Domestic Abuse and 'the law is an ass’

Wednesday 18th September 2019 08:24 EDT

When I was training to be a barrister, I recall well the now famous case of the British Indian woman who set fire to her husband whilst he slept. She was charged with murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence wherein the judge has no discretion.

She pleaded the partial defence of provocation, which means she was provoked by circumstances to commit the murder, namely her husband's behaviour over a period of time, and which if proven would reduce her crime to one of manslaughter. The act of manslaughter does not have a mandatory life sentence.

The judges decided that whilst previously the law of provocation meant that the defendant had to have ‘snapped’ in the moment, that since women did not tend to ‘snap’ like men, and instead would need to plan and plot any such attack, being in a position of weakness in any event, that provocation could now include such long prolonged planning.

There remain those who think the law is wrong of course. And the most recent high profile case of the ‘law being an ass’ is that of Geoffrey Boycott who was convicted for hitting his then girlfriend. He denies this and many newspapers have made clear they too think the case was one of the victim creating evidence to sell her story to the press and making a financial gain. Geoffrey who many a time has denied India a victory over England on the cricket pitch, was a first time offender. And he has been knighted.

So can the law really ever get things wrong? Do miscarriages happen? Worst still as the law in this area has now introduced crimes such a ‘controlling behaviour’ which is imprisonable, one worries exactly how little evidence is needed to be convicted? Moreover, given a guilty plea attracts a lesser sentence, one can imagine many people deciding to plead guilty than roll the dice with a jury at the hands of a planning manipulative spouse.

When I was young, my family often provided refuge to battered wives, indeed we have had family members who have been victims – and we’ve collected them from their marital homes to end their marriages. This I’ve known as an issue from childhood in our community.

But, now, these laws move from assault, battery, to criminalising ‘behaviour’. Now, like you, I too knee-jerk to making most things I don’t like a crime. But consider that a crime tends to be something which the State believes it ought to revoke your liberty, thereby, ending your career, destroying your finances, and placing upon you a status which in most circumstances ruins the rest of your life.

So when I come across bad laws, or injustices, whether this or any case, I say, fight, before, during and especially after a conviction. Rally your friends, tell your story, explain the background. Was the perpetrator really as they wish in this age of Instagram the portrayal they claim? You have after all the freedom of speech, and that too, is a power granted by the State.

Geoffrey Boycott believing himself to be innocent, said this week, he doesn’t ‘give a damn’ that people think he did it. He denies it. The law is indeed an ass according to him.

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