Lawyers and campaigners fear decision not to grant appeal against conviction risks silencing other victims of domestic abuse
A mother jailed for harming her baby has accused the courts of “injustice” after judges accepted she was a victim of abuse but ruled against an application for an appeal against her conviction made on the grounds that her violent ex-partner coerced her to lie at her trial.
The woman, known as “Jenny”, was convicted in 2017 of causing or allowing serious harm after her child sustained skull fractures and bleeding on the brain. The baby’s father was her co-defendant but was acquitted on a lesser charge.
Jenny told the jury that she dropped the baby after catching her cardigan on a cupboard. But the court of appeal heard in October that while she was in prison serving half of a five-year sentence she wrote to her legal team to claim that she had fallen to the floor when her former partner punched her.
In Tuesday’s judgment, Lady Justice Macur, Mr Justice Jay and Mr Justice Murray accepted there was “ample independent evidence of domestic violence having occurred within the relationship” and that on the night in question the applicant was punched.
They said in the context of other evidence, including her ex-partner’s initial allegations to neighbours and the emergency services that Jenny had thrown the baby to the floor – a claim he later retracted – that she was not a “convincing witness regarding whether this was the mechanism which led to [the baby’s] injuries.”
Jenny, who says she lied during the trial to protect herself and her children from her controlling boyfriend said: “The justice system is fundamentally unjust. The Crown is ignorant about domestic abuse and I think this decision is cowardly.
“The court is scared of what granting the appeal would mean – it would force them to acknowledge not just my story, but that of countless other victims criminalised as a result of abuse.”
The court of appeal was told how Jenny’s ex-partner had subjected her to regular beatings, had locked her up, deprived her of food, and urinated on her – an experience amounting to torture, according Dr Georgina Clifford, an expert psychologist who submitted evidence to the court.
Jenny said she was shocked by the result: “The court has given my abusive ex power over me again. The judges have agreed with what he always told me: that no one will believe me, that I’m crazy, that I should remain silent.”
Emma Torr, legal director of the charity Appeal, which has been supporting Jenny, said she believed the court had failed to “properly understand how coercive control impacted on her ability to tell the truth at trial”.
She said: “They didn’t find Jenny to be a credible witness, yet crucial evidence we presented from an expert psychologist went unchallenged by the court. The evidence showed Jenny had suffered from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] with dissociative symptoms, meaning her ability to recall the events in question [was] impaired.”
The judges found the expert’s report did “not provide a ground of appeal but rather an explanation for the applicant’s late disclosure of the domestic violence. However, this explanation is dependent upon the applicant’s accounts, which we found unpersuasive, not least her asserted amnesia about the events … and her selective memory recall.”
Fresh evidence was presented to the court of appeal that on the night of her arrest Jenny was taken to hospital A&E and diagnosed with “post-concussion syndrome” and that witnesses had heard Jenny shouting: “You hit me”.
However, the judgment found Jenny and her co-defendant each withdrew the accusations of misconduct against each other for their mutual benefit.
The judges concluded: “In these circumstances, we are not satisfied that it is either expedient or necessary in the interests of justice to admit the fresh evidence upon which the applicant purports to rely.”
Naima Sakande, deputy director of Appeal, said: “I am deeply troubled by this decision. The court of appeal has not only slammed the door on Jenny but has risked silencing other women who have been wrongly convicted because they were too afraid to speak up about abuse.
“The court has also decided that the trial jury would have been unaffected by Jenny’s new testimony, the history of abuse and the evidence that she was hit on the night in question. It is inconceivable to me that this would not have made a difference to their decision to convict.”
She added: “The authorities say they are committed to ending violence against women but it is evident they are still a long way from understanding the complex issues involved in domestic abuse, including why a woman would delay reporting.”