Dozens Of Women In England And Wales Could Be Wrongly Convicted Of Murder, New Report Finds
The report, titled: "Women who kill: How the state criminalises women we might otherwise be burying" examines 92 cases, most from the previous ten years.
The report found that even though most of the women were victims of domestic violence or coercive control by the deceased, 40 women were convicted of murder and 42 of manslaughter. Only six were acquitted on grounds of self-defence.
Other key findings were that many of the women who killed were previously failed by the criminal justice system in its response to allegations of violence against them, and many had difficulty leaving abusive relationships because of the lack of appropriate support.
Many women had no previous experience of being arrested and were often advised by solicitors with minimal understanding of domestic abuse. Prosecutors likewise often displayed a lack of understanding and empathy with women who were also victims pursuing murder convictions when manslaughter would have been an alternative option.
Women from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds faced double discrimination, cultural barriers and stereotypes particularly for those from South Asian backgrounds. This is thought to have further undermined just outcomes.
The research also found that en often killed women with their bare hands through strangulation or beating, whereas most women used weapons to defend themselves against a known aggressor. The use of a weapon is however seen as an aggravating feature in sentencing.
And once a woman is convicted of murder, their chances of being able to appeal are extremely limited.
Sally Challen was the first woman to have her murder conviction quashed after she bludgeoned her husband Richard Challen, 61, to death with a hammer in August 2010 following decades of being controlled and humiliated by him.
She was convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum tariff of 22 years, reduced to 18 at appeal.
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After a second high profile appeal in 2019, prosecutors accepted Sally's plea to manslaughter and she was sentenced to nine years and four months, meaning she walked free due to time already served.
A BBC Two documentary was broadcasted in 2020 documenting her case.
Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women's Justice, said: "Far too many women are serving lengthy prison sentences, separated from the children that need them, when they represent no danger to the public."
Harriet works as a solicitor, with experience of representing more than 10 women in appeals against their murder convictions. She added: "The main impediment at every stage of the criminal justice process is a woeful lack of understanding of the dynamics of domestic violence which leads to many unjust outcomes".
Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, whose mother, Zoora Shah, was convicted for the murder of a man who abused and sexually exploited her, said: "Over twenty-five years ago I was compelled to campaign in support of my mother's bid to overturn her unjust murder conviction, it is shocking to see that so little has changed for women since then.
"I welcome this report which I hope will be a clarion call for real reform of the system."
The full report can be read here.
Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock
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