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28 February 2019

Sally Challen Appeal: A new defence to murder?

2 mins

In an historic Judgment the Court of Appeal overturned the murder conviction of Sally Challen and ordered a retrial.

In 2011 she was convicted of the murder of her abusive husband after she ran a defence of diminished responsibility which was not accepted by the jury. But she had a horrific history of an emotionally abusive relationship with her husband that was not explored at all at her trial.

In 2015 the Government introduced the new offence of coercive control with the aim to allow “victims who experience the type of behaviour that stops short of serious physical violence, but amounts to extreme psychological and emotional abuse, to bring their perpetrators to justice and seek protection form the law”.

Supported by her son, Justice for Women and her legal team Sally Challen gathered the evidence to prove the abuse she had suffered and the impact on her mental health. She didn’t have the physical scars but the court of appeal heard how  Mr Challen “bullied and belittled” his wife and “controlled their money and who she was friends with, not allowing her to socialise without him”. Additional medical evidence was obtained to illustrate how such controlling and coercive behaviour and emotional abuse had a devastating impact on her mental health. Sally Challen was able to persuade the Court of Appeal that this new evidence, if it had been available to her at trial, may well have achieved a different outcome and she had suffered a miscarriage of justice. The Court of Appeal ordered a retrial. Sally Challen now has the opportunity to present the full history of her abusive relationship to the jury.

But, does this case illustrate a new law as some media commentators have suggested? The defence of diminished responsibility was always available to Sally Challen, even potentially the defence of loss of control (although a partner’s infidelity alone is not a permissible “qualifying trigger” as some commentators have suggested), but the reason this case is so significant is because the tragic events of her life, and that fatal day, can now be viewed through the prism of the offence of coercive control and the devastating impact such domestic abuse can have.

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