• By The Financial District


Abused women are being unfairly convicted of murder and manslaughter under joint enterprise law, researchers have warned, Catherine Baksi reported for The Telegraph.

A new report highlighting the issue also found that half of those convicted were not present during the crimes. Currently, there are at least 109 women and girls in British prisons who are serving long sentences for joint enterprise crimes, but research by Manchester Metropolitan University suggests they have been wrongly convicted using the controversial law on secondary liability, which allows an individual to be jointly convicted of a crime committed by another, if they foresaw that the other person was likely to commit it.

Its co-author, Becky Clarke, a senior criminology lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “The experiences of the 109 women examined in our report paint a harrowing picture of injustice which is currently sanctioned by our legal system. These women are wrongly convicted.” Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Women’s Justice told The Telegraph: “It is further evidence to signal the need for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system, and the inability of the state to take into account the experience of domestic violence and its impact on offenders.”

Dr. Kate Paradine, CEO of Women in Prison, added that the report showed the courts "systematically ignoring women’s experiences of surviving gender-based violence and abuse, and even using those against them."

The majority have convictions for serious violence, with over three-quarters convicted of murder or manslaughter. However, according to the report, almost half of the women disclosed that they were experiencing domestic violence at the time of the offense, and in 87 per cent of cases, the perpetrator of the abuse was a co-defendant.

A larger number had experienced violence or abuse as adults or children, with repeated failures by the police or other agencies to protect them. But their histories of abuse and trauma were generally ignored or used against them at trial. The study also revealed that the women were often marginal to the event: in no case did any use a deadly weapon, 90 per cent engaged in no violence at all, and in half of the cases the women were not even present at the scene. Yet, they were convicted and punished in the same way, and sometimes more harshly, than the person who struck the fatal blow. Most are serving long or indeterminate sentences of an average of 15 years and almost half (47 per cent) have life sentences of up to 30 years.