Vera Baird discusses women in the legal system



Vera Baird talks about the representation of women within the legal system, both as victims and perpetrators of crime.

Why do you think Vera Baird feels that the system ‘failed women twice’?

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Vera Baird photograph © Vera Baird
UK's New Ministry Of Justice Comes Into Being photograph © Getty Images



The Fawcett Commission on women and criminal was to look at the way women were dealt with by the criminal justice system as victims and witnesses, as defendants and also as workers in the system. So I, with Katherine Rake, we picked women, mostly but not exclusively, from all the bits of the criminal justice system. So we had a senior police officer, we had senior probation, we had a judge, we had me, the barrister, we had someone from the prison service, we had pretty well everyone you can think of really with an interest. We had a journalist, a legal journalist, on the commission. And we set about finding, putting out a call for evidence. We first of all, I think, did women as victims and we just got an overwhelming amount of stuff back about rape and domestic violence. And we put out another bid saying thank you for that, would people please now send in stuff that’s not about rape or domestic violence but is about women as victims of crime, and we didn’t get anything back. So either the criminal justice system’s treating women well in every other way or people are just so concerned about those that that’s what they focused on. So we did that, then we did women as defendants. And the most interesting single finding, I mean, all of the reports, which are called things like One Year On and so on, they’re all available and the key finding very early on was that, when we talked to women who’d been victims of rape and domestic violence, we had an understanding of how poorly they were dealt with by the agencies outside the justice system and also by the justice system. And then when we came to women as defendants, who were in crime and who were in custody, we found that, as I think the figures made very clear, even today something like two-thirds of women who go into prison have suffered either sexual abuse or violence in their life. Half have suffered domestic violence itself without saying anything about sexual violence. And so, you know, quite amazingly really, we were talking to the same women twice. The victims and the defendants were the same women. They were sufferers from domestic violence. And we were punishing them twice, firstly as a society by not intervening sufficiently early to rescue them from the violence and the sexual abuse, and secondly when those attacks on them threw them into chaotic lifestyles and they started to take drugs or take drink or to steal to look after their kids ‘cos they were in chaos, we put them in prison, so we failed women twice.
Vera Baird discusses women in the legal system
22 April - 20 June 2012
Sound recording
Sisterhood and After: The Women's Liberation Oral History Project
© British Library
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