Women who kill abusive partners: reviewing the impact of section 55(3) ‘fear of serious violence’ manslaughter – some empirical findings

Main Article Content

Susan S M Edwards

Keywords

intimate partner, abuse, fear, manslaughter, self-defence, homicide, murder, women who kill

Abstract

In October 2010, section 55(3) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 came into force, and ‘fear of serious violence’ was expressly included in the statute as a qualifying trigger for ‘loss of self-control’ voluntary manslaughter, a partial defence to murder. This development (albeit that it is a gender-neutral provision) was anticipated to be an important step in recognising the situation of a woman who, in fearing a partner’s violence, control and abuse, kills to preserve her own life. The provision is only operative where ‘fear of serious violence’ and ‘loss of self-control’ can be established, which, given its limitations, prohibits many women in fear of a partner’s violence and coercion from successfully using this defence. The author’s review of the legal reform and the case law, together with 40 homicide cases involving female defendants who killed intimate current or former partners (April 2011–March 2016) demonstrates that this defence, which promised to deliver justice for abused women, has been little used. Women’s vulnerability and fear and response to intimate partner abuse and control is still insufficiently understood and explored and is evident where juries return murder rather than manslaughter verdicts. Further reform is needed to the legal framework regarding this and other defences in order to achieve a just law by incorporating women’s experience of, and defensive response to, violence and control in its many forms.

Abstract 96 | NILQ 72.2.4 Edwards Downloads 9