BOOTH TAKES UP DOMESTIC VIOLENCE BRIEF

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The Independent Online
Cherie Booth, the lawyer and wife of Tony Blair, made her first overt move into party politics since her husband's election as Labour leader when she backed a Labour campaign to "eliminate" violence against women yesterday.

Supporting Clare Short, Labour's spokeswoman on women's issues, at the launch of a consultation document, Peace at Home, she described domestic and sexual violence against women as "an issue which our society prefers to forget". The campaign was also backed by Sandra Maitland, who played battered wife Mandy Jordache in the television serial, Brookside.

Ms Booth, who was a Labour candidate in 1983, has until now stayed out of public speaking roles. But she has taken up a series of causes in which she has a direct interest as a lawyer, thus avoiding the charge - sometimes made of Glenys Kinnock - that she is using her status as the Labour leader's wife to pursue her own agenda.

Ms Booth first came face to face with the victims of domestic violence when she started as a 22-year-old barrister, dealing primarily with family law. "I had no idea of the terrible things that go on behind closed doors. At first I couldn't understand why my clients put up with violence, but the reality is that for many women with children and no money, they have nowhere to go," she said yesterday.

Ms Booth has since moved on to different areas of law, such as judicial review and local council work, but over the past year she has renewed her interest, becoming a trustee of Refuge, the battered women's hostels charity.

Soon after becoming a QC in April, Ms Booth stepped up her campaign for women's rights, launching advertising for Refuge and urging policewomen to fight discrimination by suing chief constables.

"Taking a police force to court takes a lot of guts and needs a lot of support. But we must set the limits of what is acceptable behaviour from male colleagues," she said.

At the Labour Party conference earlier this month, she also spoke at a fringe meeting organised by the NSPCC to demand tougher laws against "child sex tourism". She also stepped into Mr Blair's place to speak to a meeting of his Sedgefield Labour Party at last year's Labour conference, but only because he was late.

Last year she led a workshop on new technology at the centenary conference of the Bar Council. She led the modernisation of her barristers' chambers, hiring a practice manager to supplement the ancient system of barristers' clerks and setting up computers. She began working from home in the late 1980s and was responsible for putting her husband on the Internet.

Ms Short, who hopes to be elected to the Shadow Cabinet today, acknowledged Labour sensitivities about the leader's wife taking a higher profile, saying: "I'm going to be brutally protective of Cherie, and any questions that are out of order I'm going to rule out of order."

Ms Booth's reply to whether she would return to a career in politics was a firm "No".

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