A review of the law could make it easier for battered family violence victims who kill their abusers to avoid a murder charge.
The Law Commission had been asked by Minister of Justice Amy Adams to review how victims of domestic violence are dealt with by the law if they strike back against their partner or family member and kill them.
On Wednesday, the Commission released an Issues Paper identifying several areas where our justice system could be letting down victims who kill their abusers.
Adams has previously called New Zealand’s domestic violence record “horrific” and said in August that combating family violence was her top priority.
The Commission’s paper echoed Adams’ concerns, pointing out that family violence was a “significant problem” in New Zealand, with nearly half of all homicides family violence-related.
“Most homicides are committed by people with a history of aggression but sometimes, people who have been victims of long-term physical, sexual and psychological violence kill their abusers”, the paper said.
“Usually, although not always, such people are women who have suffered years of violence by male intimate partners.”
Lead commissioner Dr Wayne Mapp said victims of domestic violence who go on to kill their partners are usually charged with murder.
One of the key questions for the Commission was whether New Zealand should introduce a new partial defence, reducing murder to manslaughter, for victims of family violence.
“When victims of family violence kill their abusers, they are often acting in response to years of physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
“Homicide is one of the most important areas of the criminal law and it may not adequately recognise the position of victims of family violence,” Mapp said.
I’m somewhat nervous about this. The law currently allows a finding of self-defence if someone kills to defend themselves from an active attack, or threatened attack.
This potential change is about someone who doesn’t kill in the middle of a fight, but who kills their partner in basically cold blood.
Now I have sympathy that some victims of domestic violence (which I abhor) may feel it is the only way out. However it is preferable to leave your partner rather than kill them. It’s not as simple as that, but still the punishment for domestic violence should be jail, not death.
Having said that manslaughter is still a very serious offence. I just don’t know one should use that term for something that is pre-meditated.
Maybe we should not use the terms murder and manslaughter but instead just have degrees of homicide?