Emma Watson

Harry Potter star Emma Watson launches legal advice helpline

Free service includes guidance on NDAs and settlement agreements

A free helpline backed by British actor and activist Emma Watson will offer free legal advice to women in England and Wales who have experienced sexual harassment at work.

The expert guidance is supplied by legal charity Rights of Women, whose female volunteers and employment lawyers will offer callers guidance on what behaviour constitutes sexual harassment, how to bring a claim at an employment tribunal, as well advice on settlement and non-disclosure agreements (NDAs).

Kickstarted from donations from members of the public, including Watson, the specialist service enjoys backing from Time’s Up UK Justice and Equality Fund, and is managed by Rosa, the UK Fund for Women and Girls. It stands as the UK’s only free legal helpline for women facing sexual harassment in the workplace.

The new dedicated telephone line follows findings by the Trades Union Congress (TUC), a federation of trade unions in England and Wales, that as many as one in two women experienced sexual harassment at work.

“While sexual harassment is one of the most common forms of violence against women, it has remained a hidden issue with many women believing it was an inevitable part of their jobs or that it would jeopardise their careers to assert their legal rights,” explained Seyi Newell, a senior legal officer at Rights of Women.

By plugging the gap in workplace protection, it is hoped that women will be empowered to hold their harassers and employer to account. Harry Potter star Watson said:

Understanding what your rights are, how you can assert them, and the choices you have if you’ve experienced harassment, is such a vital part of creating safe workplaces for everyone, and this advice line is such a huge development in ensuring that all women are supported, wherever we work.

In the wake of the global #MeToo movement, which has seen women come forward with their stories of sexual harassment and sexual abuse, Watson regards this service as a step in the right direction. She continues:

“It finally feels like people are realising the scale of the problem, and I’m certainly hopeful that with global standards such as the recent International Labour Organisation treaty on harassment at work, we’ll start to see a new climate of prevention and accountability on this issue domestically.”

A rise in the number of sexual misconduct cases across the legal profession has resulted in an increased workload for the Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA), according to a recent report.

The regulator has also recently faced mounting pressure from MPs to clampdown on the ‘cover-up culture’, which sees lawyers draft up questionable NDAs to prevent alleged victims of sexual assault or harassment from speaking out.

Brexit: PM under fire over new Brexit plan

Theresa May will make the case for her new Brexit plan in Parliament later, amid signs that Conservative opposition to her leadership is hardening.

The prime minister will outline changes to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – including a promise to give MPs a vote on holding another referendum.

But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the offer was “too weak”.

Some senior Tories will today ask party bosses for a rule change to allow a no-confidence vote in her leadership.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove defended the PM’s plan, urging MPs to “take a little bit of time and step back” to “reflect” on the detail of the bill – due to be published later today.

Fellow cabinet minister and prominent Brexiteer Andrea Leadsom said she was “looking very carefully at the legislation” and “making sure that it delivers Brexit”.

MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU three times, and attempts to find a formal compromise with Labour have failed.

On Tuesday, the prime minister asked MPs to take “one last chance” to deliver a negotiated exit – or risk Brexit not happening at all.

But several Tory MPs have criticised her plan. Among them, Nigel Evans will today urge party bosses on the 1922 committee to change party rules to allow for an immediate vote of no-confidence in Mrs May.

Because the PM survived such a vote in December, the current rules say she cannot face another for 12 months.

The committee has said ‘no’ to such a change before.

But the Conservative Home website has urged people not to vote for the party in Thursday’s European elections if Mrs May is still in post “by the end of today”.