Law, Harm and Redress: A Feminist Perspective

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Conaghan, Joanne (2002)

This paper explores understandings of harm in law through the application of a feminist perspective. Drawing on the idea of harm as a social construct, the paper considers the role of law in shaping perceptions of when a harm has occurred and whether it should be redressed. These themes are illustrated by means of a close legal and contextual analysis of the House of Lords decision in Waters v Metropolitan Police Commissioner,1 in which a woman was allegedly bullied at work for reporting she had been raped by a fellow officer. The paper raises questions about why this particular claimant had difficulty establishing that she had suffered harm, despite alleging 89 separate hostile acts by fellow officers, and even though the courts who heard her claim assumed for the purposes of legal argument that the facts alleged were true. It is argued that the narrowness of the approach adopted by most of the judges who heard Ms Waters' claim precluded recognition of the seriousness of the allegations and the social, political, and legal need to provide redress.
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