Coercive and controlling behaviour to become statutory mitigating factor - Clare Wade KC comments on Government's response to Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review

Thursday 20 July 2023

Clare Wade KC, who was appointed as Independent Reviewer into domestic homicide, comments on further Government proposals published today (20 July 2023) as part of a wide-ranging response to Clare Wade KC’s report on domestic homicide.

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I am pleased that, further to the interim announcement in March, the Government have now announced that a history of coercive and controlling behaviour is to become a statutory mitigating factor for offenders who are convicted of murder in circumstances where such offenders have been driven to kill their abusers. This will counterbalance the proposals to make a history of coercive and controlling behaviour and ‘overkill’ statutory aggravating factors.  

I am also pleased that killing a partner at or after the end of a relationship will become a statutory aggravating factor. Research shows that men who have a history of perpetrating coercive and controlling behaviour against their female partners tend to kill when they perceive the relationship to be at an end or when a  woman has left the relationship.

There is often a link between killings which take place at the end of a relationship and ‘overkill.’ In my view this tends to be attributable to the motive for the killing. Overkill involves the use of gratuitous violence in excess of that needed to kill. It causes immense distress to the families and friends of victims.  

I welcome the Government’s announcement that they will write to the Sentencing Council and ask the Council to propose that they review their sentencing guidelines on manslaughter in light of my Review. I am also pleased that my recommendations for the collection of data and for training on understanding coercive control are being taken seriously.   

I also welcome the Government’s proposal to invite the Law Commission to review the partial defences to murder (loss of control and diminished responsibility) and the full defence of self-defence in circumstances where a victim of domestic abuse acts in self-defence. For the reasons outlined in my Review, I think there should be detailed exploration of whether the present partial defences are fit for purpose when it comes to killings which are committed against a background of domestic abuse.

I note the continued Government consultation on the introduction of a 25 year minimum term starting point for murders committed in a domestic context and where a weapon is used but not taken to the scene. I am against such a proposal and am concerned that, if enacted, it would bring about unintended consequences.  My recommendations on coercive and controlling behaviour, killing at the end of a relationship and overkill are intended to address the harms which occur in domestic murders.

Read the government's response in full here, which has been covered in the press, including The Guardian, The Telegraph and local press.

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