Monday, November 01, 2004

Does the law favour men?

A big news story here in Victoria has been the trial of James Ramage. Ramage confessed to killing his wife after she allegedly told him that sex with him repulsed her and that she had found herself a lover. A jury determined that Ramage was guilty of manslaughter rather than murder because of provocation.

As you might expect, feminists have reacted by claiming that the courts support a patriarchal attempt by men to control women. Mary Crooks, for instance, has a column in today's Age newspaper titled "It's time women had a better deal from the law". She uses statistics from the Victorian Law Reform Commission which, she claims, show that the provocation defence is used nearly always by men who have killed their female partners, that one third of these men had their sentences reduced to manslaughter, whereas the few women to use the defence were unsuccessful.

She concludes that this,

sends an awful message to women. Don't try to fight his abuse and his desire to control you, hide your fear, don't try to leave, because in society's eyes, as reflected and symbolised in the decisions of the courts, your safety seems to be of no real moment, and your life can be snuffed out because your man is angry and jealous.

Now, this all too conveniently fits in with feminist theories. Feminists want us to believe that men as a group have organised a "will to power" over women, leaving women as the oppressed victims of a patriarchy.

That's why the picture painted by Mary Crooks is one in which men are the oppressors and women the victims, with the courts asserting male power and control by letting the men off lightly but punishing the few female culprits to the full extent of the law.

Now, any person with knowledge of the way that feminists often distort the facts ought to be a little sceptical of the statistics provided by Mary Crooks. I wanted to check her figures, so I did a quick search of the internet and came up with the excellent NSW Law Reform Commission site.

As expected, the data provided by this site completely contradicts the information given by Mary Crooks. I'm going to quote a large chunk of this material just to show how willing feminists are to completely distort the real facts of an issue.

The NSW website summarises the findings of a Victorian Law Reform Commission report as follows:

3.93 The Victorian study found that more male than female defendants use the provocation defence ... However, where female defendants do use the defence it is more likely to be successful. No female defendant who argued provocation was convicted of murder, although 25% of male defendants who raised the defence were.

3.94 ... It was also found that male defendants were less likely to receive a manslaughter [rather than a murder] conviction where their victim is female.

3.95 Provocation was raised in 8 of the 26 cases of female defendants presented for murder or manslaughter. There were no murder convictions and four were convicted of manslaughter.

3.97 The Victorian Law Reform Commission found that its data:

does not support the conclusion that the provocation defence generally operates in a gender biased way. It refutes the claim made by some commentators that juries routinely accept provocation defences by males who have killed females.

3.99 Where provocation was an issue and a manslaughter verdict returned, the Victorian study found that 33% of women received non-custodial sentences (compared with 10% of men) and that the most common sentence for men was 6-8 years and for women 3-5 years.

So there you have it! First, there are many more cases where women are the perpetrators of violence than Mary Crooks is prepared to allow. Second, when men are the perpetrators their victims are sometimes other men rather than women. Third, when men kill a woman rather than another man they are punished more heavily. Fourth, women are more likely than men to have their charges reduced to manslaughter by the provocation defence. Fifth, women subsequently charged with manslaughter are much more likely to avoid prison and when they do get prison terms they get lighter sentences than men charged with the same offence.

So the facts do not so easily fit into the male oppressor vs female victim stereotypes that Mary Crooks tries so hard to establish. In fact, the whole issue, if anything, shows a systemic bias by the courts against men rather than against women.

PS If you read the NSW Law Reform website further you find more evidence of the generally light sentences handed out to female offenders. For instance, of ten women charged with neonaticide (killing of a newborn) in NSW between 1968 and 1981 only one was sent to prison and she had killed six babies.

Regarding infanticide (killing of a child under the age of one) 70% of the perpetrators were female. Of seven women charged with infanticide in NSW between 1976-1980 all were released on good behaviour bonds.

Such data hardly supports the feminist theory that the courts are harsh on women because of a patriarchal bias.

1 comment:

  1. Hmm, interesting post! The Ramage case was an unpleasant one. From what I read in the press, I did not think that Mr Ramage deserved to be found guilty of manslaughter rather than murder, but then, I wasn't a juror. I may have felt entirely differently if I had sat through all the evidence. I have worked in Courts before and if there's one thing I know it's that the press is often inaccurate in reporting legal cases.

    I think the attitude of society and the law has changed. 30 - 40 years ago, I think a woman would have had much more difficulty establishing provocation because of the requirement of immediate loss of control. Some of the cases we studied in Criminal Law date from this period. Certainly, over the last 15 years, this requirement of immediate loss of control has been relaxed (see for example, R v Chhay (1994) 72 A Crim R 1).

    I'm just not comfortable with provocation as a defence, for men or for women. It suggests that there is an "excuse" for killing someone. If such matters are taken into account I would prefer them to be taken into account in sentencing.