Clare Wade KC comments on Government proposals regarding Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review

Friday 17 March 2023

Clare Wade KC, who was appointed as Independent Reviewer, comments on Government proposals regarding the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review published today.

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The Government has responded in part to the recommendations which are contained in my Review. 

I am pleased that the issues which are raised in the Review are being taken seriously. I have concerns that Domestic Homicides comprise so many of the killings of women by men.  In particular, I welcome the news that the harms consequent on “overkill” (as defined in the Review) are to be recognised in law.

However, the model which I have used in the Review has been constructed in an attempt to address all of the harms which obtain in these types of cases while simultaneously avoiding unintended consequences. This was implicit in my terms of reference which involved looking at the sentencing of killings by perpetrators of domestic abuse and at sentences for perpetrators of killings who are victims of domestic abuse. The Review makes clear the law in this area is gendered.

It is important that women who are the victims of controlling and coercive behaviour have access to justice when they have struggled, and sometimes, fought to resist the fear and entrapment caused by controlling and coercive behaviour. If controlling and coercive behaviour is to be a statutory aggravating factor then it should also be a statutory mitigating factor because ultimately it is a way of ascribing seriousness to the individual offence. This is what I recommended. The Government has only so far announced that it is to be a statutory aggravating factor.

I fear that making overkill a statutory aggravating factor in the absence of adopting the other recommendations I have made will lead to injustice. In relation to controlling and coercive behaviour, there should be training across the criminal justice system and controlling and coercive behaviour should mitigate the seriousness of murders committed by victims who kill their abusers.

I am concerned that, to date, there has been no response to my recommendations on strangulation and the use of weapons. Both issues present the gendered nature of the law in acute form.          

I would encourage people to read the Review in its entirety as the theory and policy underpinning the 17 recommendations which I have made cannot be fully appreciated by looking at recommendations in isolation,  in part, or in the abstract.

Ultimately I would like to see a proper forensic approach to domestic abuse within the criminal justice system. This is what is lacking at the moment and that is what the proposals in the Review are designed to achieve.

I note the Government’s intention to consult on the idea of a 25-year starting point for domestic murders. For the detailed reasons which are set out in the Review, I am against the idea of introducing more starting points into the sentencing framework for murder.

I welcome informed debate on the issues raised and on all of the recommendations and look forward to the full Government response. 

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