Friday, July 18, 2008

Sisters happy with High Court decision

In this earlier famous case they obtained the freedom of a woman who had killed a violent, abusive husband.
Yesterday they were just aiming to secure their funding.

NOW for the good news about Southall. After two days in the High Court, with supporters demonstrating outside, it looks like Southall Black Sisters have won their battle to keep funding from Ealing council which enables them to continue their vital work. That's good news for women, good news for minorities, good news for people in Southall and elsewhere, and good news for everyone in the 'voluntary sector' who is concerned lest services are taken away from communities and turned over to business, or run cheaply to suit government.

If that sounds too good to be true, I'm keeping my fingers crossed. I could not make it down the High Court myself, but here's the Ealing Times report:

Sisters celebrate as council caves

SUPPORTERS of a domestic violence group are celebrating a dramatic victory in a High Court battle over a decision that threatened its future.

Ealing Council has conceded defeat in a landmark hearing brought by a number of women helped by Southall Black Sisters (SBS), which supports victims from ethnic minority groups.

Speaking outside the courtroom, Pragna Patel, the organisation's chairman, said: "We feel vindicated because we feel the council has accepted that they made numerous errors. They've accepted that they got it wrong and are prepared to start again. We feel this could have all been avoided and it's a terrible waste of tax payers money."

Lord Justice Moses left the court room to a chorus of applause from the public gallery as the volunteers and paid staff who make up SBS joined the women they work so hard to help for a celebration that will be heard across the country.

Lord Justice Moses, who oversaw hearing, is due to issue a ruling which future judges will take into account when hearing similar cases. His judgement could determine the future of all organisations who, like SBS, provide a specialist service to people from certain groups within society.

The council currently gives money to a number of charities but wanted to change the way it funds services for victims of domestic violence, so groups would have to bid for a single lump sum to provide support for everyone in the borough. But SBS says the decision would have left charities which provide a tailored service to certain residents, but not others, unable to win any funding.

The case was brought to court on the grounds the council did not pay attention to the needs of the people affected by the policy at the time it was made. Ms Patel said: "Furthering race equality doesn't mean you don't here the voices of the most vulnerable and the most misunderstood.

"This is not just an important thing for Southall Black Sisters but for all the other ethnic minority groups."

But for now it is the women SBS helps who will be most affected.

The case was brought on behalf of Ramandeep Kaur, 25, who is currently supported by the group, as well as another woman in a similar position. She was put in touch with its counselors after suffering at the hands of her husband who beat her and threw her out of the house.

She said: "I had no where to go and I just felt like I wanted to commit suicide. I couldn't speak English and I couldn't tell anyone about my problems but I was able to go to Southall Black Sisters.

"Before I met them I wanted to commit suicide, but they gave me a sense of living."

She said women like herself rely on grass roots organisations that they can trust to come out and get the help they so badly need.: "If it wasn't for them where would we have gone. We can explain it to them properly but we couldn't explain it to a normal group in the same way.

"We are afraid of racism in other services, and whether we would be listened to. I have lost my parents but they are my parents now."

Councillors could still push ahead with similar proposals in the future but this will be a massive blow and any attempt to revisit the project will require a careful look at the impact on ethnic minority groups.

Councillor Jason Stacey, leader of the council, said: "We defended this case because we believe that all women in the borough, regardless of their ethnic background, should have equal access to domestic violence support services.

"This principle remains but the process has highlighted areas of the law that are unclear and open to many different interpretations."

He said the council agreed to withdraw from the case on the basis that the judge's ruling would provide guidance on grant funding.

5:23pm today

By Jack Royston

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