In February 2019 the Court of Appeal quashed Sally Challen’s conviction for the murder of her husband and ordered a retrial.
Last week the prosecution accepted a plea to the lesser offence of manslaughter and Challen received a sentence that meant she would serve no further time in custody.
Why was the appeal allowed?
Challen advanced two grounds of appeal:
- The fresh evidence on coercive control and the fresh psychiatric evidence support the proposition that at the time of killing the appellant was suffering from an abnormality of mind. Had expert evidence on coercive control been available at the time of the trial, the jury may have reached a different conclusion on diminished responsibility.
- The fresh evidence also goes to the issue of provocation in that it helps establish the appellant was provoked to kill the deceased because of his controlling and coercive behaviour.
The foundation for both lines of the challenge was her husband’s controlling and coercive conduct, conduct which is now a criminal offence in itself. Section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015 criminalises a pattern of abusive behaviour, the individual elements of which are not necessarily unlawful in themselves. This is designed to better protect victims of domestic abuse.
Counsel for Challen argued that the courts have recognised the concept of battered person syndrome, but that syndrome focuses on the psychological impact of repeated physical abuse, whereas coercive control focuses on systemic coercion, degradation and control.
The lack of knowledge about the theory of coercive control at the time of the appellant’s trial, meant that the partial defence of diminished responsibility was not put as fully as it could have been and the defence of provocation was not advanced at all by counsel then representing the appellant.
The appellant’s actions were not, therefore, put into their proper context.
Did the court agree?
“We were not persuaded that had it stood alone the general theory of coercive control on the facts as presented to us would have afforded the appellant a ground of appeal. However, it did not stand alone. We have focused on [the Doctor’s] post-conviction diagnosis that the appellant suffers from borderline personality disorder and a severe mood disorder, probably bipolar affective disorder, and suffered from those disorders at the time of the killing. If that is correct, it is in that context that the theory of coercive control may be relevant.
We express no view on whether the appellant was the victim of coercive control and no view, if she was a victim, on the extent to which it impacted upon her ability to exercise self-control or her responsibility for her actions. However, because expert evidence was not available to defence counsel at trial, neither the possibility that she was suffering from these two disorders, nor the issue of the impact upon her of the abusive relationship were explored at trial in any detail. The issue of provocation was not advanced at all.”
Accordingly, a retrial was ordered.
In the end the prosecution accepted the plea to a lesser charge of manslaughter in light of overwhelming evidence as to the husband’s behaviour and the effect on Challen’s state of mind at the time of the killing.
What does this case tell us?
From a legal perspective it tells us two things:
- Coercive control is now a relevant factor to be taken into account when considering what defences might be available; and
- That as medical and other disciplines evolve, we have to take stock of older cases to see whether those advances might support a fresh appeal.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7388 1658 or email@example.com and let us help, we deal with all manner of criminal offences on a daily basis and have the expertise to get you the best result possible.Read More
Many people face very lengthy court proceedings, and it is therefore hardly unusual that on occasion a person may be unwell and unable to attend court.
Despite this fact, courts are sceptical of alleged illness and unless the rules are followed in close detail, a non-attendee faces the serious prospect of being arrested by the police and taken to court in custody. This may involve a stay in police cells over the weekend, so it is essential that you understand what you need to do.
The first step is to inform your solicitor as soon as you are able.
Our firm has a 24-hour contact number, 07939 958767, so that you can contact us before office opening (say around 8 am) to inform us as to what is happening.
In almost all cases, if you do not need to see a Doctor, the court is unlikely to accept your illness as an excuse not to attend court.
It will, of course, depend on the exact circumstances, so again it is essential to speak to us and obtain advice as to what is the best course of action.
A Doctor will be able to issue you with a sick note.
This is not, however, necessarily the end of the matter, and the opinion of a Doctor does not bind a court.
Doctors have been issued with guidance concerning medical notes for court non-attendance, but a busy practitioner may very well miss the detail.
The Criminal Practice Direction sets out the following minimum requirements:
(a) The date on which the medical practitioner examined you;
(b) The exact nature of your ailments;
(c) If it is not self-evident, why the ailment prevents you attending court;
(d) An indication as to when you are likely to be able to attend court, or a date when the current certificate expires
Circumstances where the court may find a medical certificate unsatisfactory include:
(a) Where the certificate indicates that the defendant is unfit to attend work (rather than to attend court);
(b) Where the nature of the defendant’s ailment (e.g. a broken arm) does not appear to be capable of preventing his attendance at court;
(c) Where the defendant is certified as suffering from stress/anxiety/depression and there is no indication of the defendant recovering within a realistic timescale.
How we can assist
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with John Howey on 020 7388 1658 and let us help, we have the necessary skills and experience to assist you in respect to any criminal investigation or prosecution.Read More