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Homicide Law Reform in Victoria

Retrospect and Prospects





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AUD $99.00 gst included

2015 marks a decade since the introduction of substantive reform to the law of homicide in Victoria. In 2004 the Victorian Law Reform Commission released, Defences to Homicide: Final Report, which recommended major changes to the law of homicide in Victoria. In 2005, the Victorian government responded to the 56 recommendations by implementing the largest package of homicide law reforms since the abolition of the death penalty. Changes to the law included abolition of the controversial partial defence of provocation, the introduction of a new offence of defensive homicide (now abolished) and evidence reforms designed to improve understandings of family violence. This book brings together leading scholars, legal practitioners and the former Victorian Attorney-General to provide a comprehensive examination of the Victorian experience of reform, including its perceived successes and failures.

This is a controversial area of the law that continues to present challenges in practice. Since the 2005 reforms further reform of the law has occurred in Victoria and a range of divergent approaches to homicide law reform have been introduced and animated debate across Australia and internationally. With such a high level of law reform activity nationally, this book provides a timely analysis of the extent to which the Victorian reforms have improved legal responses to lethal violence and with what effect in practice. To further enhance this analysis, the book also looks internationally to consider the operation of homicide law in England and Wales, Canada and New Zealand and what lessons could be gained from understanding the impact of differing approaches to reform.

This book explores a number of issues concerning the operation of the law of homicide, sentencing practices, the role of the media, evidence reforms, legal culture, political influences and future reform challenges for Victoria and other Australian jurisdictions. In examining all aspects of the 2005 homicide law reforms, the book draws on the views of those who were involved in reviewing the law of homicide in Victoria, those who recommended and implemented reform, and those who have played a key role in the monitoring and evaluation of the law post-reform in Victoria but also more widely in Australia and internationally. The resulting analysis will be of great interest to legal, criminology and socio-legal scholars as well as legal practitioners and law reformers in Australia and comparative international jurisdictions.

Foreword by Rob Hulls 
About the Editors
Notes on Contributors
Table of Cases
Table of Statutes

Introduction: Homicide Law Reform in Victoria: Retrospect and Prospects
          Kate Fitz-Gibbon and Arie Freiberg AM

1.  The More Things Change the More They Stay the Same: Homicide Law Reform in Victoria
          The Hon Justice Marcia Neave AO
2.  Legal Culture, Professional Education and Homicide Law Reform
          Felicity Hampel
3.  Law Reform and the Media: (Re)figuring Responsibility
          Jenny Morgan
4.  Homicide Law Reform, Provocation and Sentencing
          Arie Freiberg AM, Karen Gelb and Felicity Stewart
5.  The Effects of the 2005 Reforms on Legal Responses to Women Who Kill Intimate Partners
          Danielle Tyson, Debbie Kirkwood, Mandy McKenzie and Bronwyn Naylor
6.  Social Framework Evidence: Its Interpretation and Application in Victoria and Beyond
          Heather Douglas
7.  When Self-Defence Fails
          Elizabeth Sheehy, Julie Stubbs and Julia Tolmie
8.  The Offence of Defensive Homicide: Lessons Learned from Failed Law Reform
          Kate Fitz-Gibbon
9.  Simplifying Homicide Laws for Complex Situations
          Greg Byrne PSM
10. Reform and Codification of the Law of Homicide: Reflections on the Victorian Experience
          Ian Leader-Elliott


Starting with an introduction by former Victorian attorney-general Rob Hulls, the book has an impressive array of contributors. The complex issue of provocation and of defensive homicide is fully addressed. As Rob Hulls points out in his introduction, the fact that so few women commit homicide means that it would take decades to acquire enough information to make legislating safe. The book sets out to be about law reform in Victoria with respect to homicide and its corollaries: in that it amply succeeds. Further, it noted the tension between judicial discretion and prescriptive law. The book deals not only with sentencing practices but also with media, evidence, legal culture, legislation, political influences and jury direction.

The coverage concentrates on provocation and defensive homicide: as such it should commend itself to busy practitioners. While it deals with issues such as infanticide, battered women,
moral culpability, and common defences to homicide it might extend its wide coverage. One such issue is that of the murder of children in order to make a former partner suffer. Two recent cases were Farquharson (sons drowned in the dam), and Freeman (threw his young daughter to her death
off Westgate Bridge). In both cases the finding of guilt was established, and both were imprisoned. Should such cases attract particular moral opprobrium and/or merit mandatory sentences?

The writers and editors are to be commended on this valuable submission.

Ronald D Francis, InPrint, Law Institute Journal Victoria, March 2016