Landmark case for Ealing group

Ealing Times: Members of the Southall Black Sisters protesting against the council's decision Members of the Southall Black Sisters protesting against the council's decision

A SOUTHALL domestic abuse group is fighting a High Court battle which could make or break its future.

Southall Black Sisters (SBS) has been preparing for a landmark case which will either provide a long-awaited reprieve or throw the future of ethnic minority charities across the country into disarray.

Hannana Siddiqui, of SBS, said: "The women we help are not going to be able to go to other organisations. They come to us because we are part of the community.

"We are black and minority women ourselves, we know where they are coming from. We can provide them with a service in there own language very quickly."

Ealing Council has traditionally funded Southall Black Sisters (SBS) to the tune of £100,000 a year but wants to change the way it provides support to women who suffer from violence in the home.

The group has taken Ealing Council to the High Court for failing in its race relation duties, and a win would strenthen the position of similar minority groups across the country.

It has not yet decided which group the council wants to give the money to, but even if SBS was chosen, Ms Siddiqui says there would not be enough to expand without sacrificing its existing specialist service.

She said: "Ironically, what we provide is what the council are saying they want to replicate across the whole borough but they don't want to target it at minority women, the most vulnerable.

"If we can't provide local services to people that are specialised, as we do now, I don't think these women are going to find our services accessible and they're not going to be able to go to other organisations."

The group which is chosen will get a £100,000 grant, with £50,000 in reserve as a back up.

Virendra Sharma, MP for Ealing and Southall, said: "I'm supporting the black sisters campaign and I'm supporting the judicial review.

"I personally feel that it's sad that a local group has to go to that length to get justice."

During its 29-year history, the group has helped a number of women who are victims of domestic violence, forcing changes to how manslaughter law is applied and changing attitudes in the Asian community.

In the early 90s it represented Kiranjit Ahluwalia, an Asian woman, whose husband died after she set him on fire, following years of abuse, including rape and violence.

She was initially jailed for the attack but, with the help of a new lawyer, SBS supported her in a successful campaign to overturn the conviction.

The group has also fought to bring a number of men to justice over honour killings.

The case will be heard today and tomorrow in the High Court. SBS supporters have promised to be out in force.

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