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Changes to domestic violence policy: is the UK government doing enough to protect women?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Bristol chapter.

Clare Wade KC, a barrister specialising in criminal defence, recently published a Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review. The review provided a set of 17 recommendations that aim to improve the sentencing of domestic murders. The fact that the majority of domestic murders are women killed by men underpins the review. Hence, it emphasises the importance of creating a framework in which the gendered nature of the crime is better addressed.

Many of the recommendations involve giving more consideration to ‘aggravating factors’. These are factors that increase the seriousness of a crime, and therefore increase the sentence. For example, one of the recommendations is to give longer sentences for murders that occur ‘at the end of a relationship’ or ‘when the victim has expressed a desire to leave a relationship.’ This recommendation reflects the reality of many domestic murders. In fact, the review was made in response to an open letter that addressed the need to change the way domestic violence cases are dealt with. This letter coincided with the campaigns carried out by the families of Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey Waterhouse. In both cases, the two young women were murdered by their ex-partners.

The government has responded to the review with ‘tougher sentences for domestic killers’. This includes taking on board the ‘overkill’ recommendation. ‘Overkill’ is defined as a murder that involves an ‘excessive, gratuitous violence beyond that necessary to cause the victim’s death’. For example, Poppy Devey Waterhouse ‘had suffered about 70 knife injuries all over her body.’ The review suggests that it should be ‘defined in law as a specific legal harm and that it should be an aggravating factor in murder.’

However, not all the recommendations have been implemented in the government report. Clare Wade KC has commented on this in a response on Garden Court Chambers’ website. Firstly, she details her concern about overkill being made into a ‘statutory aggravating factor’ but not a ‘statutory mitigating factor’. This means that it will be taken into account when an abuser kills their partner, but not if a victim kills their abuser. Wade states her fears that this could lead to ‘injustice’ for victims. She also expresses concern about the fact that there has been no government response about ‘strangulation’ and the ‘use of weapons’.

Her main criticism is that the review was designed to ‘address all the harms’ of domestic homicide sentencing and also to avoid any ‘unintended consequences.’ And therefore, the government accepting some recommendations, but not others, means that not all the harm will be eradicated.

Indeed, as Clare Wade KC comments, the government’s response shows that the gendered nature of domestic murder is finally ‘being taken seriously.’ But it is not enough to stop here: all of the recommendations should be implemented. The government must ensure that victims’ families no longer have to fight tirelessly for justice. Until all related laws take into full account the gendered reality of domestic violence, women are not being protected enough by our government’s policy.

Roya Shahidi

Bristol '24

I'm a History and Spanish student who loves traveling, languages, and reading!