This qualitative: by using a series of

This article’s aim is
to examine the impact of the legislative reforms which were enacted in 2005 on
the legal responses to women charged with the murder of their intimate partner
in Victoria, Australia, and to determine how the reforms in terms of self-defence
have been used in practice. The authors aim to highlight the importance of understanding
the context of family violence when charging women with the murder of their
partners, focusing on the “persistent misconceptions” (2017, p. 559) among the
legal profession regarding family violence.

The authors use data gathered
from the cases of 7 women who killed their intimate partner over an 8 year
period following the introduction of the Crimes
(Homicide) Act 2005, reviewing these cases with focus on self-defence and
defensive homicide and family violence provisions. The article begins by
providing a background to the 2005 reforms, stating that the rules and
requirements concerning the defences of self-defence and provocation “have not reflected the experiences of abused
women who kill” (Tyson et al, 2017,
p.561). The changes to legislation are made evident, with the authors drawing
attention to the new act’s expanded scope on the defence of self-defence to
include murder, which accommodates the experiences of abused women who kill in “non-confrontational circumstances” (Tyson
et al, 2017, p.562). The article
describes each case in a detailed manner, explaining the family violence the
woman was subject to, how the killing unfolded, includes direct quotes from the
guilty and the sentence each woman received.

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The research design discussed in
this article is highly qualitative: by using a series of case studies, the
authors determine whether the effectiveness of the reforms depends on “how the legal profession interprets and
applies” them (Victorian
Law Reform Commission, 2004). The data used came from reports in the media and
via the Australian Legal Information Institute, however, the authors identify a
limitation to this database because not all cases heard in the Victorian
Supreme Court are published online and are available to the public due to some
sentencing judgements being restricted to protect those involved in the case. The
qualitative information is gathered from a detailed examination of transcripts
form trials, plea and sentencing hearings, and is presented in the form of a
table with the following headings: Case citation; Plea/trial; Immediate circumstances
of killing; Relationship context; Method of killing; History of family violence
and Result/sentence.

The authors’ findings are
consistent with already existing empirical research that displays that women
generally kill their partners in response to violence and/or threats of
violence from their intimate partner (Belknap et al, 2012, p.360). The authors found that in every case they
studied, the women had been victims of repeated physical, psychological or
sexual violence, or of “coercive, controlling
behaviour from the deceased” (Tyson et
al, 2017, p.564). Consistency between each case is displayed through the
fact that a weapon was used by all 7 women. In 6 out of 7 of the cases
examined, the women stated the killing arose during an immediate confrontation
with their partner. An important finding to note is that although each woman
attempted to plead guilty to offenses of manslaughter or defensive homicide,
they were all charged with murder.

Many conclusions can be drawn from
this research, the most prominent being that although all women killed in the
context of preceding family violence, the reforms had not been used as they
were intended, which meant the women might “not
have received the strongest possible
defence as a result” (Tyson et al, 2017,
p.568). An example of this could be the cases of Karen Black and Eileen
Creamer, who both described a history of sexual and psychological abuse from
their partners, where the understandings of family violence were narrow and
mainly focused on physical violence. This shows a clear lack of understanding
of psychological manipulation, sexual degradation and coercive control as
methods of family violence, and, although in two cases (Jade Kells and Eileen
Creamer) specific reference was in fact made to the new family violence provisions,
the authors argue that the provisions were not used to their full capacity.

Another conclusion this research draws
is that the use of family violence experts in cases where women kill their
intimate partners are very limited. The case the authors use to exemplify this is
Jemma Edwards, who fatally stabbed her husband multiple times in 2011 following
severe threats such as “cut my eyes out
and cut my ears off” and claimed that prior to the stabbing, he was drunk
and pushed, punched and kicked her and came at her with a knife, which is why
she believed she acted in self-defence. During her plea hearing, there was no mention
made of the family violence provisions of the new Crimes (Homicide) Act 2005 (section 9AH)
and the defence case “predominantly
focused on Jemma Edwards’ psychopathology as a battered woman” and the
authors conclude that the defence counsel should have used a family violence
expert to display that Jemma Edwards had reasonable grounds for believing that
she was at serious risk on the day of the killing. There was very little use of
these experts in all cases studied, and when provisions were used, they were done
so in a limited way.

The final conclusion
drawn from this research is that battered women facing charges of murder feel a
large amount of pressure to plead guilty to manslaughter instead of proceeding
to trial to appeal for self-defence. This is supported by research from the
Victorian Law Reform Commission (2004). The article concludes that pressure to
plead guilty could be due to the victim of family violence facing barriers in
establishing themselves as “credible
witnesses” due to the abuse occurring in private settings where there are
no independent witnesses to verify their account of what happened.  

The article is clearly structured,
and the authors use headings and subheadings to display their argument. A table
is included to concisely display each case of women who have killed their
intimate partner, making it easy for readers to view all details of the
killings and the circumstances under which they occurred.

The article is successful in
meeting its aims as it examines in great detail the impact of the legislative
reforms of 2005 and provides readers with sufficient evidence to back up their
points. The authors successfully discuss the ways in which the reforms have not
been used as intended, and that women are still at a disadvantage when acting
in self-defence against their abusive partners.

When placing this article within a
broader body of academic knowledge, it is unique as it challenges
misconceptions held by juries and legal professionals and emphasises that
legislative reform is not enough: the effectiveness of reformed legislations is
dependent on the way in which the legal professionals interpret and apply them
as these professionals are often biased and see things in black and white,
rather than looking at the bigger picture and the context in which the killings
occur.

The article does not challenge
existing theory, for example, social control perspectives view “female partner violence perpetration as
extreme self help behaviour” (Erriksson and Mazerolle, 2013, p.6) which is
essentially what the authors of this text are portraying female violence
against a partner as: self-defence.

A strength of this article is that
the research conducted provides high qualitative data which the authors then
analyse to come to a conclusion. The data gathered provides an insight for
further research, and the research method is well suited to the aims and nature
of the study. By using first hand accounts from the women themselves regarding
the relationship they had with their deceased partners and how the events
unfolded and contrasting these with the women’s experiences during the plea
appeals/ trials, the authors can form a well rounded argument. Another strength
of this article is the actual topic it covers: domestic abuse is prevalent in
most societies, and when women kill their abusers, their family violence
history should be taken into consideration if they believe they were acting in
self-defence and more should be done to ensure these women are not labelled as
murderers when they could have been the murdered had they not acted as they
had.

A limitation of this article is the
sample size used when gathering data: 7 is a very low number and although the information
is empirical, it is not representative of all women who kill their intimate
partner. Another criticism of this article is that it does not refer to any
criminological theory when discussing these issues, and that it is highly
descriptive in its nature, making it a little difficult and dull to read at
times: perhaps including some qualitative data would have been useful here.
Furthermore, the database used has a significant flaw as it is not completely
representative of female perpetrated violence in Victoria as not all cases
heard in the Victorian Supreme Court are published online for confidentiality
issues, thus providing an unrepresentative figure. 

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