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Tougher sentences for domestic killers

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Domestic abusers who kill their partners or ex-partners will receive tougher sentences under government plans published today (17 March 2023).

  • longer sentences where killer has a history of coercive or controlling behaviour
  • murderers who use excessive violence face longer in prison
  • manslaughter sentencing guidelines around ‘rough sex’ to be reviewed

The law will be changed so a history of coercive or controlling behaviour against the victim or the use of excessive or gratuitous violence are made aggravating factors in sentencing decisions for murder.

It means these violent and controlling criminals will face more time behind bars, as judges must consider longer jail terms for their abuse and aggression.

The changes follow recommendations made by Clare Wade KC in an independent review into domestic homicide sentencing, which the government will respond to in full in the summer.

Her review found the current sentencing framework does not adequately reflect that many domestic homicides are preceded by years of abuse.

Around one in four (26%) homicides in England and Wales are committed by a current or former partner or relative. Of the murder cases reviewed by Clare Wade over half (51%) involved controlling or coercive behaviour while excessive violence, or overkill, was identified in 60%, with men being the perpetrator in all but one case.

Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said:

“This government will do everything we can to protect vulnerable women, and keep in prison for longer those who attack or threaten them.

“The changes I am announcing today will mean longer jail sentences for those who kill women in the home, by taking greater account of the specific factors involved, whether it is controlling and coercive behaviour or cases involving particular savagery known as ‘overkill’.”

The government has also asked the Sentencing Council to review the manslaughter sentencing guidelines to explain to judges that cases where deaths occur during rough sex should be punished with longer jail terms. While the law is clear that there is no such thing as a “rough sex defence”, the review found that the high risk of death these acts may carry should be reflected in sentences potentially several years longer.

A public consultation will also be launched to determine whether a higher sentencing starting point of 25 years should be applied in murder cases where there has been a history of controlling and coercive abuse. Currently, the 25-year starting point only applies to murders where a knife has been taken to the scene with intent.

Together these measures build on the government’s zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls by ensuring that sentencing in cases of domestic homicide deliver justice for the victims and families.

Justice Minister Edward Argar said:

“Julie Devey and Carole Gould have campaigned bravely and tirelessly after the awful killing of their daughters, Poppy and Ellie, and the Government is determined to see an end to murders and violence by abusive partners.

“No one should ever feel unsafe in their own home, and we will continue working with Julie and Carole and others to make further progress in tackling the dreadful crime of domestic abuse.”

The Wade Review was established to understand whether the law could be updated to better protect both victims of domestic homicide and the public, while ensuring women who lash out after years of mistreatment are not inadvertently punished with longer jail terms than necessary.

The government’s full response and the consultation on introducing a new 25-year starting point for domestic murders preceded by coercive or controlling behaviour will be published in the summer.

The measures announced today expands on the government’s ongoing work to tackle domestic abuse including:

  • Quadrupling funding for victim support services compared to 2010, this includes investment for the recruitment of 300 more Independent Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Advisors – bringing the total to 1,000 overall.
  • Putting controlling or coercive behaviour put on a par with physical violence, which will mean offenders sentenced to a year or more imprisonment or a suspended sentence will automatically be actively managed by the police, prison and probation services under multi-agency public protection arrangements.
  • Recording offenders sentenced to a year or more for controlling or coercive behaviour on the violent and sex offender register.
  • Trialling stricter management of domestic abusers, who could now be fitted with a tag, prevented from going within a certain distance of a victim’s home, and made to attend a behaviour change programme, using domestic abuse protection notices and domestic abuse protection orders in three areas in the UK.
  • Expanding the Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) support scheme, which is already in operation in over 5,000 pharmacies across the UK in over 88 cities, towns and villages, into 18 jobcentres and jobs and benefit offices. Since the scheme launched in 2021, the emergency support has been accessed on average once a week.
  • Adding violence against women and girls to the strategic policing requirement, which for the first time categorises violence against women and girls as a national threat and sets clear expectations about how this threat should be tackled by police forces.
  • Strengthening Clare’s law with new guidance for the police, which reduces the timeframes for police to disclose information about an individual’s violent or abusive behaviour so it will be quicker to access information on a partner’s or ex-partner’s previous abusive or violent offending.
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