Refuge responds to the MoJ’s consultation on tougher sentences for domestic killers

A consultation looking at whether 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.

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. 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.”

Responding, Chair of Refuge and co-founder of The Joanna Simpson Foundation, Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, said:

“We welcome this Ministry of Justice consultation on sentencing for domestic murder. For too long our criminal justice system has wrongly treated men who kill their partners or ex-partners far more leniently than those who kill strangers or acquaintances.   

We know that on average two women a week are killed by their current or former partner in England and Wales and domestic homicide is underpinned by power and control. It is crucial that the government acknowledges the significant role coercive control, and all forms of domestic abuse play in this serious crime.   

It is positive that the government are considering plans to implement some of the recommendations, such as those made by Clare Wade KC in the Independent Review of Domestic Homicide Sentencing, and those from campaigners such as Carole Gould and Julie Devey who have done such vital work in this area. However, it is essential that the government does not just ‘cherry pick’ a few of these recommendations and must go further. 

Ignoring the opportunity for wholesale reform to the criminal justice system risks some abusers continuing to receive overly lenient sentences, how can it be that a man who murders their partner or former partner using strangulation would still only have their sentence at around 15 years? We must not focus on the weapons and tools used to take women’s lives but acknowledge the callous calculations and deliberate acts of perpetrators. 

Domestic homicides account for around a quarter of total homicides, and it is vital that every single woman killed in this horrific way is remembered and the devastating impact acknowledged. Whilst longer sentences will never bring back these lives cut short by male violence, a proper justice response is vital. Criminal custodial sentences must be relative to the seriousness of the crime if justice is to be served.   

We need the government to implement wholesale reform so that all homicide following domestic abuse is fully recognised as the horrific crime that it is, for the many women who are killed in this way and their grieving friends and family. Domestic abuse is a social issue, and we would urge the public to engage in driving this deeply needed societal change, only then can we hope to change the atrocious statistics that show too many women are having their lives taken by perpetrators of domestic abuse.” 

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