Thursday, November 02, 2006


Mark Goldstraw: Honor Killing and its Consequences

Mark Goldstraw has just been sentenced to a minimum of 35 years. He killed his ex-girlfriend and three other people because he was angry at her. Previously, he killed another ex-girlfriend by hitting her with a hammer. For this he was sentenced to "seven years" and served about three.

This blog has dealt with the question of the 'manslaughter' of women before. There have been some shocking examples, particularly Paul Dalton, who dismembered his wife, put her in a freezer, and fled the country. (He got two years for the killing, which was described as an 'entirely appropriate' sentence by the Court of Appeal when prosecutors appealed.) The Guardian carried out the grim but necessary task of recording 68 related cases in the UK in 2005.

When such killings are not carried out by pale-skinned men of European origin, they are often called 'honor killing'. More honest legal systems accept that the killing of women over whom one has a proprietal relationship, such as wives or daughters, is not the same as 'murder' and should not be treated as such.

A UN report listed countries with such laws in 2002:

"legislative provisions allowing for partial or complete defence in that context could be found in the penal codes of Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Egypt, Guatemala, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Peru, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey, Venezuela and the West Bank."

Media reports tend to concentrate exclusively on those countries with the misfortune to be influenced by Islam (despite the terrible situation with regard to violence against women in Guatemala, for example). Jordan's law ("Article 340") has been the focus of considerable international attention, not merely because of the level of violence against women in the country, but because of its Parliament's repeated refusal to change it (emphasis added):

“..he who discovers his wife or one of his female relatives committing adultery with another, and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, is exempt from any penalty”.

“he who discovers his wife, or one of his female ascendants or descendants or sisters with another in an unlawful bed and he kills, wounds or injures one or both of them, benefits from a reduction of penalty.”

A 6 month prison sentence is typical for those who kill females unfortunate enough to be in one these relationships to an angry male. There is intermittent international condemnation. Human Rights Watch has a full report.

Many might also think that the lesser sentences routinely given to men who kill in this way in the UK is a BAD thing too. Unfortunately, however, there is nothing clear-cut to campaign against.

The obvious starting point is to scrap 'manslaughter' as a legal concept. (This doesn't seem unreasonable to me. There are many other cases where its application has been outrageous. I reported some on this site).

However, this isn't going to happen. 'Manslaughter' is a reasonable concept in some cases, for example, where the culprit is mentally ill. There are also legal grey areas where less-culpable killing SHOULD be recognised and 'manslaughter' might provide an option for juries: For example, when a woman who is the victim of years of abuse fights back, or in the case of 'mercy' killing.

Cases of men who 'snap' (a psychological event that may well be more likely in men than women, and clearly more likely to result in serious harm, owing to their greater physical strength) cannot be such a case of lower culpability. Especially when they've been violent before.

This site has suggested a solution - 'Ape's Law' which says:

1) 'Manslaughter', as an alternative finding to murder in cases of mitigated voluntary killing, should be unavailable to anyone with a previous conviction for violence, or any history of serious violence against the victim whether convicted for it or not. [To achieve this, a sentencing rule could be introduced to the effect that those convicted of manslaughter in such cases be sentenced as though they had been convicted of murder. "Life imprisonment" is already an option available to the judge in manslaughter cases: it should be used more].

2) Any residual element of a 'crime of passion' defence should be removed through direction to the jury. 'Passion' (ie, anger) is properly regarded as evidence of guilt, not a partial defence as to intent.


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