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Violence against women and girls: an overview

The UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women (PDF) defines violence against women as:

Any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.

The Government’s Strategy to tackle violence against women and girls, which was published in November 2021, states that “crimes of violence against women and girls are many and varied”. Examples include rape and other sexual offences, stalking, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, forced marriage and intimate image abuse. The Strategy notes that “what these crimes share is that they disproportionately affect women and girls”, although it makes clear that “perpetrators and victims can be male or female”.

The Strategy was preceded by a ‘call for evidence’, in which respondents had expressed concern about sentencing. The Strategy noted that “a number of respondents to the victim and survivor survey felt that they had not seen justice done due to a perception of lenient sentences”.

The Strategy listed a number of Government measures aimed at improving the criminal justice response to violence against women and girls, including:

Sentencing in England and Wales

The maximum sentence available for a criminal offence is, in most instances, set out in legislation (although sentences for some offences are governed by the common law). Examples of maximum sentences for offences relevant to violence against women and girls include:

It is for the sentencing court to decide on the appropriate sentence in each particular case, within the maximum available sentence.

The independent Sentencing Council issues guidelines on sentencing for most offences dealt with by the courts (for example, rape) and overarching guidelines that deal with specific sentencing topics (such as sentencing children and young people). These guidelines set out the process judges and magistrates should follow and the factors they should consider when determining the appropriate sentence in a particular case. A sentencing court is required by legislation to follow relevant guidelines unless it is in the interests of justice not to do so.

Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review

On 5 March 2021 the Victims’ Commissioner and Domestic Abuse Commissioner wrote a joint letter to the Home Secretary, Lord Chancellor and Attorney General calling for (among other things) a review of sentencing in domestic homicide cases. The Commissioners argued that “some sentences received by men who kill their female partners or ex-partners do not reflect the seriousness of domestic abuse, nor do they reflect the fact that these homicides often follow a period of prolonged abuse”, while on the other hand “the sentences received by women who kill their partners in self-defence, or after a long period of abuse” could appear “disproportionate”, particularly in cases where the woman had used a weapon.

The Review was initiated by the then Justice Secretary Robert Buckland in March 2021, as reported on the Victims Commissioner website. In September 2021 the Government appointed Clare Wade QC to conduct the Review. Terms of reference were subsequently published in November 2021, which set out the issues the Review was due to examine.

As of 30 January 2023, the outcome of the review has still not been published. The most recent update from the Government came in response to a debate on the review in November 2022. The Minister, Mike Freer, confirmed that Ministers had received the report in June 2022 and were in the process of considering its recommendations. He said Parliament would be updated “in due course with more detail on the review, its recommendations and how the Government will respond to them”.

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