Equality under the law

// 15 January 2009

A bill is currently going through Parliament which will, if it is approved, redefine the defence of ‘provocation’ in murder cases.

Currently, ‘provocation’ can be claimed by people who commit murder, and if this defence is upheld, they can avoid the mandatory life sentence normally in place. The law, which has not been reformed since 1957, defined ‘provocation’ as applying only to the immediate cirumstances, not to an ongoing abusive situation. This is overwhelmingly a law that works in favour of men, who could excuse their crime by blaming the victim, especially in cases they had found out their partner had been unfaithful.

Under the same law, many women who killed their abusive spouses were punished more severely, because the history of domestic abuse would not be taken into account as a partial defence.

This law is the relic of an earlier age. Light sentencing for men who kill their wives reinforces and permits the assumption that men are by nature sexually possessive and prone to uncontrollable violence which it is unjust to punish them for. It also upholds the notion that women have no right to attempt to leave abusive situations, or to defend themselves from violence.

The proposed changes would allow for a partial defence of ‘killing in response to a fear of serious violence’, which, it is felt, will lead to fairer sentencing for both female and male offenders.

More here.

Comments From You

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 15 January 2009 at 9:36 pm

I’ve no doubt there will be a huge outcry of ‘it’s unfair to men’ and ‘this will enable women to murder men and get away with it’ etc. etc. I hope this law is passed because it will end men claiming they murdered a female partner/ex female partner because ‘she nagged/she was unfaithful/she didn’t do the dishes/she disrespected me etc. etc.’

The law of provocation was written by men for men and when this law was written and passed women were not perceived in law as autonomous human beings but were deemed to be men’s property. Before anyone presumes the defence of ‘killing in response to fear of serious violence’ is a gift to women who murder men – it will have to be proved in court. This will apply equally to men who will undoubtedly claim they murdered their female partner/ex partner because they feared she would enact violence against them. There will have to be evidence not rather than imputations.

james // Posted 15 January 2009 at 10:37 pm

I think there’s some very weird framing and a lot of feminist mythmaking about this.

Reading the research annex to the consultation document, the number of men who successfully claimed provocation after killing their unfaithful partner is on a par with the number of men who successfully claimed provocation after killing the man their unfaithful partner was cheating with.

Harman and Co. are blind to this, and it’s only the former they worry about, so they’re ruling out sexual infidelity on the part of the victim as grounds for provocation. Let me be absolutely clear about this proposal: if Kit’s partner finds me in bed with her and kills both of us, they’ll won’t be able to claim provocation for her murder, but will for mine. It’s not really equality, is it.

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