An overhaul of murder laws that will see the “crime of passion” defence abolished has been welcomed by a charity that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans victims and survivors of domestic violence.
However, Broken Rainbow said that the consultation document merely “begins to scratch the surface of the various types of domestic violence and abuse.”
The overhaul of murder laws, the first since the Homicide Act of 1957, was announced yesterday.
The proposals will form part of a new Law Reform Bill in the next parliamentary session.
They will make it much harder for those who kill out of anger to avoid a murder conviction by claiming that they were provoked, Justice Minister Maria Eagle said.
The government proposes the abolition of the existing partial defence of provocation ie: a “crime of passion.”
It will be replaced with two new partial defences: killing in response to a fear of serious violence and killing in response to words and conduct which caused the defendant to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged.
Currently, defendants who successfully plead provocation can avoid the mandatory life sentence that a murder charge carries, instead receiving the lesser sentence of manslaughter.
“The proposed change comes in response to longstanding concerns that the centuries-old partial defence impacts differently on men and women and is too generous to those who kill out of anger and too hard on those who kill out of fear of serious violence,” the Ministry of Justice said.
“The consultation paper makes clear that a manslaughter conviction should be justified for killings carried out in anger only in exceptional circumstances -which do not include sexual infidelity on the part of the victim.”
Welcoming the proposed changes Minister for Women Harriet Harman said:
“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.
“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.”
Broken Rainbow said the consultation paper focuses upon women facing domestic abuse from their male partners, and not upon the 1 in 6 men facing domestic abuse, and the 1 in 4 LGBT people facing domestic abuse from same-sex partners.
Broken Rainbow receives 60% of its calls from men experiencing abuse from their male partners.
Also on the rise are calls from trans people.
“The lack of awareness around the subject for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans victims compounds what is already a difficult situation,” said Melvin Hartley of Broken Rainbow.
“Not only can these individuals not access mainstream services without outing themselves, they face a dearth of dedicated services tailored to their needs.
“For example, services such as refuge spaces that are usually available to women, are far more difficult to access for lesbian and bisexual women, and are practically impossible for trans people to access.”
Chair of Broken Rainbow Jo Barringer, said:
“This is an opportunity to ensure that all communities are represented and their voices heard.
“Domestic abuse is an insidious crime which poisons both the physical and emotional well being of all victims regardless of their gender or sexuality.”
Home Office Minister Vernon Coaker said:
“These new proposals will ensure that victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system and send a clear message that the law is on their side and takes account of the experiences of those who kill in genuine fear of serious violence, for example a woman who repeatedly suffers domestic violence and finally kills her partner when she can suffer no more.”
The consultation, launched today, will close on 20 October 2008. For more details click here.
Broken Rainbow can be contacted on 08452 60 44 60 and at www.broken-rainbow.org.uk