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Last Updated:  Monday, 3 March, 2003, 12:06 GMT
Killers may lose 'provocation' plea
Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman says the law is "from a previous age"
The defence of provocation in murder cases may be dropped under a proposed reform of homicide laws, the government has said.

The plea is often used as a defence in domestic murder cases, but has also been employed by defendants claiming to have suffered racial abuse.

Its future will be considered in a consultation paper in the Spring, a spokesman for the Solicitor General's office said.

It comes after Solicitor General Harriet Harman told the Daily Telegraph that the law was from "a previous age" and should be dropped.

Up to a third of murders in the UK are believed to involve domestic abuse, figures released last year showed.

Ending the provocation defence would be part of a larger proposed reform of the 1957 Homicide Act.

It was too early to tell whether the proposals would go through Parliament under an existing bill or whether new legislation would have to be drawn up, the Solicitor General's office said.

'Getting off lightly'

Before Christmas the Law Office referred two murder cases to the Court of Appeal after trial judges had accepted provocation pleas as mitigating factors.

Neither of the sentences were changed, and the Solicitor General's office said this was one reason the change was being considered.

Speaking in Monday's Telegraph, Ms Harman said: "Men kill their wives, generally speaking, out of anger and women kill their husbands out of fear.

Domestic abuse
Ms Harman wants help for women suffering abuse

"It blames the victim. Men say 'The woman wound me up, she was planning to leave me and I was upset and therefore I am not guilty of murder'.

"Even if a woman has done all of those things it does not justify violence, let alone violence to the point of death."

Ms Harman believes killers are getting off too lightly because men who kill their wives or girlfriends are usually charged with manslaughter and not murder.

In order to use the provocation defence a person charged with murder must plead guilty to the lesser offence.

Ms Harman is also keen to create a new law to allow women who kill their husbands after years of abuse to be treated more sympathetically.

Last year she urged neighbours who were aware of domestic abuse to report it to the police.


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