the safety of survivors and their key workers.

Eighteen domestic abuse and women’s rights organisations, including the Women’s Aid Federation of England, Latin American Women’s Rights Service and Southall Black Sisters, have written to the Leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, asking the government to reconsider the requirement that survivors giving evidence next week to the Domestic Abuse Public Bill Committee must only do so in person – despite Covid-19 and current government guidelines.

MPs return to parliament next week as the ‘hybrid parliament’ arrangements, where individuals could provide evidence to scrutiny committees via videolink, are set to end.

The letter highlights that the requirement for women who have experienced domestic abuse to attend parliament in person is booth discriminatory and unsafe.

It puts the health of witnesses and those supporting them, particularly from Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities, at risk.

It also contravenes government guidance.

Witnesses some of our organisations are supporting to give evidence, the letter said, ‘include women with childcare responsibilities, who are not able to secure alternative childcare arrangements whilst adhering to current social distancing guidelines.

‘Another witness has disability and accessibility requirements and would therefore need someone to break social distancing guidelines to support them in navigating Westminster.

‘Witnesses would also be required to use public transport to make journeys which are not essential, given that remote evidence is a clear option.

‘The insistence on giving evidence in person also excludes any survivor or organisation in Wales from engaging in legislation which will impact upon them, as leaving home and travel restrictions within Wales are currently more stringent.’

And Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters, said: ‘Southall Black Sisters is supporting a user to give evidence to the Public Bill Committee to highlight the growing gap in protection from abuse for migrant women with No Recourse to Public Funds.

“However, this important opportunity to give evidence should made not be made conditional upon her attendance in Parliament in person to do so.

“This unacceptable condition of attendance only serves to jeopardise the safety of survivors and their key workers, as well as flout the rule on non-essential travel.

“In a context where facilities exist for participants to give evidence remotely, there is no justification for the requirement.

“Given that BME groups are amongst those disproportionately affected by Covid-19, BME survivors and the staff who support them will be placed at unnecessary risk. We urge the Government to reconsider.”

To read the full letter, click here.

It has been signed by Nicki Norman, Acting Chief Executive, Women’s Aid Federation of England; Sarah Green, Director, End Violence Against Women Coalition; Donna Covey, Director, Against Violence and Abuse; Gudrun Burnet, CEO, Standing Together Against Domestic Violence; Gisela Valle, Director, Latin American Women Rights Service; Pragna Patel, Director, Southall Black Sisters; Medina Johnson, Chief Executive, IRISi; Kate Allen, Director, Amnesty International UK; Jo Todd, CEO, Respect; Estelle du Boulay, Director, Rights of Women; Suzanne Jacob, CEO, SafeLives; Refuge; Jemima Olchawski, CEO, Agenda: the alliance for women and girls at risk; Sheila Coates MBE, External Relations, Rape Crisis England & Wales; Nicola Sharp-Jeffs, Director, Surviving Economic Abuse; Frank Mullane MBE, CEO, Advocacy After Fatal Domestic Abuse; Nik Noone, CEO, Galop; and Sara Kirkpatrick, Chief Executive Officer, Welsh Women’s Aid.

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