7 September 2023
Sentencing Council responds to the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review
Today the independent Sentencing Council publishes its response to recommendations arising from the review of sentencing in domestic homicide cases.
The review, conducted by Clare Wade KC and published on 17 March 2023, made six recommendations relating to the Council’s four guidelines for sentencing manslaughter offences and its guideline for sentencing offences committed in a domestic context.
As part of its response, the Council is consulting on proposals for adding an aggravating factor, ‘use of strangulation, suffocation or asphyxiation’ to the four manslaughter guidelines: manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, manslaughter by reason of loss of control, gross negligence manslaughter and unlawful act manslaughter. The review recommended that strangulation should be included as an aggravating factor in the two guidelines covering diminished responsibility and loss of control. The Council believes that including such a factor in all four guidelines could help make sure that the seriousness of strangulation is not overlooked in sentencing and make the guidelines more consistent with those for assault, which include strangulation as a factor indicating higher culpability on the part of the offender.
The Council is also consulting on proposals to include a reference to coercive or controlling behaviour in all manslaughter guidelines. The review recommended that the impact of coercive control both by the offender towards the victim and by the victim towards to the offender should be recognised in the guidelines. Although the Council has not seen any evidence to suggest that the courts are currently failing to take coercive control into account in relevant cases, it considers that the proposed changes would reflect up-to-date terminology and could have a positive impact on public confidence.
The Council’s proposals for including factors on strangulation and coercive control in the manslaughter guidelines are included in this year’s miscellaneous amendments consultation, which opens today.
The review made further recommendations to make changes to the manslaughter guidelines and the overarching domestic abuse guideline for sentencing offences committed in a domestic context:
- to amend the manslaughter guidelines to indicate that use of a weapon is not necessarily an aggravating factor
- to amend the unlawful act and gross negligence manslaughter guidelines to categorise as category B, high culpability any killing where death occurs in the course of allegedly consensual violence during a sexual encounter, and
- to include an aggravating factor relating to non-fatal strangulation in the domestic abuse guideline.
The Council is not persuaded that these proposed amendments would be appropriate. The Council will consider the proposals as part of its ongoing, wider review of the manslaughter guidelines, but its current view is that these guidelines already take account of the issues raised in the review. The Council will also be reviewing the domestic abuse guideline in 2024. Its current view is that non-fatal strangulation is a factor best placed in relevant offence-specific guidelines, for example the assault guideline where strangulation is a high culpability factor.
Lord Justice William Davis, Chairman of the Sentencing Council, said:
“The killing of a partner is always an extremely serious offence. The domestic abuse guideline sets out in detail why that is so. The Sentencing Council considers there may be greater potential for the manslaughter sentencing guidelines to give specific guidance as to how seriously the courts treat the impact of coercive control and the uniquely personal act of strangulation in domestic homicide. That is why we are consulting on changes to the manslaughter sentencing guidelines.”
Notes to editors
- The Council’s full response to the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review is available on the Sentencing Council website. The review and the Government’s response are available on GOV.UK.
- The miscellaneous amendments consultation is open from 7 September to 30 November 2023. Any subsequent amendments to guidelines will come into effect on 1 April 2024. This is an annual consultation.
- There are four manslaughter guidelines, which came into effect on 1 November 2018: manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility, manslaughter by reason of loss of control, gross negligence manslaughter, unlawful act manslaughter.
- The Overarching principles: domestic abuse guideline came into effect on 24 May 2018.
- There is no sentencing guideline for murder. The sentencing regime for the offence of murder is statutory and set out in Schedule 21 to the Sentencing Act 2020.
- Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless the court is satisfied that it would be contrary to the interest of justice to do so in all the circumstances of a particular case.
- The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body but accountable to Parliament for its work, which is scrutinised by the Justice Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.
For more information, please contact Phil Hodgson on 020 7071 5788 / 07720 158403 or email firstname.lastname@example.org