Domestic violence: Victims who kill will have new murder defence

Domestic violence victims who kill their partners will have access to a new defence to murder based on fear of serious violence, under government plans announced today.

The changes, published for consultation, propose to abolish the partial defence of provocation – which if successful reduces a murder charges to manslaughter.

Domestic violence campaigners have long argued that the current requirement for defendants to have a “sudden loss of self-control” penalises women who kill their partners out of fear, resulting in them being convicted of murder.

The government today proposed replacing provocation with a new partial defence of killing in response to a fear of serious violence. In exceptional circumstances, this would extend to killing in response to gross provocation, or “words and conduct which caused…a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged”.

Sexual jealousy no longer a defence

The proposed changes would also make clear that sexual jealously – typically on the part of a man in response to their partner’s perceived infidelity – would not constitute grounds for reducing murder charges to manslaughter.

Minister for women Harriet Harman said: “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.”

The changes were welcomed by domestic violence charity Women’s Aid.

Impact of abuse not recognised

Deputy chief executive Nicki Norman said: “We want to see an end to women, who have experienced serious and prolonged violence at the hands of their partner, being inappropriately convicted of murder through lack of recognition of the long-term fear and impact of abuse.”

A new partial defence of diminished responsibility, based on a recognised medical condition, would also be introduced. The consultation says this would include learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders, which may be particularly relevant to juveniles.

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