Consultation on tougher sentences for knife and domestic killers

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Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC. Photo credit: Twitter

A consultation looking at whether cowardly domestic killers should receive tougher sentences if they subject their victims to a campaign of coercive and controlling abuse, has been launched by the Lord Chancellor today. 

Ministers will also consider whether murderers who use a knife or another weapon already at the crime scene to kill should also face steeper starting points – a change that could result in higher minimum terms in these cases.

Every year, around 90 people – overwhelmingly women – are killed by their current or ex-partner, with most of these murders taking place in the home. And when a weapon is used – often a kitchen knife – it is normally already at the scene.

This means that although weapons are used, these offences generally do not qualify for a higher starting point – with a discrepancy of up to ten years compared with murders where a weapon is taken to the scene.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said:  

“It is shocking that around 1 in 4 murders are committed by a current or former partner, or relative.

“This Government has already gone further than ever to protect women and girls, with tough new protection orders plus laws to ensure abusers and killers spend longer behind bars.

“To make sure sentencing policy is meeting the threat, it is right to review this complex landscape so that the scourge of violence against women is tackled as coherently and effectively as possible.”

Currently, when a knife or other weapon is taken to the murder scene with intent, the starting point is 25 years. This reflects the increased risk to the public when knives are carried on the streets. Where a knife is used, but not taken to the scene, a 15-year starting point normally applies.   

Campaigners on this issue include Carole Gould and Julie Devey, whose daughters Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse were killed by their former partners using knives found in the home.

Justice Minister, Gareth Bacon, said: 

“For some evil people, murder is the brutal final act of a controlling and coercive relationship with their partner. It is only right we look at whether the sentences for these types of killings reflect this sustained and unacceptable abuse.  

“This consultation builds on the action we are taking to clamp down on domestic homicide, by introducing new laws to punish abusers with longer jail terms, and better protect victims.”

The consultation reflects the Government’s determination to ensure the sentencing framework for murder properly punishes perpetrators of this horrific crime, while giving victims’ families the justice they deserve.

In response to Clare Wade’s landmark independent review of sentencing in cases of domestic homicide, the Government has introduced a raft of measures to ensure sentences reflect the seriousness of the crime.  

This includes the introduction of new legislation which will make:  

  • “Overkill” and previous controlling or coercive behaviour by the murderer a statutory aggravating factor resulting in longer sentences  
  • A history of controlling or coercive behaviour a mitigating factor where the perpetrator was subject to this behaviour 
  • Killing connected with the end of a relationship a statutory aggravating factor, through the Criminal Justice Bill 

The Domestic Homicide Sentence Review was commissioned in 2021 to examine whether the sentencing framework should be reformed to better reflect the seriousness of domestic homicide and to identify options for improvements.  

It followed a series of high-profile domestic murders and concerns from the then Victims’ Commissioner and Domestic Abuse Commissioner about how these offences are handled by the justice system. 

This is the latest step in the Government’s commitment to be tough to keep the worst offenders locked up.

The Government has already ended the automatic release of sex and terrorist offenders, brought in a minimum 14-year jail term for anyone convicted of serious terror offences and under the new Sentencing Bill, the most horrific murderers will spend the rest of their lives locked up, including for any murder involving sexual or sadistic conduct, while criminals who commit rape and other serious sexual offences will spend every day of their sentence behind bars.

Source:
Ministry of Justice
Gareth Bacon MP, and The Rt Hon Alex Chalk KC MP

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