Category: Crime

Davis v Johnson [1978]

Davis v Johnson [1978]

Image of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 with the Royal Coat of Arms
Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976 contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0 (

Davis v Johnson resolved once and for all the correct interpretation of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act (DVMPA) 1976. The House of Lords held that the proprietorial right of a husband to occupy the matrimonial home in the event of his physical abuse of a wife or partner could be suspended, thereby excluding the husband or male partner from the property or part of it. All five judges were unanimous that the DVMPA provided a wife or partner with a remedy for protection, which allowed for interference with a husband or male partner’s proprietorial right in cases where her life was in serious or grave danger. For the first time the law provided protection for wives and cohabitants living in the same household.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Edwards.


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Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘Campaigns and Protests of the Women’s Liberation Movement’ (British Library, 8 March 2013)

Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1976, Section 4

Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1976, Section 4

Complainant anonymity sends a signal that the legal system recognises the difficult social contexts in which women and men report rape, and helps to encourage victims to come forward and access justice. Justice demands that allegations of criminal offences need to be made, investigated, and where appropriate result in convictions

Clare McGlynn and Julia Downes

Anonymity for rape complainants, that is shielding the identity of the complainant in the press, was established in 1976 by section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act: ‘after a person is accused of a rape offence no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a woman as the complainant in relation to that accusation shall … be published in England and Wales’. The provision was gender-specific and worked by making it a criminal offence for the media to reveal the complainant’s identity or any information that might lead to the complainant being identified. The law did not prevent complainants from being named in court, nor is there any restriction on their being named in discussions other than in the media.

Black and white photo of blind justice statue holding scales
Blind Justice by Marc Treble [CC BY-NC 2.0(]
This legal landmark was an important turning point for women, as it recognised the harmful stigma and scrutiny that rape complainants experience when their identities become publicly known. Since 1976, the law has been strengthened so that it now applies to women and men, to complainants of all sexual offences and anonymity lasts for their lifetime. This legal landmark continues to protect the privacy rights of rape complainants, with the aim of encouraging complainants to report sexual offences and support prosecutions without fear of being blamed and shamed in public.

The full version of this landmark is written by Clare McGlynn and Julia Downes.


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Centre for Gender Equal Media, ‘Anonymity for Victims of Image-Based Sexual Abuse (Including ‘Revenge Porn’)’ (Durham University: Durham Law School)

CPS, ‘Prosecuting and Convicting More Cases of Rape, Domestic Abuse, Sexual Offences, and Child Abuse Than Ever Before’

Rape Crisis, ‘Statistics’

The opening of the first Rape Crisis Centre (1976)

The opening of the first Rape Crisis Centre (1976)

The women’s liberation movement and the anti-rape movement and Rape Crisis Centres around the world to which it gave birth changed the way rape was understood socially and legally. These centres helped to influence police, medical and criminal justice procedures and substantive law. They have assisted and supported millions of individual women. They are a truly remarkable example of women working together to improve women’s lives.

Alison Diduck

On 15 March 1976 the first Rape Crisis Centre (LRCC) opened in North London. Its aims were to offer ‘sympathetic non-judgemental support, advice and information on police and legal procedures for those women who chose to report’, and ultimately, ‘to help raped women regain their strength as individuals’ (Victoria Green, ‘Crisis Centre Opens’). The original LRCC collective of about 10 women maintained a 24 hour telephone line and offered face to face support and medical referrals. They engaged in research, public education and training of new support workers.

The significance of the achievement of this small collective of women and the anti-rape movement of which they were a part is difficult to overestimate. Not only did the LRCC provide an essential and unique service for survivors at a time when the social and legal culture of rape was extremely hostile to them, it paved the way for Rape Crisis Centres across the UK. Further and crucially, it did all of its work in a way which was true to its beliefs: it merged ‘theory and practice’ by operating as a feminist collective committed to eliminating hierarchies of power from the ground up (Helen Jones and Kate Cook, Rape Crisis Responding to Sexual Violence (Russell House Publishing 2008) 3).

The full version of this landmark is written by Alison Diduck.


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Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘Campaigns and Protests of the Women’s Liberation Movement’ (British Library, 8 March 2013)

Rape Crisis: England and Wales, ‘Who We Are and What We Do’


Criminal Justice Act 1972, Section 25

Criminal Justice Act 1972, Section 25

Colour drawing of a majority female jury
Drawing of Jurors from Beinecke Library collection [CC BY-SA 2.0)(]

For women, the significance of the reform was the removal of an indirect but powerful, symbolic form of gender discrimination, one which women’s organisations, including the National Council of Women, the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds, the Six Point Group and the Status of Women Committee had long lobbied against, not only because of its symbolism but also because they believed that the country would be better served if women played an equal part in the administration of justice.

Anne Logan

More than 50 years after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 had first admitted women to the jury-box, parliament finally legislated to remove all remaining statutory gender discrimination in the rules for jury qualification. Under Section 25 of the Criminal Justice Act 1972, every person aged between eighteen and sixty-five and registered as a parliamentary or local government elector, with a few non-gendered exceptions, would henceforth be qualified for jury service.

The full version of this landmark is written by Anne Logan.

The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘From the Archive, 12 January 1921: The Woman Juror’s New Sphere

The opening of the first Refuge (1971)

The opening of the first Refuge (1971)

The opening of the Chiswick Women’s Aid refuge happened almost by chance. Yet the sheer weight of the need that was revealed when its existence became known, and the events that followed, make it very significant. The refuge uncovered not only the pressing need for safe places for victims but also the wider issues detrimentally affecting women, such as financial dependence.

Felicity Kaganas

Red Pamphlet from 1977 titled Battered Women Need Refuges
National Women’s Aid Federation Pamphlet 1977 from the LSE Library Women’s Library Collection (

In 1971, members of the Chiswick women’s liberation group formed a new group, Women’s Aid, to offer help to women. They began with a protest against food prices and then about the withdrawal by the Goverment of free milk from schools. Five hundred mothers, children, and some fathers, marched down the High Road led by a cow. The so-called ‘Milk March’ drew more women to join the group. After meeting for some time in one another’s houses, they decided they needed a community house and acquired from the council, at a peppercorn rent, a derelict house.

It was during the group’s meetings that it emerged that some of the women were suffering violence at the hands of their male partners. The group gave them shelter. Word spread and the house, with four bedrooms and an outside toilet, was soon ‘inundated’ with women and children. It was this at this community meeting place that the first refuge for abused women in Britain and the world opened its doors.

It was here that ‘violence against women began to be defined as a problem of epic proportions … Here that the inspiration for a social movement began’.  (R Emerson Dobash and Russell P Dobash, Women, Violence and Social Change (Routledge 1992) 26)

The full version of this landmark is written by Felicity Kaganas.


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The Guardian News and Media Ltd., ‘Domestic Violence: How the First Women’s Refuge Saved My Life’

Sisterhood and After Research Team, ‘Marriage and Civil Partnership’ (British Library, 8 March 2013)

Women’s Aid, ‘Our History’

Abortion Act 1967

Abortion Act 1967

I once knew a woman who had a backstreet abortion and died: a married woman, already the mother of three young children, who just could not afford another child. I was absolutely shocked. It was the first time I had come across abortion. I was in my early twenties, working at St Bartholomew’s Hospital doing research, and I mentioned it to a group of doctors one lunch time. They looked at me in amazement, and said words to the effect: ‘Well, where have you been all your life? Stay behind on Friday.’ I discovered that Bart’s and all the other London hospitals put wards aside every Friday and Saturday night for women who were brought in as a result of backstreet abortions – Friday being pay day. Bleeding, septic, sometimes dying. This was accepted everywhere.

Diane Munday, Women’s rights campaigner and former general secretary and vice-chair of the Abortion Law Reform Association in British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Pioneers of Change: Interviews with People who made the Abortion Act 1967 possible

The Abortion Act 1967 transformed a procedure performed clandestinely and at huge physical risk to women, into one that would be lawful when performed by the medical profession. The 1967 Act provides for abortion if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion formed in good faith that to continue the pregnancy would ‘endanger the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman or any existing children of her family’, or that there is a substantial risk that if the child were born it would ‘suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped’.

brown photo of House of Commons Standing Committee
David Steel’s Appointment Dairy, 1966 from the LSE Library Women’s Library Collection (

The 1967 Act constituted a significant step forward for women’s rights in providing a secure legislative footing explicitly for abortion.

A range of professional bodies and critical figures were crucial in bringing this legislation into being including the members of the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA), parliamentary sponsors, most notably David Steel MP, and key alliances formed between Steel, ALRA and major doctors’ associations, such as the British Medical Association (BMA) and Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (RCOG).

The Abortion Act 1967 remains a deeply contested and politicised landmark, but one without which our biographies as women would look very different indeed. While there are problems in its current operation – not least the fact that it does not apply in Northern Ireland –  it remains the case that the 1967 Act is to be valued for there is much to be lost without it – our bodies, our lives, our biographies.

Nicky Priaulx and Natalie Jones

The full version of this landmark is written by Nicky Priaulx and Natalie Jones.


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BBC News, ‘Weekend Woman’s Hour: Lola Olufemi, Anne Marie Duff, and David Steel on the 1967 Abortion Act’

Diane Munday, Women’s rights campaigner and former general secretary and vice-chair of the Abortion Law Reform Association, in British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Pioneers of Change: Interviews with People who made the Abortion Act 1967 possible (BPAS, 2007)

The Independent, ‘Obituary: Helen Brook’

The Committee on the Employment of Women on Police Duties (1920)

The Committee on the Employment of Women on Police Duties (1920)

The Baird Report represents an important legal landmark for women generally, and women police especially … Without it women would likely have been driven out of the police altogether until the onset of World War II
Colin R Moore

The Committee on the Employment of Women on Police Duties (the ‘Baird Report’) recognised that women could be sworn in as constables in the police forces of England, Wales, and Scotland, as well as also acknowledging the valuable role that women police fulfilled when undertaking police work.

Black and white photo of policewomen Margaret Dawson and Mary Allen
Commandant Margaret Damer Dawson OBE and Subcommandant Mary Allen OBE of the Women’s Police Service from the Imperial War Museum (

Its recommendations built on the success and usefulness of the various, sometimes competing, voluntary private women police services established during World War I. However, while the Baird Committee represents a qualified success; women police tended to fill specialist roles in specialist departments until the Sex Discrimination Act 1975.

Nevertheless, the Baird Committee was an important first step in facilitating the careers, and improving the prospects, of women entering the Police Service.

The full version of this landmark was is by Colin R Moore.


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Louise A Jackson, ‘The First World War and the First Female Police Officer’ (History of Government, 17 June 2014)

Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, section 5(1)

Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, section 5(1)

Prior to the passing of the 1885 Act a number of individuals and groups had been concerned about the need to protect of women and, in particular, girls; there were fears about girls being led into prostitution and about white slavery, worries about innocents robbed of their virginity and anxiety about seduction and the sexually motivated abduction. The Act therefore sought ‘to make further provision for the Protection of Women and Girls, the suppression of brothels, and other purposes’. Section 5(1) was aimed at protecting girls from male sexual exploitation, an area of law, policy and practice which was a matter of particular concern in the last half of the nineteenth century, as it is in the early twenty-first century. It did so by raising the legal age of consent to 16 in the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland – at least in respect of unmarried girls, where the activity in question was penile-vaginal penetration (‘carnal knowledge’ in the legal language of the time).

Some things have changed. Conceptions of the child and thinking around sex, sexuality and equality have shifted – and the figure of the teenager has emerged. However, there are also similarities which might be drawn between the background to and context of section 5(1) and the present day. Indeed, debates around Section 5(1) and, more broadly, the issue of male exploitation of girls, take on a different significance and a horrifyingly familiar hue in the light of revelations such as those relating to the sexual abuse of large numbers of girls in Rochdale (see Home Affairs Select Committee, Child Sexual Exploitation and the Response to Localised Grooming (5 June 2013)).  In this context, it seems facile but is nevertheless important to say that, whilst criminal law reforms which attempt to address these issues are important, changes to law alone do not alter attitudes and behaviours; and it is social attitudes which lead to these kinds of offences being committed (then and now), that result in girls (and boys) continuing to be preyed upon by men (and sometimes women) and that lead to the letter of the law being under or unenforced.

Lois Bibbings

The full version of this landmark is written by Lois Bibbings

Gaol Act 1823

Gaol Act 1823

The 1823 Act is significant for women in two ways: first, as an explicit identification of the needs of women within the criminal justice system, and secondly as an early example of women’s campaigning and support of other women.
Ruth Lamont

The ‘act for consolidating and amending the laws relating to the building, repairing and regulating of certain gaols and houses of correction in England and Wales’ – or ‘Gaol Act’ for short – attempted to regulate the management of gaols across England and Wales. It provided for regulations applying specifically to the circumstances of women prisoners. As such it is a small, and fascinating, element of the sweeping nineteenth century reforms affecting all aspects of the criminal justice system and marking a shift in developing national penal policy for the punishment of criminals.

Colour painting of Elizabeth Fry
Elizabeth Fry painting by Samuel Drummond from the National Portrait Gallery 118 [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0 (]The regulations for women prisoners were drawn from the rules developed by Elizabeth Fry as part of her work from 1813 onwards with the women held in Newgate gaol in London.
Fry was willing to work with the outcast of nineteenth century society to effect social change.  She sought to ensure better and separate treatment for women prisoners, reflecting her religious and reformatory aim to rehabilitate ‘fallen’ women.

Fry’s humane reforms – while without doubt grounded in, and contributing to, the perception of criminal women as victims in need of moral reform – provided material and practical comfort to women.

The full version of this landmark is written by Ruth Lamont.

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Bank of England, ‘Elizabeth Fry 1780-1845’

John Howard, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales: With Preliminary Observations, and an Account of Some Foreign Prisons (Warrington: Printed by William Eyres, 1777)

Liza Picard, ‘Victorian Britain: Victorian Prisons and Punishments’ (British Library, 14 October 2009)

Matthew White, ‘Crime and Punishment in Georgian Britain’ (British Library, 14 October 2009) 

Parliament, ‘Towards Central Control’ (Living Heritage: Police, Prisons and Penal Reform 

Parliament, ‘Police, Prisons and Penal Reform’ (Living Heritage: Police, Prisons and Penal Reform

R v Jackson (1891)

R v Jackson (1891)

R v Jackson has long been recognised as a landmark case for women. It began as a private domestic dispute and ended as a landmark for all married women as authority for the proposition that a man cannot abduct and detain a woman simply because she is married to him.

Teresa Sutton

Edmund Jackson was a spurned and desperate man. After his wife, Emily, refused to live with him, he violently abducted her and imprisoned her in his home in order to forcibly persuade her to change her mind. Emily Jackson’s family obtained a writ of habeas corpus as a means of releasing her. Before the Court of Appeal, Edmund Jackson justified his actions claiming that ‘… if a wife refuses to live with her husband, he has the right by law to take possession of her person by force, and keep her, not imprisoned, but confined, till she consents to do so …’. The Court of Appeal held that there was no such right. No English subject had the right to imprison another person regardless of whether or not they were their wife.

Black and white article with sketches of Mr and Mrs Jackson

Despite his most spectacular efforts, Edmund Jackson was unable to force Emily Jackson to return to live with him (although they remained married). Notwithstanding the difficulties of financial provision and practical arrangements for children of a marriage, it is now taken for granted that a married partner may leave the marriage if they wish to do so.

However, of course, domestic violence and abuse continues. According to the Fawcett Society, at least 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during their life and between 1 in 8 and 1 in 10 will experience domestic violence annually.

The full version of this landmark was written by Teresa Sutton.


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Refuge, ‘Domestic Violence – The Facts’

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Project leaders, Rosemary Auchmuty and Erika Rackley, talk to Elizabeth Woodcraft about the aims, methodology and ambitions for the Project for PodAcademy

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