Australians know that domestic violence is a growing epidemic in this country, and we are working to stop it. But how can we make a difference if the very law that should be protecting victims from their violent partners, is actually blaming them for their deaths?
Some are calling it a license to kill, others acknowledge that it might just be a legal loophole. But, it’s still being used by violent partners in several cases (past and present) to not only justify their crimes, but also reduce their sentences.
It’s called the Provocation Defence.
Originally, this law was intended to protect the victims of domestic violence, who might kill their partner in an episode in which they fear for their life and well-being. Obviously, these people shouldn’t be labelled as killers, so the law allows the circumstances around the death to be taken into account, and the unintentional killers are often charged with manslaughter. This means they serve less time, and don’t have the weight of the sentence following them around for the rest of their lives.
Unfortunately, it’s now being used against those people it is meant to protect. In the last few years alone, several violent men have tried to use the Provocation Defence in court to explain why they killed their wives and partners. They argued that the women, their victims, provoked a violent response from them. Yes, they’re saying their partners made them do it. And in some cases, the law agrees.
Who Used It?
Certainly one of the most famous (or infamous) killers who used the Provocation Defence successfully was James Ramage. In 2003, Ramage strangled his wife Julie when she told him that she wanted to end their 23 year marriage. It was a relationship that, by many counts, was dominated by James, with his wife Julie a victim of his anger, violence, and control.
He had beaten her on a number of occasions, and she finally got the strength up to run away in June of 2003. Friends and relatives noted the change in her immediately, she was a new woman. But she had to tell James that it was over for good, she wanted him to leave her alone.
For reasons that we might never know, she agreed to meet him in a secluded place, their partially renovated home in Balwyn. She told him that she was leaving him forever, and that is where everything went wrong.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know what actually happened. But, for those interested in fiction there’s always Ramage’s version of the events. He claimed that Julie mocked his efforts at renovating the house, criticised his sexual prowess, and baited him until he ‘lost control’. Yes, he says that his 67kg wife, who had lived under his controlling oppression for 23 years, stood up to her 95kg husband, and made him lose control.
Ramage punched Julie so hard that his hand was swollen and red. He then strangled her.
After the events, Ramage immediately sought to hide the crime, taking Julie’s body and burying it in a shallow grave, and hiding evidence. When he later confessed, he used the Provocation Defence to justify his actions, and was found guilty not of murder, but of manslaughter. The judge gave him 11 years, with a minimum eight year sentence, and he is now out and living his life as a free man.
In Victoria, following the Ramage case, the Provocation Defence can no longer be used in defence. Unfortunately, Ramage isn’t the only one who got away with it.
Who Tried To Use It?
The reason the Provocation Defence debate is rearing its ugly head yet again is because of Christopher Cullen. Just last year, Cullen brutally stabbed his 39-year-old wife Victoria, and tried to use the Provocation Defence to get away with it.
It all happened on January 22nd, when Cullen was found close to his wife’s body.
Victoria had been stabbed 18 times, had her throat cut, and was badly beaten. Her nose was broken, and her clothes were soaked with blood. Cullen claimed that there had been a fight, relating to a civil matter they were addressing in court.
Then, he says, Victoria taunted their sex life, and they fought with a knife. Initially, he also claimed that she had stabbed him, although his wounds were found to have been self-inflicted.
Cullen tried to use the Provocation Defence to get off his murder charge. He claimed that his wife forced him to take action, that she pushed him until he broke. Luckily, although he lived in a state where the defence can still be undertaken, the evidence was not on his side.
Cullen had been spotted shopping for knives, a knife sharpener and a change of clothes at a fishing store just before he killed his wife. In fact, he had kidnapped her and locked her in the boot of her car while he shopped. Despite this, he stilled tried to use the Provocation Defence, and was able to drag her name through the mud in court. He claimed that Victoria was a lying, drunken whore, and these are all outrageous and false claims her three children will have to live with.
The prosecution was able to see through Cullen’s argument, and he was sentenced to 30 years in jail.
The Future Of Provocation
It is unbelievabe that killers are still able to even consider using the provocation law in certain states in Australia. Although it was banned in Victoria following the Ramage case, it is still a valid defence in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland.
Does this mean that the life of a victim is worth less in those states? What’s worse is that even in cases where there’s no chance of the defence proving successful, like Cullen’s, he was still able to take his wife’s reputation and falsely accuse her of being a different person, of being a terrible mother, and of being at fault for his actions.