Fighting Acid Attacks in the UK

by Maeve Halpin
Wednesday, 27 March 2019 10:59 GMT

REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

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Although acid violence is a crime condemned under international law, every year thousands of people across the world are subjected to premeditated acid attacks. The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a UK-registered charity fighting to end acid violence globally, regularly received reports of such attacks from countries including Cambodia, India, Iran and Colombia. But in recent years, ASTI started to see a surge in the number of attacks in the UK. By 2017, the UK had one of the highest recorded rates of acid attacks globally. 

 

“One of the biggest challenges for ASTI has been the lack of data and information on the efficacy of the laws, the way courts have interpreted the laws and delivered judgments on acid violence cases. ASTI approached TrustLaw with the aim to fill this knowledge deficit and enable an evidence based approach to ASTI’s case for change,” said Jaf Shah, Executive Director of ASTI.

 

In 2015, Through TrustLaw, ASTI was connected with Baker & McKenzie, J. Sagar Associates, Linklaters and P&A Asia to produce a comparative report of acid violence laws in the UK, India, Cambodia and Colombia to end acid violence worldwide.  The comparative legal report, Justice? What Justice? Tackling acid violence and ensuring justice for survivors, analysed data on existing legal instruments specific to acid violence in these jurisdictions and discovered inconsistent policing of provisions to control the sale of acid, as well as the lengthy and often ineffective compensation and prosecution schemes.

 

In 2017, ASTI requested an urgent piece of research following an invitation from the UK Home Office to contribute to the consultation process on what legislative changes were needed in the UK to tackle the growing issue of acid attacks. TrustLaw connected ASTI with Linklaters and building on “Justice? What Justice?”, a team of lawyers rapidly produced a comprehensive memo on the specific legislative amendments needed. Jaf Shah and the team at ASTI have used this piece of legal research to strengthen ASTI’s advocacy activities in the UK, aiming to put an end to acid attacks and ensure justice for victims.

 

In 2018, after a series of meetings and consultations with ASTI and other stakeholders the UK Home office announced a series of policy changes:

  • In January 2018, the UK’s Home Office confirmed it intended to limit the sale of acid, some of the country’s largest retailers agreed to stop sales of acid to under-18s.
  • In March 2018, acid was listed as a potentially dangerous weapon in sentencing guidelines, meaning adults caught carrying acid twice would face a six-month prison sentence.
  • In July 2018, under changes to the Poisons Act, members of the public wishing to import, acquire or use sulphuric acid above 15% have required a Home Office licence.

In November 2018, the UK government introduced tough new measures to prevent acid attacks, within the government’s Serious Violence Strategy, which range from early intervention and prevention through to tough law enforcement measures.

The report, and in particular the collaborative legal research conducted in the UK by Linklaters and ASTI, continues to have a tangible impact for the fight against acid attacks and serve as a powerful tool for ASTI’s public awareness campaign and lobbying in the UK Home Office.

“The report identified weaknesses and loopholes within existing UK policy and was the cornerstone to ASTI’s advocacy and awareness raising work, used in policy briefings with parliamentarians and the Home Office,” added Jaf Shah, Executive Director of ASTI.


Dan Schuster-Woldan, Linklaters partner, said: “ASTI is highly specialised and had clear ideas about what it wanted to suggest to government. We were involved in advising on how feasible those proposals were and what exactly would be required to change the law.” Linklaters Associate Stephanie Creese who played a key role, added, “advising ASTI on its proposals for legal reform, and following the clear and almost immediate impact which those proposals have had, has been particularly rewarding. It has been a privilege to have contributed to such a worthy cause.”