Bereaved families welcome proposals to create aggravating factor for murder at the end of a relationship
Partners who murder at the end of a relationship could face longer sentences under a proposed overhaul of punishments for domestic murder.
In a move welcomed by bereaved families who have fought for the law to be changed, the proposals announced on Thursday will seek to lengthen the prison sentences for abusers who kill by creating a new aggravating factor for murder at the end of a relationship.
An independent review of domestic homicide sentencing by Clare Wade KC published in March found that sentencing does not take into consideration that many domestic murders happen after years of abuse.
There will also be additional protection for women who kill abusers, with the introduction of a mitigating factor for cases where the perpetrator has been subjected to a campaign of controlling behaviour.
The government is also seeking to increase the minimum sentence for murders inside the home which use a weapon found at the scene. Currently, if a killer uses a weapon found in the home the tariff is 15 years, while a woman murdered in a park by a weapon brought from elsewhere would get 25 years. Research shows that around one in four homicides are committed by a current or former partner or relative.
“Murder is murder. Nobody has a right to take somebody else’s life. So why do we have these different sentencing starting points?” said Carole Gould, whose 17-year-old daughter Ellie was killed by another sixth-former the day after she ended their relationship in 2019.
Gould who campaigns as part of Killed Women, a campaigning organisation led by families of women killed by men, added: “After five years of feeling like we’re getting nowhere, this feels like a big leap forward.”
The government is also asking the the Law Commission to review the use of defences in domestic homicide cases and whether the law sufficiently recognises when a victim of domestic abuse acts in self-defence. The Wade review suggested the use of defences – such as the partial defences of “loss of control” and “diminished responsibility” – in domestic homicide cases are more successful when used by men rather than women.
The news was welcomed by Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, the best friend of Joanna Simpson, who was killed by her estranged husband Robert Brown, a British Airways captain, in 2010. Brown was acquitted of murder in May 2011, having admitted manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility, which would not have been possible if the proposed changes were in place, she said.
“It’s often said that there should be no excuse for domestic abuse and these new reforms will ensure that,” said Barkworth-Nanton, co-founder of the Joanna Simpson Foundation which is campaigning to keep Brown behind bars. “We are by no means across the line and we will continue to campaign and lobby the lord chancellor to ensure substantive changes will happen and quickly.”
Previously the government announced a public consultation on making a history of abusive, coercive or controlling behaviour or use of excessive violence, known as overkill, aggravating factors in sentencing decisions for murder.
The lord chancellor and justice secretary, Alex Chalk KC, said: “Cowards who murder their partners should face the full force of the law. Our reforms will give judges the power to punish murderers for the added pain and trauma they inflict through ‘overkill’ as well as ensuring that those who coercively control their victims or kill them at the end of a relationship face longer behind bars.”
(Source: the Guardian)