Proposals to allow perpetrators of domestic violence to avoid jail if they show remorse have been condemned by a charity as a "licence to batter women".
The Home Office has stressed the proposals are at the draft stage
It has been suggested those who appear to show genuine sorrow for their crimes should be allowed to avoid a jail term.
The Sentencing Guidelines Council (SGC) which advises judges in England and Wales said such offenders could get a community order or suspended sentence.
But the plans have angered domestic violence charity Refuge.
The SGC said domestic violence must be taken as seriously as other violent crimes but where offenders intended to reform, sentences "allowing rehabilitation" may be appropriate.
"If the court is satisfied that the offender genuinely intends to reform his/her behaviour, and there is a real prospect of rehabilitation being successful, it may be appropriate to impose a sentence that will allow the offender to be rehabilitated," the SGC guidelines said.
"Rather than the imposition of a short custodial sentence, an appropriate disposal in such situations might be a suspended sentence order or a community order, in either case with a requirement to attend a domestic violence programme."
Where offenders "show genuine signs of remorse", or where both partners want to stay together, they could avoid jail, said the organisation chaired by Lord Chief Justice, Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.
But if domestic violence was witnessed by children, courts should impose more serious punishment.
And it said that where the victim made a plea for mercy on behalf of their partner, courts should make sure they were views not expressed under duress.
Any assertion the victim had "provoked" an attack should also "be treated with great care".
The document will go to consultation before a final version is drawn up.
But Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said it would be a "travesty" if the proposals came into effect.
"In short they give men a licence to batter women as long as they are able to put on a remorseful act in front of a judge," she said.
"Unless judges are adequately trained in risk assessment, a manipulative abuser may be able to convince a judge of his remorse, therefore putting women and children at further risk.
Kathy Coe, director of the Pathway Project in Staffordshire, which supports female victims of domestic abuse told BBC Five Live she was against the proposals.
"Domestic violence needs to be treated in the same way any other crime is," she said.
"And the government have said there's a zero tolerance to domestic abuse. It's 25% of all violent crime. It needs to be cut. I don't think this is the way to do it."
A Home Office spokesman stressed the guidelines were at the draft stage.
"The government believes prison is for dangerous, violent or sexual offenders, which is why we have legislated to ensure that such offenders, which includes perpetrators of the most serious cases of domestic violence, will spend longer in prison and in some cases be detained indefinitely," he said.
"New special domestic violence courts give both victims and witnesses a stronger platform to get their voices heard and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice."