Sally Challen Appeal: Update Controlling and Coercive Behaviour

4th March 2019 Criminal Defence

Last year I blogged about the case of Sally Challen who had at the time just been granted leave to Appeal her life sentence for the murder of her husband, Robert Challen. On 28th February 2019, Sally’s appeal was heard at the Royal Courts of Justice and her conviction was quashed and a retrial ordered.

Throughout the years of their marriage Sally has been the victim to Robert Challen’s, controlling and coercive behaviour until in 2010 she snapped and killed her husband using a hammer. Unfortunately for Sally, at the time of the offence and her trial, Controlling and Coercive Behaviour was not recognised as a criminal offence d and so the effects of years of abuse were not considered in relation to the commission of the offence or her sentence at the time. Now, controlling and coercive behaviour is a criminal offence and can carry a sentence of up to 5 years imprisonment.

Sally’s team sought leave to Appeal her conviction on the ground that new evidence had come to light which made it unsafe for her conviction to stand. The three judges who heard the Appeal accepted that the psychiatric evidence which her legal team has submitted showed that Sally had been the victim of controlling and coercive behaviour and had been suffering with mental illness. They ruled that as this evidence had not been available at the time of the original trial, this amounted to fresh evidence. Following the ruling Lady Justice Hallett made the following comments about the decision reached by the panel:

The court of appeal heard that, in the opinion of a consultant forensic psychiatrist, the appellant was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing. This evidence was not available at the time of the trial and the court quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial.„

Challen will face a fresh trial for the charge of murder, however, her legal team have confirmed that she would accept a plea of manslaughter if acceptable to the prosecution, in order to avoid having to relive the past within trial proceedings. It is also expected that her legal team will pursue an application for bail ahead of the trial.

The decision will set a precedent for men and women who have attacked or killed their partners following periods of sustained abuse or controlling and coercive behaviour. Any psychiatric evidence relating to the abuse could either form a partial defence to the charge or be a factor to consider within sentencing. Result dependant, Sally’s case may help provide a framework for how abuse should be considered in such cases going forward.

If you would like advice on Coercive Control or criminal sanctions for domestic abuse, call the JMW Business Crime team on 0345 872 6666.

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Grace O'Driscoll is a Solicitor located in Manchesterin our Employment department

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