A “culture of misogyny in the criminal justice system” is working against women and potentially seeing men get away with more lenient sentences, the Victims’ Commissioner and Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales have said.
The fears of Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs and Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC are laid bare in a joint letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland, and Attorney General Michael Ellis.
The commissioners for England and Wales are calling for an independent review for every domestic homicide.
This would be known as a domestic homicide review (DHR) and comes as they fear that men receive more lenient sentences which do not reflect the seriousness of domestic abuse.
They are also urging the Government to review murder and manslaughter sentences in domestic abuse cases.
In the letter, they say: “We write to you to call for greater recognition of the devastation caused by domestic homicide, and for a programme of work to address deficiencies across the criminal justice system and statutory services.
“We have seen the effects of a culture of misogyny throughout the criminal justice system, to the detriment of women across England and Wales.
“This is evidenced by falling criminal justice outcomes for crimes that disproportionately affect women, particularly rape.”
They add that “this is clearly demonstrated in the response to domestic homicides”.
The commissioners state they are “very concerned” that the sentences received by men who kill their female partners or ex-partners “do not reflect the seriousness of domestic abuse, nor do they reflect the fact that these homicides often follow a period of prolonged abuse”.
They point to the case in South Wales of Anthony Williams, who was sentenced to five years for the manslaughter of his wife, Ruth Williams, on the grounds of diminished responsibility after the first Covid-19 lockdown.
They compared it to the case of Sally Challen, 65, who was jailed for life in 2011 for bludgeoning her 61-year-old husband Richard Challen to death with a hammer in August 2010.
She had faced years of abuse and was initially convicted of murder. The life sentence was eventually quashed and reduced to a manslaughter charge with a 14-year jail term. She served nine years in prison.
They write: “When compared to the five-year sentence handed down to Anthony Williams for killing his wife Ruth, it is difficult to understand the discrepancy.”
The commissioners fear women are disproportionately penalised.
Women are more likely to use a weapon to defend themselves against an abusive partner, but this attracts a longer sentence than violence without a weapon, according to the Centre for Women’s Justice.
Use of a weapon maybe a necessity if someone is being assaulted by a stronger attacker and current laws and sentencing powers should recognise this, they say.
There was also concern the Home Office had agreed that a DHR was not necessary in the case of Ruth Williams.
Under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004) a DHR must be carried out when a person who is aged 16 or over is killed by a relative, household member or an intimate partner (or former partner).
This also applies in cases of suicide where domestic abuse may have been a cause.
The commissioners say: “Our view is that every domestic homicide should be subject to a review, to bring together partners locally and understand what went wrong.”
They would also like to see an independent national oversight system for DHRs.
This could be handled within the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s office and ensure the right questions are asked after a domestic homicide or suicide.
It could also be used to help see that recommendations are implemented to prevent future deaths, they say.