News | Press Release

17 March 2023

Refuge responds to government plans to increase sentences for domestic homicide

Responding to Government plans to increase sentences for perpetrators of domestic homicide, Ruth Davison, Refuge CEO said:

“Refuge welcomes the news that the Government are looking at ways to increase sentencing for domestic abuse perpetrators who kill their partners or ex-partners and are planning to implement some of the recommendations made by Clare Wade KC in the Independent Review of Domestic Homicide Sentencing. For too long sentencing for domestic homicides has failed to reflect the gravity of this crime. 2 women in England and Wales are killed each week by a current or former partner and domestic homicides account for around a quarter of total homicides.

We welcome the recognition of coercive or controlling behaviour and the use of excessive or gratuitous violence known as ‘overkill’ as an aggravating factor in sentencing decisions for murder – it’s important this is the case for manslaughter sentences as well. Domestic homicides are not isolated incidents and often follow a period of prolonged abuse and this must be reflected in the sentence.

We also welcome a public consultation for a higher sentencing starting point of 25 years to be applied in murder cases where there has been a history of controlling and coercive abuse. We know these killings are calculated, and often a result of years of insidious abuse. It is essential that judges and other criminal justice practitioners receive the appropriate trauma-informed domestic abuse training to understand the dynamics of domestic abuse, in particular coercive and controlling behaviour.

Whilst the ‘rough sex defence’ was rightly abolished in the Domestic Abuse Act we are still seeing lenient sentences handed to perpetrators who kill by strangulation and encourage the Sentencing Council to review manslaughter sentencing guidelines around ‘rough sex’ as soon as possible.

Reforms to sentencing are welcome, but we must make changes to ensure the right conviction is secured in the first place. We know that it’s not uncommon for domestic homicide cases to result in charges for manslaughter, and we must see coercive and controlling behaviour and use of excessive force being explicitly considered by juries, as well as an aggravating feature in both murder and manslaughter sentences. Refuge hopes that the full Government response to Clare Wade’s review will address the common issue of killers being charged with manslaughter rather than murder.

The Government have said they will do everything they can to protect women, and whilst these plans are welcome, every part of the criminal justice system is needed to effectively address violence against women and girls (VAWG.) Refuge remains concerned that the wider criminal justice system will continue to put survivors at risk if immediate action is not taken.

In recent years a decline in prosecutions and convictions for domestic abuse and sexual abuse is failing to provide women and girls with the justice they deserve, this is despite an increase in reports. Controlling or coercive behaviour became a crime in 2015 but convictions remain woefully low, and we hear too often that police and criminal justice practitioners still have a limited understanding of controlling or coercive behaviour.

We cannot wait until women have their lives taken to recognise the devastating impact of coercive controlling behaviour. We look forward to the Government responding to the Independent Review of Domestic Homicide in full and we urge them to publish this immediately.”

For more information or to arrange an interview contact the press office on 0207 395 7731 or email us at

About Refuge

Refuge supports thousands of women and children on any given day, and runs the National Domestic Abuse Helpline, which is the gateway to accessing specialist support across the country. More than one in four women in England and Wales experiences domestic abuse at some point in their lifetime, and two women a week are killed by a current or former partner.

Please signpost to Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline 0808 2000 247, available 24 hours a day 7 days a week for free, confidential specialist support. Or visit to fill in a webform and request a safe time to be contacted or to access live chat (live chat available 3pm-10pm, Monday to Friday). For support with tech abuse visit