Written by Sophie Kay, pupil @ 9KBW
The high-profile case of Richard Challen’s murder by his wife Georgina Challen, known as Sally, has returned to the courts for a further appeal. Sally previously challenged her 22-year sentence, which was reduced to 18 years on appeal.
Today, Sally sought to challenge her murder conviction by reducing it to manslaughter on the basis of fresh evidence which was not available during her trial. This is in light of the enactment of the Serious Crime Act 2015 which created a new offence under section 76 which is controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship.
Notably, the offence does not have retrospective effect. This means that charges cannot be brought regarding behaviour which occurred before the date the Act came into force. Despite this, Sally seeks to rely on this legislation to explain the lead up to her actions. She will argue that she suffered from decades of coercive and controlling behaviour during the course of her marriage, where her husband also had numerous extramarital affairs.
Coercive control is designed to isolate and dominate victims to such an extent that they do not seek help from other family members, friends or organisations. However, Parliament intentionally did not include an exhaustive list of coercive and controlling behaviour within the legislation in order to avoid limiting certain incidents.
The fresh evidence includes expert evidence by Professor Evan Stark, who is an American academic, whose work helped shape the creation of section 76 of the Serious Crime Act 2015. Other experts who gave evidence include psychiatrists, Dr Tim Exworthy and Dr Gilleley.
It will be argued on Sally’s behalf that had the jury had the benefit of the evidence of the coercive control which she suffered, coupled with an academic understanding of the dynamic of coercive control, then the jury would have arrived at a different conclusion. As such, it will be argued that Sally should have been convicted of manslaughter, rather than murder.
In essence, Sally’s appeal is on the basis that the coercive and controlling abuse which she suffered from should be considered as a part of the diminished responsibility defence. Nevertheless, the fact that this was a premediated murder will undoubtedly be relevant since this was not an impulsive act. Sally killed her husband by striking him 20 times with a hammer after making him a meal at their family home.
Remarkably, and most notably, Sally is supported by her children in her appeal. This is important when judging this particular case on its merits, and looking at the wider context. The children are likely to have had great insight into their parents’ marriage and the treatment which their mother received from their father.
Further, this case sheds light on whether coercive control should be a mitigating factor for sentencing of murder and other violent offences. Perhaps being a victim of coercive and controlling behaviour will be viewed as provocation, akin to how physical violence is considered. Perhaps the Sentencing Council’s Overarching principles – Domestic Violence: Definitive Guideline, which was only introduced in 2018, is ripe for an amendment.
The Court of Appeal will hand down its landmark judgment tomorrow. Undeniably, this will be a watershed moment in the history of domestic violence, outlining the nexus between murder and coercive control which will have serious ramifications for future cases.