Victims of domestic violence who kill their partners after sustained abuse would no longer automatically face murder charges should new proposals from the Ministry of Justice be given the go-ahead. The new laws would apply to both spontaneous and pre-meditated attacks, meaning that women like Emma Humphreys, who was forced to spend ten years in prison after killing an incredibly abusive man, before her sentence was quashed in 1995, would not be treated as cold blooded murderers by the courts. About time too.
The government is also calling for the abolition of the provocation defence for those who kill their partners. As Harriet Harman correctly highlights, this 17th century law, and the misogynist attitudes that underpin it, has allowed men who murder their wives to get off extremely lightly – if not entirely – for far too long:
For centuries the law has allowed men to escape a murder charge in domestic homicide cases by blaming the victim. Ending the provocation defence in cases of “infidelity” is an important law change and will end the culture of excuses.
There is no excuse for domestic violence, let alone taking a life. Whatever happens in a relationship does not justify resorting to violence. So men who kill their wife will have to face a murder charge and will no longer be able to claim ‘it’s her fault, she provoked me.’
Changing the law will end the injustice of women being killed by their husband and then being blamed. It will end the injustice of the perpetrators making excuses saying it’s not my fault – it’s hers.
Sadly – but unsurprisingly – the proposals have caused outcry in certain circles. David Howarth, Lib Dem justice spokesman, claims that:
On domestic violence, ministers are guilty of hype. As the government’s own research shows, there are no recent examples of men being found not guilty of murder simply because of sexual infidelity.
Nice, Dave, really nice. Two women killed every week by partners or ex-partners is just “hype”. In any case, this isn’t about being found not guilty. This is about men like Paul Daulton, who received only two years in jail for manslaughter after killing his wife Tae Hui:
Dalton punched her, she died, then he cut up her body with an electric saw, and stored the pieces in a freezer. He was cleared of murder on the grounds of provocation; the judge said that he had suffered “no little taunting on her [his wife’s] part”. Dalton received just two years in jail for her manslaughter, but got three years for what many might consider the lesser crime of preventing a burial. He is appealing against the sentence.
The proposed laws would ensure that men who kill their wives cannot resort to misogynistic defence strategies in order to avoid the punishment they deserve, and I really fail to see what’s so wrong with that. While I cannot comment on whether the government’s approach to murder law reform is the right one from a legal perspective (being entirely devoid of legal knowledge), it is certainly heartening to see gender inequalities within British law being addressed in this direct way. If the QC quoted in The Guardian is anything to go by, those calling for a more general and radical overhaul of murder law certainly don’t appear to be in any hurry to seek justice for those killed by violent partners:
Overall, the effect of these changes will be to keep people who have killed through loss of temper or self-control in prison for longer than necessary. That is hardly a reform.
Well, no, not if you think losing your temper with a wife who cheats on you somehow diminishes the crime of murder. Fortunately, those in charge of the reforms have other, more progressive ideas.
NB: Don’t even think about reading The Mail’s response to this, entitled “Go soft on killer wives”. Now that’s provocation.