Overhaul of laws to protect women from domestic killers

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Controlling ex-partners who lash out at the end of their relationship will face longer than ever behind bars under new government plans to tackle domestic homicide.

  • Longer sentences for bitter partners who murder following the end of a relationship.
  • History of coercive and controlling behaviour to be a mitigating factor for abused victims who kill their tormentors.
  • Consultation on longer sentences for coercive and controlling behaviour to be expanded to include use of weapon.

The change, announced by the Lord Chancellor, is part of a wide-ranging response to Clare Wade KC’s Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review published today (20 July 2023) which will overhaul the law to better protect vulnerable women.

Building on measures already announced in the interim response in March, today’s reforms will create a new aggravating factor for murder at the end of a relationship while also introducing a mitigating factor in cases where the perpetrator has been subjected to a campaign of controlling behaviour before lashing out against their abuser.

Research shows that around one in four homicides are committed by a current or former partner or relative. Recognising the complex nature of murder sentencing, Ministers will also expand a planned consultation on a 25-year starting point for domestic murders with a history of controlling or coercive behaviour to include murders using a knife or other weapon found at the scene.

This will seek the public’s views on the current difference between sentences for murder where a knife is brought to the scene compared, for example, to one already in the home.

Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said:

Cowards who murder their partners should face the full force of the law.

Our reforms will give judges the power to punish murderers for the added pain and trauma they inflict through ‘overkill’ as well as ensuring that those who coercively control their victims or kill them at the end of a relationship face longer behind bars.

To further ensure the law is working to provide justice the government will ask the Law Commission to review the use of defences in domestic homicide cases. This will look at whether the gender of the defendant impacts how successful these defences are – with the Wade Review suggesting that female defendants are less successful than men. This includes examining the partial defences of “loss of control” and “diminished responsibility” and whether the law adequately considers circumstances where a victim of domestic abuse acts in self-defence.

The list of measures in the full government response to Clare Wade’s review into domestic homicide sentencing includes:

  • Bringing greater recognition to the specific circumstances of domestic murders by creating statutory aggravating factors for murder for:
    • Killing at the end of a relationship
    • Overkill and use of excessive violence
    • A history of coercive or controlling behaviour
  • Creating a statutory mitigating factor for murder where the perpetrator has been subjected to coercive or controlling behaviour
  • Continuing to improve the collection and recording of data on domestic homicides in England and Wales to identify patterns, trends, and risk factors via the Domestic Homicide Review Library
  • Working with partners to implement and improve mandatory training for Crown Prosecution Service staff on understanding coercive control.
  • Consulting on a 25-year starting point for coercive or controlling behaviour and sentencing for murders which take place with a weapon found at the scene
  • Writing to the Sentencing Council to propose that they review their guidelines for manslaughter sentencing in light of Clare Wade’s recommendations and the government’s response.
  • Asking the Law Commission to review the use of defences in domestic homicide cases

Justice Minister, Edward Argar, said:

Too many women are murdered every year by those they should feel safest with.

This government is working tirelessly to tackle violence against women, and these changes will mean perpetrators spend longer behind bars by taking greater account of the specific factors which are all too present in these horrific cases.

Of the murder cases reviewed by Clare Wade KC over half (51 per cent) involved controlling or coercive behaviour while excessive violence, or overkill, was identified in 60 per cent, with men being the perpetrator in all but one case. Nearly half (48 per cent) were caused in part by feelings of jealousy or resentment at the end of the relationship.

Legislation to implement these changes to the sentencing framework will be laid as soon as parliamentary time allows.  The consultation on a new 25-year starting point for domestic murders preceded by coercive or controlling behaviour and to further explore the sentencing for murders committed with a knife or other weapon already at the scene and murders where the weapon is brought to the scene will take place later this.

Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said:

I welcome the publication of the Government’s response to the Review. In particular, I am pleased that the Government have committed to introducing a range of new statutory aggravating factors to ensure that the circumstances surrounding domestic murders are given adequate legal weight when considering sentencing. I look forward to continuing to work with the Government on the implementation of the review recommendations and feeding into work by the Law Commission on the review of defences to murders involving domestic abuse.

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