Women must get the same rights as homeowners confronting dangerous burglars to defend themselves against an abusive partner, said the victims’ commissioner.
Dame Vera Baird, QC, is urging Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, to change the law to give victims of domestic abuse the right to use disproportionate force against a violent partner, a defence accorded to homeowners when protecting themselves against a burglar.
She said women are more likely to have to resort to using a weapon when defending themselves against an abusive and powerful man but sentencing guidelines means this is more likely to result in a more serious charge and longer jail term.
Dame Vera cited the case of Sally Challen, 66, who was jailed for 15 years after being found guilty of murdering her controlling and abusive husband Richard with a hammer. She was freed after her conviction was quashed and prosecutors accepted her manslaughter plea.
By contrast, Anthony Williams, 70, was last month jailed for five years for manslaughter at Swansea crown court after strangling his wife Ruth.
“Sally Challen used a hammer on her husband whereas Anthony Williams strangled his wife without needing to use an actual weapon. This doesn’t seem to be taken on board but the difference in sentences here is epic,” she said.
The law for a person defending their home against a burglar was changed in 2012 by then Justice Secretary Chris Grayling to allow “disproportionate” force.
It followed a series of controversial cases including Norfolk farmer Tony Martin who shot dead an intruder in his home. He was jailed for life for murder but appealed and had the verdict reduced to manslaughter, serving three years in jail.
Dame Vera said victims of domestic abuse should now have the same protection under the Government’s domestic abuse bill or through a police bill due this month.
“There is insufficient acknowledgement in current law or sentencing of the common imbalance in strength between perpetrator and victim,” she said.
“Use of a weapon is far more likely to be a necessity if it is in response to an imminent attack by a greatly stronger and aggressive perpetrator, yet this is not recognised. There is a serious question too over self-defence.
“Currently, the law allows someone to use disproportionate force in defending their property, whilst a domestic abuse victim may only lawfully use strictly proportionate force to protect themselves against an attack and if they go a step too far, they may be convicted of murder.
“This is obviously wrong, and if the Government cannot review the law for the Domestic Abuse Bill, there is a Police Bill to come which will offer a further opportunity.”
Her proposal follows research by the Centre for Women’s Justice which found that in three quarters (77 per cent) of 71 cases where women killed their partners, there was evidence they had suffered violence or abuse from them.
However, women were unlikely to be acquitted for self-defence.
Of the 92 cases analysed, 43 per cent of women were convicted of murder; 46 per cent found guilty of manslaughter; and just seven per cent acquitted.
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