Current Affairs

New Zealand moves to abolish gay panic defence

Jessica Geen August 20, 2009
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A bill to abolish the so-called ‘gay panic defence’ has passed its first reading in New Zealand’s parliament.

The Crimes Provocation Repeal Amendment Bill was unanimously passed on Tuesday night.

If it passes into law, the bill will remove the ability for people charged with murder to claim they were provoked.

In the gay panic defence, a person charged with murder can claim that they were driven into a state of violent temporary insanity by a sexual advance from the victim.

It is also used in domestic violence cases.

Recent cases include Ferdinand Ambach, who killed Auckland gay man Ronald Brown by showing the neck of a banjo down his throat. Ambach said he thought Brown was about to rape him.

Another was Clayton Weatherston, who stabbed his girlfriend Sophie Elliott 216 times but argued he should be charged with manslaughter rather than murder because he was provoked.

Justice minister Simon Power said allowing people to use the defence of provocation sent out the wrong message.

He said: “The defence assumes that ordinary reasonable people when confronted with severe provocation will react with a homicidal loss of self-control, when, in fact, ordinary people do not.”

“When the government is attempting to send the strong message that people must find ways other than violence to manage their anger it is inappropriate and undesirable that anger be singled out as an overriding mitigating factor that could be seen to justify conviction for manslaughter rather than murder.”

Green Party MP Kevin Hague, who is openly gay, said: “The ongoing existence of this defence is a signal that violently taking the life of a gay man is of less consequence than of taking the life of another. That is obnoxious in the extreme. It increases the actual physical danger faced by gay men, and it signals in the most graphic way possible both to gay men and to everyone else that our lives do not have the same value as the lives of others.”

The gay panic defence is most frequently used in the United States, particularly in areas where homophobia is widespread.

In the UK, it is also referred to as the ‘Portsmouth defence’ or ‘guardsman’s defence’ and if accepted it reduces the defendant’s liability to a charge of murder. Murder carries a mandatory life sentence but the sentence for manslaughter is at the judge’s discretion.

The Crown Prosecution Service states:

“The fact that the victim made a sexual advance on the defendant does not, of itself automatically provide the defendant with a defence of self-defence for the actions that take place.

“Often, the sexual advance made by the victim will not involve any physical act of touching, and the reaction of the defendant is borne out of anger rather than any real belief that they were acting to protect themselves from an assault.”

More: New Zealand

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