Domestic killers with history of coercive behaviour face tougher sentences

The law will be changed after recommendations made by Clare Wade KC in an independent review into domestic homicide sentencing, ITV News' Martha Fairlie reports

Killers with a history of coercive or controlling behaviour against their victims will face tougher sentences under new government plans.

The use of excessive or gratuitous violence will also be made an aggravating factor in sentencing decisions for murder, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) said.

The law will be changed after recommendations made by Clare Wade KC in an independent review into domestic homicide sentencing, which was commissioned in 2021.

The government also wants judges to issue tougher punishments where deaths occur during rough sex.

Ms Wade, who was a defence barrister for Sally Challen, the first woman to have her murder conviction quashed under coercive control laws, found the current sentencing framework does not adequately reflect that many domestic homicides are preceded by years of abuse, the MoJ said.

Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said: “This government will do everything we can to protect vulnerable women and keep in prison for longer those who attack or threaten them.

“The changes I am announcing today will mean longer jail sentences for those who kill women in the home by taking greater account of the specific factors involved, whether it is controlling and coercive behaviour or cases involving particular savagery known as ‘overkill’.”

Carole Gould and Julie Devey, who co-founded the campaigning organisation Killed Women after the deaths of their daughters, said in a joint statement: “After years of campaigning, we welcome the government’s announcements today, but they must be just the start of the root-and-branch reform that is needed to ensure killers of women face sentences that reflect the cruelty and brutality of their crimes.”

Sally Challen with her son David after she was told she will not face a retrial over the death of her husband Richard Challen

The pair called on the government to make sure the changes “are felt in courtrooms”.

Domestic homicide is defined as a death that occurs due to violence, abuse or neglect by a partner, ex-partner, relative or member of the same household.

Controlling or coercive behaviour was introduced as a criminal offence in the Serious Crime Act 2015 and can include economic, emotional or psychological abuse and threats alongside physical or sexual violence.

More than half (51%) of the murder cases looked at in the Wade Review involved controlling or coercive behaviour.

Patrick Ryan, chief executive of domestic abuse support service Hestia, said: “Far too many people across the UK lose their lives to a current or former partner.

“As a specialist domestic abuse charity, Hestia welcomes these tougher sentences and we now await a more detailed and resourced plan.

“In particular, we welcome the recognition of other forms of violence including coercive control.

“Survivors often tell us that they have endured years of abuse before physical violence escalates and it’s right that we take this into account when sentencing.”

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A public consultation will be launched to determine whether a higher sentencing starting point of 25 years should be applied in murder cases where there is a history of controlling and coercive abuse.

Currently, the 25-year starting point only applies to murders where a knife has been taken to the scene with intent.

The government has also asked the Sentencing Council to review the manslaughter sentencing guidelines to explain to judges that cases where deaths occur during rough sex should be punished with longer jail terms.

While the law is clear that there is no such thing as a “rough sex defence”, the review found that the high risk of death should be reflected in sentences potentially several years longer, the MoJ said.

Conservative MP Laura Farris last year asked ministers to support proposals for a minimum 12-year sentence for sexually motivated manslaughter amid concerns the law does not adequately punish such crimes.

Ms Farris said: “I am delighted by today’s decision which will see perpetrators receive much heftier sentences when they show such blatant disregard for their victims’ lives.

“The last few years have seen some appalling cases where men have received derisory sentences for brutal killings including strangulation. The announcement recognises the gendered nature of these crimes, and the fact they are often part of wider patterns of domestic abuse.

“We won’t solve violence against women overnight but today’s decision shows that these crimes will be treated with the seriousness that they deserve.”

The government will respond in full to the Wade Review in the summer.

If you need help or advice with domestic abuse, here are a few charities and helplines that can help:

  • Call the National Domestic Abuse Helpline for free and confidential advice, 24 hours a day on 0808 2000 247.

  • Women's Aid has a range of direct services for survivors, including a live chat service and an online Survivors’ Forum.

  • The Men’s Advice Line is a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and those supporting them. Contact on: 0808 801 0327.

  • Galop runs the National LGBT+ Domestic Abuse specialist helpline. Contact: 0800 999 5428. Email:

  • Chayn provides online help and resources in a number of languages about identifying manipulative situations and how friends can support those being abused.