Page last updated at 23:23 GMT, Monday, 9 November 2009

Infidelity murder defence to go

Palace of Westminster
Peers voted to block the move last month

Ministers are pushing ahead with plans to end the right of murder suspects to cite the sexual infidelity of their partner as a partial defence in court.

The Lords threw out the plans last month, but minister Claire Ward argued a man should not be able to say he killed his wife because of an affair.

MPs backed the plans, which would apply equally to men and women, by 299 votes to 145, overturning the vote by peers.

The Tories said the jury should decide what constituted a partial defence.

In last month's Lords debate, deputy High Court judge Lord Thomas of Gresford described the plans as "illogical" and "outstandingly obnoxious".

'History jettisoned'

But Ms Ward, a junior justice minister, said the issue was about whether Parliament believed someone who was being unfaithful was "bringing upon their own death at the hands of their partner".

As the Coroners and Justice Bill was debated in the Commons, she said: "We do not think that in this day and age it is appropriate for a man, for example, to be able to say that he killed his wife as a result of sexual infidelity and that is essentially the reason.

What is unique about sexual infidelity that it's got to be removed from the almost endless list of circumstances in which somebody might be provoked?
Ann Widdecombe

"However if there are other factors that come into play, the court will of course have an opportunity to consider them, but not exclusively sexual infidelity."

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve said the government "has decided that thousands of years of human experience and history should be jettisoned for a piece of political correctness and proclamation".

He said juries could make up their own minds about what constituted a partial defence as "they have to do it all the time".

'No excuse'

Veteran Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe said: "The fact that someone comes home drunk seven days a week is not actually a good enough reason to kill them, but we know that sometimes that can happen.

"What is unique about sexual infidelity that it's got to be removed from the almost endless list of circumstances in which somebody might be provoked?"

Ms Ward said the circumstances were "quite different".

She was backed by Labour MP David Winnick who said the "message should be sent out" that sexual infidelity should never be an excuse for murder.

Earlier MPs also voted to overturn other Lords amendments on the Coroner and Justice Bill relating to the use of intercept evidence.

The bill will now return to the Lords, with ministers anxious to avoid lengthy delays in its progression.

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