Does the law leave women over-punished and under-protected?

Richard Garside
Friday, 12 November 2021

Can the just administration of the law result in fundamentally unjust outcomes?

This was one of the questions we explored in the latest edition of Last month in criminal justice, our new monthly review of criminal justice developments. We discussed, in particular, Penelope Jackson's recent conviction for murder of her husband, David.

"The fundamental difficulty Penelope Jackson's team had was the lack of evidence of coercive control, and the lack of evidence that she had lost control", Dr Hannah Quirk from King's College London argued.

Women, she went on to argue, might wait for their partners to be asleep or unawares, to avoid a direct confrontation with someone who will typically be bigger and stronger. Men, by comparison, might more commonly 'snap', something the law is more likely to recognise as a mitigating factor.

"How long have we been having to have this conversation about differential outcomes?" Prof Jo Phoenix of The Open University asked. She added:

In societies that are marked by such profound sex-based inequalities... the just administration of legal processes... ends up with fundamentally unjust outcomes.

For centuries, she went on to argue, we have seen "the over-protection of male violence and the under-policing of it".

In the same programme we covered a number of topics, including the reviews of the Metropolitan Police following the awful murder, by a serving police officer, of Sarah Everard; suicide and self-harm in prison; and the state of children's prisons.

For the next edition of Last month in criminal justice, on 1 December, I'll be joined by Pavan Dhaliwal of Revolving Doors Agency, Charlie Weinberg of Safe Ground, and the former prison officer and prison governor, Ian Acheson.

It promises to be a fascinating discussion.

Also in December, we will be joined by the author and campaigner for human rights, Joan Smith, for our next Lunch with... conversation.

I first came across Joan Smith in the early 1990s when, as a rather entitled young man, I read, at the suggestion of a female friend, her book on male violence, Misogynies. We live in a culture, "which is not simply sexist but occasionally lethal for women", she wrote. "In this culture, the penalty for being a woman is sometimes death".

The book had a huge impact on me at the time and is one I regularly recommend. She is also a former Chair of the English PEN Writers in Prison Committee and, until earlier this year, Co-Chair of the Mayor of London's London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board.

Our regular Last month in criminal justice and Lunch with... events are free to attend. We also encourage donations on registration from those who feel able to do so.