The Parliamentary Session is due to end some time tomorrow and the Lords and the Commons are now playing ping pong – trading amendments so that Bills can be finally approved by both Houses in the same form so that they can receive Royal Assent before Prorogation.
The Coroners and Justice Bill has now returned to the Lords. The Commons have reversed some of the changes made to the Bill by the Lords at earlier stages. One of these was an amendment proposed by the Liberal Democrats and carried with the support of the Conservatives that – in effect – would have enabled the fact of sexual infidelity as being a mitigating factor in arguing that a charge of murder should be reduced to manslaughter.
The House of Commons disagreed with the amendment and returned the Bill without the amendment to the Lords. The Liberal Democrats have today re-proposed their previous amendment (in a different form). On this occasion the Conservatives abstained and the LibDem bid has been defeated by 157 to 63.
There was an excellent speech from Baroness Joyce Gould – as a non-lawyer, in a debate dominated by barristers – in which she said:
“My Lords, I rise to oppose the amendment and ask for the reintroduction of the original clause. …..
I do not have and cannot give examples of what has happened in court; I cannot cite cases. I can cite the views of many hundreds of women who feel absolutely outraged that this House deleted the clause in the first place. The Women’s National Commission, of which I am chair, and which, as my noble friend said, represents 550 very varied women’s organisations, large and small, around the country, was inundated with queries as to how that could possibly happen. No one believed that it could. As a consequence, I was asked as chair whether I would write to the Secretary of State for Justice expressing the concerns of those many women, which I did. I was delighted—as I am sure they were as well—to see it back. I hope that it stays in the Bill.
The Women’s National Commission has long known from our work with the violence against women sector the devastating effect of domestic homicide on families and communities. In the UK, two women a week die at the hands of their partners. That level is clearly unacceptable, but until violence against women is eradicated, we must ensure that justice is served on those men who commit such crimes.
As has been said, the law of provocation has a long history. The killing of a wife or girlfriend by a partner because of an actual or suspected infidelity—she may never have done anything, but he thinks that she has—has often been used in the past to reduce murder to manslaughter. The law should be clear that it is no longer acceptable in the 21st century—not the 18th century, the 21st century—that anyone owns anyone. The penalty for infidelity—which in itself is not a crime—should not be one of killing by anyone. Those partners who believe it right to kill should always go on trial for murder. In this instance, our concern is that men who kill women should not be able to plead the traditional argument that she was unfaithful, or that she might have been unfaithful, to support a plea of loss of self-control.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, cited the Humes case of 2002. The point about the Humes case was that the judge accepted the manslaughter provocation. It did not go a jury, and yet we have heard an awful lot about how the clause is unnecessary because juries would understand in this modern age. That case did not go to a jury; the judge took the decision. Therefore, the argument in respect of juries collapses. I find it extraordinary that those arguments have been put.
It is vital that the Bill is amended once more to reintroduce the clause and to return it to the Commons. Without the clause, the Coroners and Justice Bill will allow men who perpetrate violence against women to operate with impunity. It is vital that we protect women and children by supporting the clause. Infidelity alone cannot and should not provide a defence for murder.”