The speech made by Jenny Jones (Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb) in the House of Lords on 10 March 2021.
My Lords, I agree with every word that we have heard so far, and I have signed all three of these amendments—I think that they are superb and have been carefully and expertly drafted. It is deeply unfortunate that the Government have not adopted them as part of their unusually co-operative approach in this Bill.
The need is very clear: the deeply sad Sally Challen case was only one proof point of the lack of legal protection available for survivors of domestic abuse. Women get a terrible deal in the criminal justice system. Most are there for non-violent offences, and many are there for really minor things like not paying their TV licence. However, sometimes, violence does happen, and, where that is related to domestic abuse, there needs to be a sufficient legal defence to recognise the reduced culpability.
It is obvious that judges and, sometimes, lawyers do not understand coercive control and other abuses. The excellent report from the Centre for Women’s Justice, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, referred to, is called Women Who Kill—I will give a copy of the executive summary to the Minister afterwards to make sure that he reads it. It lays out the response of the criminal justice system to women who kill abusive partners and the way the law itself, and the way it is applied, prevent women from accessing justice.
Women who have been abused by the man they kill are unlikely to be acquitted on the basis of self-defence. Of the 92 cases included in the research for the report, 40—that is 43%—were convicted of murder. Some 42—that is 46%—were convicted of manslaughter, and just six, which is only 7%, were acquitted. The use of weapons is an aggravating factor in determining the sentence, and the report found that, in 73 cases—that is 79%—the women used a weapon to kill their partner. This is fairly unsurprising, given women’s relative size and physical strength and their knowledge of their partner’s capacity to be violent.
However, as other noble Lords have pointed out, this contrasts with the legal leeway given to householders if they kill or injure a burglar. Therefore, we need legislative reform to extend provisions of householder defence to women who use force against their abuser. It is discriminatory to have a defence available to householders defending themselves but not to women in abusive relationships defending themselves against someone who they know can be dangerous and violent towards them.
In the week that Sarah Everard was abducted and, we suppose, killed—because remains have been found in a woodland in Kent—I argue that, at the next opportunity for any Bill that is appropriate, I might put in an amendment to create a curfew for men on the streets after 6 pm. I feel this would make women a lot safer, and discrimination of all kinds would be lessened.
However, once convicted, women’s chances of successful appeal are extremely slim. Society’s understanding of domestic abuse has come such a long way, even in the last few years, yet a jury is forced to apply outdated ideas of self-defence, such as responding to a threat of imminent harm, which have no relation to the realities of domestic abuse.
The Government have said that they are persuaded on the issue but will
“monitor the use of the existing defences and keep under review the need for any statutory changes.”
I simply do not believe that that is true. It is not appropriate for the sort of crimes that we are talking about. As such, can the Minister please tell me which Minister is charged with this review, how many civil servants are involved and when will they report?