Monday, May 18, 2009

In the ballot XXIII: Ending provocation

Four years ago, David McNee was beaten to death in a brutal and vicious attack. His killer was subsequently acquitted of murder, but convicted of manslaughter, on the grounds that McNee had "provoked" him by making homosexual advances. This "provocation" defence, enshrined in s169 of the Crimes Act, was subsequently used to excuse at least one other anti-gay hate crime, as well as a case in which a man beat his wife to death with a cricket bat because she was going to leave him. Now, Labour MP Lianne Dalziel is fronting a bill to repeal it.

It's about time. The Law Commission recommended the repeal of provocation back in 2007, arguing that it was used as an excuse for murder. Contrary to claims that it protected battered women, the primary beneficiaries were misogynists and homophobes - people reacting to what are quite ordinary circumstances (relationship breakup, unwanted sexual advances) with mindless rage. And that's not the sort of thing we as a society should be rewarding. If there are actual mitigating circumstances, rather than just hatred and a lack of self-control, then judges now have the discretion to consider that at sentencing. But leaving the law as it is provides a ready-made tool for crimes against certain groups - and hence, the members of those groups themselves - to be devalued.

The sooner this infamy is erased, the better. But it won't be easy. As a member's bill, it is basically luck of the draw. But by bringing it, Dalziel will hopefully shame the government into acting themselves. Whichever way it happens, the important thing is the repeal - not who gets to claim credit for it.