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Tougher sentences for domestic killers

View profile for Harriet Starkey
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In March 2023, it was published that the government has plans to enforce tougher sentences on domestic abusers who kill their current or previous partners. 

What does this mean for those found guilty of domestic homicide?

The law will be changed meaning that someone who is found guilty of murdering their partner/ex-partner, and has a history of coercive or controlling behaviour, will face longer prison sentences. Where defendants have a history of coercive or controlling behaviour against the victim, or they use excessive or gratuitous violence will find themselves facing aggravating factors when sentencing decisions are made. Therefore, judges must consider imposing longer prison terms for perpetrators of domestic abuse.

What lead to the plans for change?

These changes follow recommendations made by Clare Wade KC after she carried out an independent review into domestic homicide sentencing. The review can be read via the following link: Ms Wade was the leading defence barrister for Sally Challen, who was subjected to years of domestic abuse by her husband, before she killed him with a hammer in 2010.

The aforementioned report confirmed that the current sentencing framework does not adequately reflect that many domestic homicides occur following years of abuse suffered by victims at the hands of perpetrators. The government commissioned the review in 2021 following the murders of Poppy Devey Waterhouse and Ellie Gould, who were both stabbed to death by their current or former partners in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

The review was conducted to understand whether the law could further protect both victims and the public, whilst ensuring that victims who lash out after years of mistreatment are not punished with longer prison sentences than necessary.

Statistics reveal that 26% of homicides in England and Wales are committed by either a current or former partner, or relative. Ms Wade reviewed 120 homicide cases and 51% of these involved controlling or coercive behaviour, and excessive violence, or overkill (for example where a victim is found with an excessive number of stab wounds) was present in 60%. Out of the 120 cases men were the perpetrator in all but one case, which was a homosexual relationship involving both a female perpetrator and female victim.

What is the government’s response?

Former Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab responded saying that the “government will do everything [they] can to protect vulnerable women, and keep in prison for longer those who attack or threaten them”.

The changes have been positively embraced by domestic abuse campaigners, but the conviction rates for coercive control remains extremely low. Andrea Simon, director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition states that “tougher sentencing alone is not enough to act as a deterrent and will not in itself prevent more women being killed”.

The government has asked the Sentencing Council to review the manslaughter sentencing guidelines, to ensure that in cases where death occurs during ‘rough sex’ the defendant should be punished with longer prison sentences. There will be a public consultation launched to determine whether a higher sentencing starting point of 25 years should be implemented in murder cases where there has been a history of controlling and coercive abuse. The 25-year starting point currently only applies to murders where a knife has been taken to the scene with intent.

How can Johnson Astills help?

If you or someone you know is being subjected to domestic abuse, please contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) for expert advice as to what protective measures are available to you. You can contact Johnson Astills via our online enquiry form or telephoning on 0116 255 4855.

Alternatively, if you have been accused of a domestic abuse offence, Johnson Astills are also experts in criminal advice and are available 24 hours of the day to assist at the Police Station, or at Court. Representation at the police station is free, and legal aid may be available for your case at the Magistratesand Crown Court. For offences which do not qualify for legal aid, we offer fixed fees for appointments and representation. For further information, or to arrange a fixed fee consultation with a member of the Crime Team, please contact Johnson Astills via our online enquiry form or contacting on 0116 255 4855.