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Murder cases reopened in wake of Sally Challen appeal | Domestic violence



A number of murder cases are being re-examined to investigate possible unsafe convictions where coercive and controlling behaviour may not have been available as a defence, the Observer can reveal.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission began the painstaking work of sifting through 3,000 cold cases in the wake of the landmark case of Sally Challen, who was jailed for life after killing her abusive husband in 2010 but later had her murder conviction quashed in the wake of new, coercive control laws introduced in England and Wales.

Fresh evidence that found she was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing meant her case was returned to the court of appeal in 2019, and she walked free due to time already served after submitting a plea of manslaughter.

Now the CCRC is appealing to anyone who has had their case rejected by the court of appeal and believes they may have suffered a miscarriage of justice because coercive control – a sustained pattern of abuse intended to harm, punish or frighten – was not explored as a factor during their trial.

So far, the commission has identified at least five cases which are undergoing further investigation and could be returned for appeal.

“This is not a static number. Investigations are continuing, and hopefully it will go up as more cases are identified,” said Linda Lee, one of the CCRC commissioners. “We are looking at murder cases where coercive control may have had a serious impact on events but wasn’t raised because nobody recognised it or thought of it at the time.”

Coercive control was made a specific criminal offence in 2015 and can be used as a partial defence to murder where the victim’s controlling behaviour affected the defendant prior to the offence.

Challen’s son, the domestic abuse campaigner David Challen, said: “Our family is really welcoming of a review of any cases where someone has killed as a result of their experience of coercive control and that abuse was not recognised.

“My mother says that many other women who are victims of abuse are in prison serving life sentences for murder instead of manslaughter – she knows this because she has met them.

“If only a small handful of cases or even one case can be overturned as a result of this process, it will be worth it because the transformative impact on the life of that person and their family is huge.”

Lee explained: “We’re not just looking at the cases of cis women who were in heterosexual relationships. We are inviting anyone who believes coercive control played a role in their case – and there may be potential to examine fresh evidence – to make an application.” Lee, a former president of the Law Society, said she could not comment on individual cases but that one scenario, for example, may be that a mental health issue stemming from coercive control was not explored at trial but warranted the gathering of fresh expert evidence.

Harriet Wistrich, a lawyer with the Centre for Women’s Justice, which has done some work with the CCRC, said: “The problem with some of the cases that we’ve seen is that women do not disclose abuse or are too frightened or ashamed to discuss it for a variety of reasons, including that they may fear for their safety or that their children will be taken away.”

Kate Paradine, chief executive of the charity Women in Prison, said: “Nearly two-thirds of female prisoners are survivors of domestic abuse. We know that earlier intervention to provide safety and support could have prevented women being swept into the criminal justice system.

“Domestic abuse and coercive control wreak a devastating impact on survivors and our society, so we must ensure all parts of the justice system take this into account.”

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Delta COVID Variant Reportedly Draws Biden’s Attention, Resources Away From Other Priorities




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Despite high overall rates of vaccinations in the US, more and more Americans are getting infected with the new, rapidly spreading ‘delta’ variant of the coronavirus, once again testing the limits of hospitals and reportedly sparking talks about new mask-up orders from authorities.

The rapidly increasing number of new COVID-19 cases in the US caused by the more infectious delta strain of the virus is frustrating the Biden administration, as the problem draws attention and resources away from other priorities that the White House would like to concentrate on, the Washington Post reported, citing several anonymous sources. Among the problems that the administration reportedly had to de-prioritise are Biden’s infrastructure initiatives, voting rights, an overhaul of policing, gun control and immigration.

The White House reportedly hoped that the pandemic would be gradually ebbing by this time, allowing it to focus more on other presidential plans. Instead, the Biden administration is growing “anxious” about the growing number of daily COVID-19 cases, the newspaper sources said. The White House press secretary indirectly confirmed that Biden is currently preoccupied with the pandemic the most.

“Getting the pandemic under control [and] protecting Americans from the spread of the virus has been [and] continues to be his number-one priority. It will continue to be his priority moving forward. There’s no question,” Press Secretary Jen Psaki said on 22 July.

The administration had reportedly expected new outbreaks in the country, but not as many as they’re seeing. Current analytical models predict anything between a few thousand new cases and 200,000 new infected daily, the Washington Post reported. Washington also fears that daily deaths might reach over 700 per day, up from the current average of 250. However, the White House doesn’t expect the pandemic numbers to return to their 2020 peak levels.

At the same time, the Biden administration is trying to find scapegoats to blame for the current shortcomings in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in the country. Namely, Biden  last week accused the social media platform of failing to combat the spread of disinformation on COVID-19 and thus “killing people”. The statement raised many eyebrows since many platforms mark COVID-related posts and insert links to reliable sources of information regarding the disease and the vaccination efforts aimed at fighting it. The White House also hinted that the Republican-controlled states became the main sources of new COVID cases, while often underperforming in terms of vaccination rates.

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Sierra Leone abolishes death penalty | Global development



Sierra Leone has become the latest African state to abolish the death penalty after MPs voted unanimously to abandon the punishment.

On Friday the west African state became the 23rd country on the continent to end capital punishment, which is largely a legacy of colonial legal codes. In April, Malawi ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, while Chad abolished it in 2020. In 2019, the African human rights court ruled that mandatory imposition of the death penalty by Tanzania was “patently unfair”.

Of those countries that retain the death penalty on their statute books, 17 are abolitionist in practice, according to Amnesty International.

A de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty has existed in Sierra Leone since 1998, after the country controversially executed 24 soldiers for their alleged involvement in a coup attempt the year before.

Under Sierra Leone’s 1991 constitution, the death penalty could be prescribed for murder, aggravated robbery, mutiny and treason.

Last year, Sierra Leone handed down 39 death sentences, compared with 21 in 2019, according to Amnesty, and 94 people were on death row in the country at the end of last year.

Rhiannon Davis, director of the women’s rights group AdvocAid, said: “It’s a huge step forward for this fundamental human right in Sierra Leone.

“This government, and previous governments, haven’t chosen to [put convicts to death since 1998], but the next government might have taken a different view,” she said.

“They [prisoners] spend their life on death row, which in effect is a form of torture as you have been given a death sentence that will not be carried out because of the moratorium, but you constantly have this threat over you as there’s nothing in law to stop that sentence being carried out.”

Davis said the abolition would be particularly beneficial to women and girls accused of murdering an abuser.

“Previously, the death penalty was mandatory in Sierra Leone, meaning a judge could not take into account any mitigating circumstances, such as gender-based violence,” she said.

Umaru Napoleon Koroma, deputy minister of justice, who has been involved in the abolition efforts, said sentencing people on death row to “life imprisonment with the possibility of them reforming is the way to go”.

Across sub-Saharan Africa last year Amnesty researchers recorded a 36% drop in executions compared with 2019 – from 25 to 16. Executions were carried out in Botswana, Somalia and South Sudan.

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[Ticker] EU to share 200m Covid vaccine doses by end of 2021



The European Commission announced it is on track to share some 200 million doses of vaccines against Covid-19 before the end of the year. It says the vaccines will go to low and middle-income countries. “We will be sharing more than 200 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines with low and middle-income countries by the end of this year,” said European commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

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