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.