A “culture of misogyny in the criminal justice system” could lead to men getting away with more lenient sentences, the victims’ commissioner and domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales have said.
In a joint letter to Home Secretary Priti Patel, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and Attorney General Michael Ellis, the commissioners have called for an independent review for every domestic homicide.
They are also urging the government to review murder and manslaughter sentences in domestic abuse cases.
In the letter, Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs and Victims’ Commissioner Dame Vera Baird QC call for “greater recognition of the devastation caused by domestic homicide” and a “programme of work to address deficiencies across the criminal justice system and statutory services”.
They write: “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”.
Both commissioners state they are “very concerned” that 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 highlight the case of Anthony Williams in South Wales who was sentenced to five years for the manslaughter of his wife Ruth on the grounds of diminished responsibility after the first COVID-19 lockdown.
That compares to the case of Sally Challen, 65, who was jailed for life in 2011 for bludgeoning her husband Richard, 61, to death with a hammer.
She had faced years of abuse and was initially convicted of murder. The life sentence was quashed and reduced to a manslaughter charge with a 14-year jail term. She served nine years in prison.
The commissioners believe women are disproportionately penalised.
Women are more likely to use a weapon to defend themselves against an abusive partner, attracting a longer sentence than violence without a weapon, according to the Centre for Women’s Justice.
Using a weapon could be a necessity if someone is being assaulted by a stronger attacker and current laws and sentences should recognise this, the commissioners argue.
There was also concern that the Home Office agreed a domestic homicide review (DHR) was not required in Ruth Williams’ case.
Under the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act (2004), a DHR must be carried out when a person over the age of 16 is killed by a relative, household member, 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 are also calling for an “independent national oversight mechanism” for DHRs, with the aim of ensuring “recommendations are implemented to prevent future deaths”.