Murder and Provocation

I\’ve been thinking about this a little:

Those who could show they were responding to a "fear of serious violence" would be punished for manslaughter and escape a mandatory life sentence, under the plans. Proof of having acted spontaneously would not be required.

The reforms, to be unveiled by the Ministry of Justice, would also allow a defence for someone who could show they killed in response to an exceptional case of abusive "words and conduct" over a long period.

This would not include the discovery of infidelity, meaning the "crime of passion" defence would be scrapped, and husbands who kill their partner because they have been unfaithful or are nagging would no longer be able to plead the partial defence of provocation.

The \’provocation\’ defence will, however, also be available to those driven to kill in other extreme circumstances – such as during a confrontation with a rapist or paedophile.

According to the Ministry of Justice the reforms are an attempt to redress a centuries-old disparity in how the laws impact on men and women. They say it is currently too easy for men to defend killing an unfaithful female partner, and too difficult for women with violent male partners to mount a similar defence.

I started out with outrage that such a transparent attempt to favour one group over another would be made with the law.The actual basic definition of murder is being changed: that premeditated part, which has always been the distinction between murder and manslaughter, will go. But only women (at least that\’s the intention) will be not charged with murder when their actions were indeed premeditated.

I rather calmed down (I still think it\’s political grandstanding of the worst sort) and think that in fact it won\’t make much difference at all.

For the actual sentence served for manslaughter can be as long (and perhaps even longer) than the "life sentence" served for murder. This is what we have judges for of course. They impose the actual sentence….and while a life sentence does mean the possibility of life behind bars, it\’s actually largely determined by the recommended minimum, with release upon licence (note, not parole, theoretically they can be recalled to serve life at any time) following.

That minimum, just like the sentence for manslaughter, is determined by the only impartial person who has heard all the evidence: the judge. That won\’t change, so while a group of virulent sexists ("women just can\’t be held responsible for their actions in the same way men can") will get their way in the headlines, maybe not all that much will change in actual sentencing.

4 thoughts on “Murder and Provocation”

  1. My outrage hasn’t been tempered as much as yours.

    If a woman is capable enough to plan killing her husband, even after years of abuse, then she should be capably enough to get out of the relationship. There are hundreds of organisations she can turn to and I don’t see why we should change the definition of murder.

    As to your point about sentencing, that is my understanding is that the difference is a murderer is always released on licence and can be returned to jail if they breach any part of the licence and I think this is the part they are trying to avoid these women being caught up in.

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