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UK CPS too afraid of community unrest to prosecute honour crimes

10 November 2016

The UK’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is failing to prosecute honour crimes for fear of causing unrest in what has been called “the Asian community”. That is the claim made by a “whistleblower” in Scotland Yard, the Metropolitan Police headquarters, who has worked on numerous honour-based investigations and been commended three times for his work in this area over the past year. The detective sergeant, who is himself Asian, pointed out that despite the number of cases being referred by the police to the CPS having doubled in the last five years, there has only been a single conviction. He spoke out because he believed victims were being denied justice; in one horrific case he was recently working on where there was very strong evidence, the CPS did not even tell the police they were dropping the case. He said:

“There appears to be an apathy from the CPS when prosecuting cases where Asian women are victims of honour-based violence. A conviction could lead to unrest in the affected community, but if they discontinue a case they know most victims won’t complain due to their vulnerability.”

However, within hours of this story becoming public, the prime minister announced that the attorney general had asked the CPS for a briefing on the case that had been dropped. Last year the police referred 90 cases of honour-based violence to the CPS, which is thought to be just the tip of the iceberg, with many honour crimes going unreported.

The prime minister, Theresa May, has a particular interest in tackling honour-based violence: as home secretary she introduced measures to tackle both forced marriages and female genital mutilation (FGM). However, there is another related area of honour crime that is still largely being ignored by both the police and CPS: the violence and coercion experienced by those who convert to Christianity from a Muslim family background. Such conversions are frequently viewed by their families and the wider community as bringing shame on them, leading to various forms of coercion and violence in attempts to force them to convert back to Islam. This can often involve imprisonment in a room or a garage, sometimes extreme physical violence, attempts to trick them into going overseas and forced marriage when they get there, as well as death threats and actual attempts to kill them.

Despite this the problem is largely ignored. For example, the Inspectorate of Constabulary did not even assess the responses of police forces to honour-based violence until last year. When it did so it found that only three of 43 police forces were properly prepared to tackle honour-based violence. However, more disturbingly, the Inspectorate of Constabulary’s own report failed to even acknowledge the existence of attempts at “forced reconversion” back to Islam – even though this is a very typical experience for Christians who have converted from a Muslim family background. There is therefore a serious danger that the concept of “hate crime” is being selectively applied to crimes affecting some communities, but not others – with anything that implies criticism of Islam viewed as “too hot to handle”. Acts of violence against Christians from a Muslim family background must never be ignored for fear of provoking “community unrest” – if we do that then we effectively allow mob rule to replace the rule of law in those areas.

Barnabas Fund has repeatedly urged the government to recognise and develop specific strategies to tackle the problem of attempts at “forced reconversion”. For example, we did so in our response to the UK government’s counter extremism strategy a year ago. Two months ago we did so again in a letter to the new home secretary, Amber Rudd. Mrs May, while home secretary, made some excellent progress in introducing policies to tackle forced marriage and FGM; we now call on her to follow through on this by tackling this third aspect of honour-based violence – attempts at “forced reconversion” back to Islam.