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News ->Southall Black Sisters wins dramatic victory against Ealing Council

Southall Black Sisters wins dramatic victory against Ealing Council
(31 July 2008)

Pragna Patel of Southall Black Sisters (SBS)In a bizarre case of 'community cohesion coming unstuck', Southall Black Sisters (SBS), the domestic violence refuge group best known for supporting Kiranjit Ahluwalia's case, has won its case against Ealing Council which was trying to cut SBS funding under the Race Relations Act. The council had wanted to use the funding for provision of a 'generic' (i.e to include white women) domestic violence service in the borough.

On 18 July at the High Court, in a dramatic turn of events, SBS won a major victory against Ealing Council for its failure to have proper regard to equality legislation, in particular the Race Relations Act, when making a decision to cut the entire funding of SBS.

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) has been funded for many years by Ealing Council but last year, the Council decided to take away its funding and invited organisations to bid for the provision of the same service for all women in the borough using the funds previously awarded to SBS to meet the needs of BME women.

SBS maintains that specialist services are needed not only for reasons to do with language difficulties and cultural pressures but because groups like SBS have considerable experience in providing advice and advocacy in complex circumstances where legal aid is not easily available and where immigration and asylum difficulties and institutional racism make some women more vulnerable than others.

Amongst other things, Ealing Council was charged with the failure to carry out a full and proper equality impact assessment and, when it did, it cherry picked statistics and misquoted expert reports to buttress its case after the event; for misinterpreting the race equality legislation by deciding that the Southall Black Sisters name and constitution (to meet the needs of Asian and African-Caribbean women) was in breach of the Race Relations Act because it 'excluded' white women. Furthermore the Council was shown to have misinterpreted the cohesion agenda by assuming that 'single group' funding undermined cohesion when, in fact, as Lord Justice Moses, the presiding judge declared it promotes equality and thereby cohesion.

Ealing Council was unable to defend its actions in the light of extensive evidence which showed that it had committed a series of fundamental errors. The Judge commented that aspects of Ealing Council's actions were 'blood curdling' and he was close to regarding the Council as having conducted itself in 'bad faith' - a very serious allegation.

The Council eventually decided to withdraw its case thereby denying SBS the opportunity of having a full judgement but SBS were able to secure a shorter judgement (pending) - which will take the form of guidance to Ealing and to all other local authorities so that in future they comply properly with all equalities legislation and to prevent 'cohesion' arguments from being used to deny the need for specialist services.

Pragna Patel of SBS states: 'This victory is important for all grassroots specialist organisations that are faced with or likely to face cuts in their funding on the spurious grounds of 'cohesion' and 'equality'. Ealing Council has tried to portray us an organisation opposed to the need for all women in the borough to have a domestic violence service. This is far from the reality. Our victory shows that its 'divide and rule' tactics will not work. We will continue to struggle for the right of all women to have effective protection from domestic violence but this also means struggling for the rights of the most vulnerable women in our society who due to cultural and religious pressures and racism need their own organisations to ensure that their voices are heard '


Southall Black Sisters is a multi- award winning not-for-profit organisation, established in 1979 to counter racism and meet the needs of black (Asian and African-Caribbean) women, particularly those who have been victims of domestic violence, forced marriage and honour killings. Although based locally in London, it has a national reach.

Over the years, it has dealt with thousands of cases of domestic violence cases within minority (especially South Asian) communities and has been responsible for important policy and legal changes including changes to the criminal law (the law of provocation in relation to battered women who kill), immigration rules (the 'domestic violence rule') and the civil law (Forced Marriage Act) all of which enable minority women to assert their human rights. The organisation has also been in the forefront of challenging the rise of religious intolerance and fundamentalism, caste and ethnic divisions within minority communities.

Ealing Council has provided core funding which represents approximately one third of SBS' total annual funding since the mid eighties. In the last ten years it has helped over 15,000 women from around the UK, 90% of which come from Ealing.

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