Posts tagged ‘Homicide’

May 23, 2014

Important new guidance on defences to homicide? – A view from the Joanna Simpson Foundation

I am delighted and honoured for my first guest blogger to be Hetti Barkworth-Nanton, Chair of the Joanna Simpson Foundation (www.joannasimpsonfoundation.org.uk ).  She writes:

“Last week saw the publication of new legal guidance by the CPS on prosecuting Domestic Homicide.  An important step, brought about by extensive discussions with us, the family and friends of Joanna Simpson who was killed by her estranged husband in 2010.  Despite preparing a grave beforehand, her killer could be acquitted of murder due to diminished responsibility.

What are the changes and why are they important?

This guidance requires far more extensive understanding and consideration of the history of domestic abuse, and critically a thorough investigation into the character of the defendant and the victim.  It guards against acceptance of manslaughter pleas using the partial defences of diminished responsibility and loss of self-control.  And it requires prosecutors to engage with expert witnesses (typically psychiatrists) on the broader profile of the defendant rather than just the psychiatric assessment of the defendant through interview.

If properly adopted this will have a significant impact on the quality of convictions in these crimes.  Partial defences are commonly used in domestic homicide (our research showed it being used in 50% of cases).  We talk a great deal about there being no excuses for domestic abuse, and yet when the worst happens the law provides exactly that.  Of course, there are some great examples of prosecutions where past history and character has been very carefully and effectively considered.  There are also examples where circumstances are such that a partial defence is entirely appropriate.   This new guidance is designed to ensure those strong examples become the norm, and that partial defences are only used by the most deserving cases.

Partial defences run on the basis that the offender is not somehow responsible, and offenders who use it typically show little remorse and are in fact running a defence which says it was either because of their state of mind or the circumstances, often citing the character and actions of the victim as the reason for that.  A claim of this kind is accepted at plea without a trial in just fewer than 50% of cases.  Successful or not, victims families have to suffer trials or plea acceptance which often assassinate the character of the victim, poorly challenged by the prosecution.  Where successful they are left with the incomprehensible sense that their loved one has not had a fair trial and the perpetrator has literally got away with murder.  Our research showed that ¼ of all convicted offenders was successful in a defence of this kind.

And what of disposal?  The discount in tariff can be substantial and it is not unusual for those convicted of manslaughter to be released from custody within 5 years of the crime.  Sometimes they get a hospital order and come under the mental health tribunal process, and again it is not unusual for them to be released within 3 years.  It is notable to understand that where the perpetrator is the parent of bereaved children, they still retain parental rights.  The repercussions continue when the family courts look on access requests more favorably where the offender was found not guilty to murder.

So tightening the criminal justice system through this guidance to avoid exploitation of the loopholes in homicide is fundamental if we believe we should send the message that domestic abuse is unacceptable, if we want to give victims’ families the chance to find a way forward, and critically if we want to protect the innocent child victims who live in fear of a violent perpetrator and deserve time to grow and repair in peace.

 

March 1, 2014

Thoughts from Michael Johnson’s work – Practical Implications

We had a terrific keynote speech from Professor Mike Johnson at our National Conference on Wednesday.  He explained his work around typologies of relationship in domestic abuse.  He highlighted three main types (see http://www.caada.org.uk/events/CAADA_conference_2014.htm for more info) – Intimate Partner Terrorism where one partner – usually a man in heterosexual relationships – ‘terrorises’ the other, Situational Couple Violence where there is typically an equal split between male and female victims and perpetrators (although not necessarily in terms of impact) and finally ‘Violent Resistance’, where the partner of an ‘intimate terrorist’ will try and defend themselves in a violent way.  The first category is much smaller in number than the second, but with a much higher percentage of high risk cases because of the persistent existence of coercive control.  The second is by far the largest in terms of number of cases but most of these never come to the attention of public or specialist agencies such as police, IDVAs, refuges etc because the level of severity is typically much lower – although a significant percentage (about a quarter) do involve severe violence albeit without coercion and control.  The last category is very small.

So what are the implications of his research?  Firstly, it gives us a clear way to unlock the prevalence debate around 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men.  Both figures are right.  But the bulk of the violence where men are victims fits into the Situational Couple Violence category and we need to treat it in a different way.  In Situational Couple Violence, Mike’s research shows that about one third of cases involve men being violent to women, one third involve women being violent to men and one third are bi-directional.  Most do not involve patterns of violence and none involve coercion.  These are typically arguments and conflict that get out of control and where there is a violent incident.  In many cases this is a one off.  This is borne out by the crime survey for England and Wales which shows that about a third (I quote from memory) of cases are resolved in a month.  This is not the sort of coercion, violence and control that we see in our work.

Secondly, it has clear implications for the family courts in particular in relation to children.  Mike describes the impact of Intimate Partner Terrorism as the ‘poison’ that infects a family and leaves children exposed to constant stress.  You will all be familiar with the literature about the impact of this on the neurological development of small children.  The courts and those arranging contact between children and their parents need to get real clarity around this.

Thirdly, at a time when the police and others are reviewing the use of risk assessment, does this have a message for front line officers?  My sense is no.  There is a level of sophistication in distinguishing between different types of relationship which probably won’t be done most effectively at 3 in the morning. Front line officers need to collect evidence, safeguard the parties involved in an incident and manage the immediate risk that they are faced with.

Does it have implications for the work of specialists in the field?  My sense is yes.  At its most basic, many people in our field still speak about high risk as if it didn’t include coercion and control.  I feel as if there can’t be anyone left who doesn’t understand that coercion is totally linked to risk – as well of course as significant physical violence.  However, apparently there are!  When I listen to people saying: “Half of the homicide reviews were of standard risk cases” I do want to say that they really were NOT!  But they might have been hidden to public agencies or we didn’t spot the coercion and control because there was little or no physical violence disclosed, or because the person doing the risk assessment didn’t understand its significance.  I really would commend to practitioners the severity of abuse grid that we have put in the IDVA version of the DASH checklist (http://www.caada.org.uk/dvservices/RIC_and_severity_of_abuse_grid_and_IDVA_practice_guidance.pdf  see pages 8 and 9).  Look at the examples of coercion and control included under sexual abuse, stalking and harassment and jealous and controlling behaviour.  As an aside, we are in favour of streamlining the DASH tool for police – but anxious not to confuse the tool itself from the training and supervision required to implement ANY tool effectively.  College of Policing please note!!

More broadly, I think that the options we offer those in Intimate Partner Terrorism relationships are broadly appropriate.  However, we offer the same interventions to those experiencing Situational Couple Violence – and Mike argued very convincingly that the dynamics are not the same.  Our data show that only about 15% of victims supported by IDVA services do not disclose jealous and controlling behaviour – perhaps they are in  situational couple violence relationships? Mike’s research shows that a significant percentage of these do not want to split up – but this is broadly the only option we are offering them today.  I say this with great caution – BUT – if someone is genuinely in a Situational Couple Violence relationship, surely we should be looking at work with the couple and even anger management?  These are all interventions that are traditionally seen as unsafe where Intimate Partner Terrorism is involved.

Mike was very clear that our starting point must be to assume Intimate Partner Terrorism and safety plan as if this was the case.  However, his analysis does give us a few more options if, and only if, a real risk expert, with a capital ‘E’, establishes that this is not the case.

March 8, 2012

Important Progress on Stalking

After many years of campaigning to change the law, Tricia Bernal and Carol Faruqui, both of whose daughters were killed by stalkers, are now on their way to achieving their goal.  I have met Tricia and Carol many times – they are tremendously courageous and positive – dedicated to avoiding for others, the terrible fate that befell their daughters.  They have spent many hours patiently explaining to me why this is so important. And slowly, slowly, I have caught up.  The Prime Minister announced this morning that the law will be changed to introduce a specific offence of stalking, with a potential custodial sentence of up to 5 years.

I think that there are a few reasons why this is important.  The first is about risk.  Many, many people are stalked and we are all familiar with how much easier it is to stalk someone now via email, Facebook, Twitter etc.  Of course, not every stalker is truly dangerous – although they might all be truly frightening.  But this focus on stalking will help highlight the types of stalking behaviour that are truly dangerous.  These include constant/obsessive phone calls, texts or emails; uninvited visits to home, workplace etc or loitering. It includes where someone destroys or vandalises property; pursues the victim after separation, or where the stalker threatens suicide/homicide to victim and other family members.  Other examples include where there are threats of sexual violence or involvement of others in the stalking behaviour.  Friends, family and professionals need to acknowledge the degree of risk involved in such behaviours because they are the ones that could result in a murder.

Secondly, the proposed changes to the legislation don’t limit who the stalker is and what relationship the victim has with them. Those of us working in the domestic abuse field have been heard to say: “It isn’t stalking, it is just part of the domestic abuse, part of the controlling behaviour.”  Whether we are right or wrong doesn’t matter – what is more important is that we must talk to victims and their families in language that they recognise.  Even in the most extreme controlling situations with many different forms of abuse, victims will very rarely describe themselves as suffering domestic abuse.  Stalking is language that we can all relate to – I very much hope that this helps to give people the confidence to come forward and seek help.  It is likely that a large percentage of cases will involve a current or former partner.  The current Protection from Harassment Act is the only piece of legislation in our field that recognises the impact of a course of conduct.  This is so important and it is really positive that we can build on it.

Finally, the proposed changes from the Select Committee include psychiatric assessments for stalkers.  Certainly, many of the cases I have looked at include what looks like someone with mental health problems to an untrained eye.  Combined with the stronger sentencing guidelines, these assessments appear crucial.

We have seen a huge surge in the use of restraining orders in cases of domestic abuse, and increasing use of the harassment legislation. Whoever the stalker is, let’s hope that these revisions will meet Tricia and Carol’s goals to keeping more victims safe in future.

October 2, 2011

What is the opposite of early intervention?

Sadly, it is a homicide review – in this case child death reviews.  So it is really depressing to read that one of the biggest increases in council budgets this year is for child death reviews – up 141% to £16.3 million.  That is an increase of about £10 million.  And £10 million clearly wouldn’t transform early intervention, but somewhere all this is false economy.

April 29, 2011

Inequality and Homicide – the links?

Maybe everyone else knows this stuff already but it was new to me.  This research from the Equality Trust highlights international research about inequalities in income being linked to homicide rates – perhaps something to be alert to in the coming years as there is a clear risk that these will increase?  Click on the link to read the full article:

Research Digest: Violent Crime | The Equality Trust.

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