Whether and How Women Are Discriminated Against in the Criminal Justice System?

In February of this year, Sally Challen was granted permission to appeal her conviction for the murder of husband. At her trial in 2011 she was portrayed as a woman scorned and consumed with ‘jealousy’ and ‘suspicion’ in the face of her husband’s infidelities. However, new evidence has emerged that Sally was a victim of coercive control, a new framework for understanding abusive behaviour only very recently enshrined in law. This framework recognises the pervasive harms to women where their partners systematically undermine their sense of reality, identity, liberty and human rights.

Sally’s case represents one example in a long line of campaigning around the way women who kill violent men are dealt with in the criminal justice system. In the 1990s for example there were a number of high profile campaigns supporting appeal cases (including e.g. Kiranjit Ahluwalia, Sara Thornton and Emma Humphreys) which raised awareness and led to precedent changes to the law. However, despite some progress, there remains significant evidence that the law or the criminal justice system in practice continues to neglect the effects of men’s violence on women’s offending. Have reforms within Coroners and Justice Act 2009 aimed to recognise on the one hand the gravity of men’s violence to women and on the other hand potentially mitigatory factors at play when women respond or retaliate and kill, made a difference?

Justice for Women, in conjunction with the Centre for Women’s Justice, have commissioned a study examining the criminal justice response to women who kill men who have been abusive to them. The study aims to examine the impacts of the changes instituted in the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 and to identify the gaps that remain in order that outcomes for women who have killed abusive men can be further improved. The study will do this by examining legal cases; interviewing legal teams, professionals, women survivors and their families; and by close examination of existing literature and data.

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