System snares, just for women

APPEAL’s Camille Wrightson dives into our latest policy reform efforts to make sentences for women facing disadvantage fairer

 

APPEAL’s specialist women’s justice lawyers use strategic litigation to appeal sentences and convictions for women experiencing severe disadvantage in the criminal justice system; women who are victims of domestic abuse, whose mental health has been ill-considered, and who are given damaging short sentences. We respond to consultations to ensure changes to law and policy consider the particular barriers that women face.

 

Our team recently responded to three consultations: two of which we generally supported, and one which raised serious concerns about the risks to vulnerable women

 

Miscellaneous amendments to sentencing guidelines

 

The Sentencing Council’s Miscellaneous amendments to sentencing guidelines consultation in November 2023 covered a wide range of changes to the sentencing regime for clients like ours, particularly how an offender’s personal circumstances should be considered when being sentenced. In general, we supported the Council’s approach and were heartened by its focus on vulnerable defendants.

 

We supported many of the Council’s proposals to add new mitigating factors, including relating to pregnancy and a difficult and deprived background, and to expand on existing mitigating factors like remorse to better consider mental health and cultural differences. We also supported the Council’s proposal to specify coercive or controlling behaviour on the part of the victim in a mitigating factor in the manslaughter guidelines, but we raised some questions about which stage in the sentencing process coercive control should be addressed. We suggested some amendments to the proposals, such as strengthening the language around the risks of pregnancy and the availability of reproductive healthcare in prison, and including reference to a history of trauma in the ‘difficult and deprived background’ factor.

 

The Council published their response document in March 2024, largely adopting its original proposals. We were particularly happy to see the introduction of the new mitigating factor ‘pregnancy, childbirth and post-natal care’. We were pleased to be quoted multiple times in the response, and very hopeful that the amendments will lead to sentences that better consider the circumstances of women offenders.  You can read our full submission here.

 

Imposition of community and custodial sentences guideline

 

We submitted on the Sentencing Council’s proposed Imposition of community and custodial sentences guideline in February 2024. We supported the Council’s proposed new section on female offenders but encouraged more clarity on the often causative relationship between offending and experience of domestic abuse including coercive control. You can read our full submission here.

 

Murder sentencing consultation

 

Finally, in March 2024 we submitted on the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on murder sentencing. The Ministry appears concerned about victims of domestic abuse, but its proposals to increase sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence who kill will have unintended consequences for victims of abuse.

 

We fear that victims of abuse who kill their abusive partners will be at risk of even longer sentences because courts struggle to accurately identify them as victims. We are especially concerned about the Ministry’s proposal for a minimum starting point for murders committed with a knife or other weapon. Women victims of domestic abuse who kill their partners often use knives to protect themselves against their violent partner who is usually much bigger than them. We are very concerned about these proposals, and will be watching closely. You can read our full submission here.

 

While it is great to see attention being paid to the barriers facing women in the criminal justice system, we are alive to the fact that good intentions don’t always translate to fairness and equality for women in the courtroom. APPEAL will continue to monitor these developments and speak up to ensure women’s voices are heard.

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APPEAL is the working name of the Centre for Criminal Appeals, a Charitable Company Limited By Guarantee and a law practice authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority.

Registered Charity Number: 1144162 | SRA Authorisation Number: 621184 | Company Number: 7556168

2 Comments

  1. Blythe-A on July 13, 2024 at 8:14 am

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