Friday, July 25, 2008

Getting away with murder...

Cath Elliot has a piece in today's Guardian, where she argues that the forthcoming changes to the murder laws are a victory for women, in that the old defences of provocation and diminished responsibility are to be reviewed. Essentially the new reforms (although these are still in consultation) will tighten the law of provocation to make it harder for husbands to claim provocation for adultery, nagging and so forth. Quite right too. The law of homicide is a ridiculous mess.
However, fiddling about with the defences is the wrong approach. With the exception of self-defence (which is a full defence), the main homicide defences of diminished responsibility and provocation are fudges. One calls for a 'sudden and uncontrollable impulse' and the other for 'temporary mental disorder'. Neither of these are accurate depictions of what happens - they are convenient legal fictions.
The correct response would be to remove the mandatory life sentence that a conviction of murder attracts, and use the defences of provocation, diminished responsibility as mitigating factors in sentencing, rather than factors in determining charge. It's not really a gender matter as such - more a legal and moral one.



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