After we cleared Emma Humphreys’ name 23 years ago we thought the law would support women who had been violently abused. Her case resulted in a change in the law. Judges could now direct juries in such cases to take into consideration the whole life histories of women like Humphreys who ended up on trial for murder.
Feminist campaigners were buoyant, certain that the tide was turning and that other women in Humphreys’ position would be better understood, and treated fairly by the courts. We were wrong: 23 years after Humphreys was freed, very little has changed. Justice for Women is currently dealing with the cases of several women who have killed violent men and subsequently been convicted of murder. It is almost as though the huge campaigns of the past three decades never happened.
Sally now has a new legal team, and her appeal against the murder conviction will be heard later this year on the grounds that she was subjected to “coercive control” for decades. She was given a sentence of 22 years in 2011. The prosecution suggested that her motive was “jealousy”.
This is somewhat different to the way that many men who kill their female partners are treated. Infidelity is regularly used as a defence in such cases, often successfully, by men who kill, and yet women such as Humphreys are given no understanding of or sympathy for their experience of horrendous domestic and sexual violence.
Why are so many women charged with murder, as opposed to manslaughter, if there is strong evidence of domestic violence?
How different is the attitude to men defending property than to women defending their own lives or the lives of their children against violent men? When Richard Osborn-Brooks was arrested after stabbing a burglar who tried to break into his home, the hashtag #FreeRichardOsbornBrooks was launched alongside a petition calling for the Crown Prosecution Service to take no action against him. He was released without charge. “We have the right to protect ourselves in our own home,” tweeted one man, in support of Osborn-Brooks.