'Rough sex gone wrong' to be banned as a defence in murder cases, says justice minister

A controversial legal defence known as the "rough sex" defence will no longer be admissible in court cases, it has been announced.

Justice minister Alex Chalk announced in Parliament this week that the defence would be banned, amending clauses in the Domestic Abuse Bill.

Also known as the 'Fifty Shades' defence, it was used by lawyers for British backpacker Grace Millane's killer, prompting campaigners and MPs to call for the legal loophole to be banned in England and Wales.

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A Bill to change the law was brought about as a result of campaigning from MPs Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier.

The Government is amending clauses in the Domestic Abuse Bill to prohibit use of the 'rough sex defence' in criminal court cases

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Mr Chalk said it was “unconscionable" for those accused of serious crimes to justify or excuse them by saying the victim had been engaging in consensual rough sex.

Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones said that a BBC study from 2019 had found that a third of women under the age of 40 had experienced "unwanted slapping, choking or gagging" during consensual sex, with 20 per cent saying this had left them upset or frightened.

Mr Chalk said: "We do not want to intrude into people’s private affairs, but when what they do leads to someone’s death we should not have any compunction about taking the steps necessary, first to ensure that people are safe, secondly to ensure that justice is done, and thirdly to send a message: if someone wants to behave in that way, when the consequences come to pass, on their head be it."

The Under-Secretary of State for Justice added his thanks to campaigning from the family of Natalie Connolly - a 26-year-old woman who was killed by her partner John Broadhurst in 2016 following what he claimed was rough sexual activity fuelled by drink and drugs.

The Government is amending clauses in the Domestic Abuse Bill to prohibit use of the 'rough sex defence' in criminal court cases. Picture: Adobe

Mr Chalk added: "It is unconscionable for defendants to suggest that the death of a woman—it is almost invariably ​a woman—is justified, excusable or legally defensible simply because that woman consented in the violent and harmful sexual activity that resulted in her death."

He continued to say there remained large complexities in the law regarding the issue which would continue to present grey areas when prosecuting, but added that the Government aimed to set out "greater clarity" in time.

The change has been welcomed by lobbying MPs and domestic abuse campaigners.

Harriet Harman said: "It is encouraging that the government are listening to the concerns of women’s groups and of MPs across parties but the important thing is for them to close the loophole which allows men to get away with murder by using the “rough sex gone wrong” defence. Only a change in the law will do that. We must see that at the Bill’s next stage."

Handout photo issued by UK Parliament of Alex Chalk speaking during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons. Picture: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament

Fiona Mackenzie, founder of the We Can't Consent To This campaign which has been raising awareness of and fighting for changes to the rough sex defence, said the change had provided "real belief".

Miss Mackenzie said: “We agree with Alex Chalk that Harriet Harman and Mark Garnier’s campaign has been formidable, and have long said that only the government can make the far reaching change that is needed: with law change and more to end the success of rough sex defences. Today gave us real belief that the Government may be ready to do this – but they must be bold enough and not take half measures."

MP Harriet Harman, who campaigned for the changes to the law over the 'rough sex' defence