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Project description

Women who kill their infants have traditionally been treated with leniency and sympathy. However, recent cases suggest a shift in approach. To understand this change, Dr Emma Milne will interview legal professionals about their perceptions of these cases and the role of the law.

Primary participants

Dr Emma Milne discusses her latest research project "Prosecuting, Defending, Sentencing: Infant Killing and the Role of the Law and Courts in England and Wales", which is funded by the BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants.

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A mother killing her baby is often perceived to be one of the worst crimes – the death of an innocent child at the hands of the person who is meant to offer love, care, and protection. However, as Dr Emma Milne’s previous research illustrates, maternal infanticide occurs in the context of extreme desperation faced by pregnant women and mothers. Killings most often occur when women ‘crack’ under intense pressure.

Historically, in England and Wales, the legal response to such forms of violence by desperate women has been sympathetic and lenient. However, analysis of contemporary cases provided by Dr Milne in her book, Criminal Justice Responses to Maternal Filicide: Judging the Failed Mother, shows this is no longer the norm. What we do not know is why this apparent change in how the criminal law and criminal justice respond to accused women has occurred.

To investigate this development in responses to cases of maternal child killing, Dr Milne is conducting interviews with professionals who work in the criminal justice system. She will interview judges, prosecution solicitors and barristers, and defence solicitors and barristers who have experience of infanticide cases to understand their perceptions of the role of criminal law. The research aims to provide a better understandings of the nature of legal responses to infanticidal women. In so doing, Dr Milne will ask why these legal responses occur, so allowing assessment of the suitability of the current criminal law to respond appropriately to the challenges raised by the conduct of these women. The big question the research will consider: Is ‘justice’ being done for vulnerable women?

The research is funded by the BA/Leverhulme Small Research Grants.

Prosecuting, Defending, Sentencing: Participant Information Sheet

Check back here for updates on Dr Milne’s findings as the research progresses.