Working towards a gender responsive CRIMINAL justice system

Women's Justice Initiative


Women in prison are too often there because of flaws within our criminal justice system.

APPEAL’s Women Justice Initiative uses impact litigation to challenge these injustices and fight for women experiencing multiple and severe disadvantage.

There are too many women in prison who don't need or deserve to be there. More than 80% of the women in prison are there for low level, non-violent offences and about half of the women in prison are there for theft. 

Most women are sentenced to very short lengths of time - in fact nearly 70% of women in prison are serving six months or less. This isn't enough time for any meaningful rehabilitation, but is enough time to lose your home, your children and your job.

Women in prison are also a highly vulnerable group, with nearly half of women inside reporting having suffered domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Many of these women do not need to be in prison. We need a justice system that is responsive to the root causes of crime and seeks to rehabilitate women, rather than torpedo their lives.  

We represent women who are severely and multiply disadvantaged, seeking to challenge their sentences or convictions.

The Women's Justice Initiative aims to represent:

  • Women imprisoned for minor, non-violent offences

  • Women sent to prison instead of being given the help they need at a psychiatric hospital

  • Women imprisoned for crimes which were actually an act of self-defence against an abuser

  • Innocent women prisoners, especially those whose ‘crime’ was in fact accidental or the result of natural causes.

If you know a woman in prison whose case fits our criteria, get in touch.

The Initiative is generously supported by the Lankelly Chase Foundation, and is an expansion of appeal’s previous Women’s Sentencing Project.

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Access to Justice for Women in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division)

A call for evidence

We are pleased to announce that our Women’s Justice Advocate is undertaking some groundbreaking research into access to justice for women in the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division).

The purpose of the research is to explore the barriers faced by women seeking to appeal convictions and sentences from the Crown Court to the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division). The research is funded by the Griffins Fellowship, which encourages new thinking about women and girls in the criminal justice system, and is hosted by the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University.

Given the well documented challenges faced by women sentenced to custody, and the fall in the number of criminal appeals across the system, this research project seeks to find out whether or not the criminal appeal system is accessible to women and to identify what the particular barriers to appealing convictions and sentences for women may be.

One of the ways we hope to find out, is by asking lawyers and legal professionals to fill out a questionnaire to better understand how lawyers work within the criminal appeals system and their experiences of representing women in it. All answers to this survey will be anonymous in the final paper.

If you are a legal professional and would like to support us in this project, please be sure to fill out the survey. Alternatively, you can access it through this link.

The questionnaire will remain open until August 31st 2019.



The anatomy of female wrongful convictions

The mechanisms by which women and men come to be wrongfully convicted differ significantly. The National Registry of Exonerations in the US shows that 63% of exonerated women were convicted in cases in which no crime in fact occurred (compared with 21% of male exonerees).  

40% of female exonerees were wrongfully convicted of harming children or loved ones in their care.

We don’t keep such statistics in the UK, however, we must understand how and why it is that women are wrongfully convicted, and work to prevent it.

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A Childhood Interrupted

Issy’s life was turned upside down when she lost her mum to the prison system

Issy has witnessed her mum being abused by various partners, suffer from drug and alcohol misuse, was taken from her and put into care and lost her one more time when she was sent to prison for 8 years.

Despite that, Issy has grown into an extraordinarily resilient and brave young woman, who is wise beyond her years. Her story has been featured on BBC Stories, asking the question; are children unfairly punished by their mothers’ imprisonment?

She has written her story in her own words, as has her mother.

Be sure to read it.


The Gift of Time

A story of transformation

Lilly Lewis believes that the day she was sentenced to 7 years in custody for fraud was the day she began to get her life back. An extraordinarily resilient woman, she survived multiple abusive relationships, drug and alcohol addictions, severe mental health problems and losing her children to the care system to become an advocate for reform. Her story is the true story of “criminal women” - all too often vilified in the press as ‘bad women’ when in reality they have faced enormous injustice.

Lilly has worked with the Women’s Justice Initiative from behind bars to turn her life story into a series of inspirational chapters, to help teach others why it is that women might break the law, and to discuss reform of a system that failed her over and over again. Her story has also been featured on the BBC, which you can read here.

If you would like to get in touch with Lilly, please write to our Women’s Justice Advocate at


A podcast from APPEAL.

Untold stories from the wrongfully convicted.

Season One: Cookie

Season One of Surviving Injustice tells Cookie’s story, a woman we believe to have been wrongfully convicted of killing her baby. In this three-part series, we follow the sequence of events that led to her imprisonment and the fight to clear her name.

Cookie is a Women’s Justice client and is a fierce advocate for reform of the criminal justice system. Listen to her story now.

End Council Tax Imprisonment

Debtors’ prison alive and well in 2018 

As hard as it is to believe, between 2010 and 2017, nearly 700 people were sent to prison for not paying their council tax. Many of these people were simply unable to pay when the time came due to personal crises – they were not deliberately avoiding their obligations. 

APPEAL has assisted in a number of cases of women imprisoned for the non-payment of council tax. Several of these women were bailed from prison and their prison sentence found unlawful. 

Even a short time in prison can have a particularly serious detrimental impact on mental health and social circumstances for women and their children. Prison can cause women to become homeless, have their children taken away and struggle to recover from the trauma of the experience 

It's time to end sending women to prison for civil offences such as the non-payment of council tax. Click through to read more about this issue and to take action to end this practice. 

Wales trailblazes as it ends prison sentences for council tax debts

In November 2018, Wales announced it would end the use of imprisonment for the non-payment of council tax. This enormous success was due in large part to the amazing campaigning work done by APPEAL supported Melanie Woolcock, a woman wrongfully imprisoned for being poor. Our campaign efforts were cited in the Government consultation document on ending the practise, and this wouldn’t have been possible without the help of our supporters and allies, so thank you!

Domestic Abuse: Bill Consultation


APPEAL was pleased to contribute to the Government's consultation on the proposed Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill, opened on 8th March 2018, and has responded to the questions we feel best placed to answer in the attached submission.

Our expertise is in dealing with post-conviction criminal cases, and so our responses are focused on providing better outcomes for survivors of domestic abuse who have been convicted and sentenced in the courts of England and Wales.