UK government announces plans to reform the sentences for domestic abusers who kill their partners
The announcement has been made alongside the publication of the domestic homicide sentencing review
The Ministry of Justice announced on 17 March planned changes to the law on sentencing for domestic abuse offences, alongside the publication of a report on the findings of the domestic homicide sentencing independent review carried out by barrister Clare Wade KC.
The planned reforms to the law, which have not as yet been proposed in full, include providing for longer sentences where murder has been committed by a person with a history of coercive or controlling behaviour against the victim, with a history of coercive control being considered an aggravating factor; murderers using excessive violence to be given longer prison sentences; and a review into the manslaughter sentencing guidelines on ‘rough sex’.
The changes have been instigated by the 17 recommendations set out in the independent review, which concludes that the current sentencing framework does not adequately reflect the fact that many domestic murders are preceded by years of abuse. Over half of the domestic homicide cases reviewed in the report involved controlling or coercive behaviour, while excessive violence, or overkill, was identified in 60 per cent of the cases, with men being the perpetrator in all but one case. The review defines the term ‘overkill’ as the use of excessive, gratuitous violence beyond that necessary to cause the victim’s death.
The independent review also recommends that where a murder takes place at the end of a relationship or when the victim has expressed a desire to leave the relationship this should be regarded as an aggravating factor; that overkill should be defined in law as a specific legal harm and should also be an aggravating factor in murder; and a comprehensive review of defences to murder should take place in the form of a public consultation.
Following the finding in the review that the high risk of death that rough sex acts may present should be more adequately applied in the sentences relating to such offences, the government has 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.
The review into domestic homicide sentencing was commissioned in 2021, following the murders of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey-Waterhouse by their former partners, to examine whether the sentencing framework should be reformed to better reflect the seriousness of domestic homicide and to identify possible areas for improvement, while ensuring that women who retaliate after years of mistreatment are not inadvertently punished with longer prison sentences than necessary.
The government’s full response to the independent review and a forthcoming consultation on the proposal to introduce a new 25-year starting point for domestic murders preceded by coercive or controlling behaviour are due to be published in the summer.
Commenting on the review’s findings, 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’.”