Submission re Queensland Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016

Update 21 March 2017:

Tonight, Queensland Parliament has voted to – finally – abolish the homosexual advance defence (sometimes referred to as the ‘gay panic’ defence) from state law.

This move, while long overdue, is obviously welcome, removing one more piece of homophobic legislation from the Queensland statute books.

To read more about the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016, see tonight’s report in the Brisbane TimesGay panic laws pass Queensland Parliament, removing partial defence’.

Finally, I thank Mr Rob Molhoek, LNP member for Southport, for this ‘shout-out’ in his speech on the Bill:

“In his submission to the committee, Mr Alistair [sic] Lawrie commented that—

Even if a small minority of people remain firmly intolerant of homosexuality, that does not mean there should be a ‘special’ law to reduce the culpability of such a person where they are confronted by an unwanted homosexual sexual advance. To retain such a provision is unjust and discriminatory, and is a mark against any legal system which aspires to fairness.

I agree with that statement made by Mr Lawrie. I firmly believe that discrimination of any type, be it based on sexuality, age, gender or any other matter, has no place in our laws. That is why I support this proposed legislation.”

Update 22 February 2017:

The Report by the Queensland Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee into the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016 was handed down yesterday. For a copy of the report, click here.

Pleasingly, the Committee’s main recommendation is that the Bill – which would finally abolish the homosexual advance defence or ‘gay panic defence’ in Queensland – should be passed.

The discussion of the abolition of this partial defence to murder, from pages 4 to 18, features a number of references to my own submission (which can be found in the post below).

This includes consideration of my concerns (and the concerns of others) about the drafting of and definitions for both ‘circumstances of an exceptional character’ and ‘unwanted sexual advance’.

I welcome the Committee’s interest in these issues, as well as their agreement to my own recommendation that the operation of the law as amended should be reviewed after 5 years to ensure it has functioned as intended (on page 18: “The committee agrees that the proposals in Clause 10 of the Bill should be reviewed in five years to establish whether they have operated as intended”).

For more on how this committee inquiry has been received, see The Brisbane Times article ‘Gay panic law reform bill should be passed, committee recommends’. 

Whether the Bill is passed is now up to Queensland Parliament, including the crossbenchers who hold the balance of power. Hopefully they agree to consign the homosexual advance defence to the history books as quickly as possible.

Original post:

The Palaszczuk Labor Government has proposed legislation that would, among other things, finally abolish the ‘homosexual advance defence’, or ‘gay panic’ defence, under Queensland law.

Its Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016 is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee. Full details of the Inquiry can be found here – my submission to the inquiry is included below.

The Committee is due to report by 21 February 2017. Hopefully, the homosexual advance defence is consigned to the history books shortly thereafter.

**********

The Research Director

Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee

Parliament House

Brisbane QLD 4000

lacsc@parliament.qld.gov.au

Monday 16 January 2017

Dear Committee,

Submission re Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016

Thank you for the opportunity to provide a submission regarding the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016.

In this submission I will be focusing exclusively on the proposed amendments to section 304 of the Queensland Criminal Code, as contained in clause 10 of the Bill.

Overall, I welcome these proposed amendments, given the stated intention of the Queensland Government that they will give effect to their election commitment to repeal the homosexual advance defence, or ‘gay panic’ defence.

As noted by Attorney-General the Hon Yvette D’Ath in her second reading speech:

“The amendment to section 304 provides that the partial defence is excluded if the sudden provocation is based on an unwanted sexual advance, other than in circumstances of an exceptional character. I know that there has developed a reference to this amendment as removing the ‘gay panic’ defence – that is, a situation where the defendant claims to have been provoked to murder by a homosexual advance by the deceased. I absolutely acknowledge this amendment’s importance to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex community – as it is to all Queenslanders who have voiced their criticism that such an advance could establish the partial defence.”

Indeed, the abolition of this defence, in the two Australian jurisdictions where it remains in place (Queensland and South Australia) is a priority for the LGBTI community nation-wide.

That is because the idea that a lesser level of criminal punishment – manslaughter rather than murder – should apply where a man kills another man because of an unwanted sexual advance is, to put it simply, abhorrent.

This point was made eloquently by Justice Kirby in his dissent in the High Court’s decision in Green v The Queen [1997] HCA 50:

“If every woman who was the subject of a “gentle”, “non-aggressive” although persistent sexual advance… could respond with brutal violence rising to an intention to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on the male importuning her, and then claim provocation after a homicide, the law of provocation would be sorely tested and undesirably extended… Any unwanted sexual advance, heterosexual or homosexual, can be offensive. It may intrude on sexual integrity in an objectionable way. But this Court should not send the message that, in Australia today, such conduct is objectively capable of being found by a jury to be sufficient to provoke the intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm. Such a message unacceptably condones sexual violence by people who take the law into their own hands.”

The truly offensive nature of the homosexual advance defence is revealed by asking why it invariably applies to non-violent sexual advances by a man to another man. As Kirby asks, rhetorically, if a non-violent sexual advance from one man to another was sufficient to justify forming the intention to kill or seriously wound, why should this not also apply to a non-violent sexual advance by a man to a woman? Further, why shouldn’t a woman who receives an unwanted non-violent sexual advance from another woman have access to the partial defence of provocation? Why doesn’t it also apply to a man who receives an unwanted non-violent sexual advance from a woman?

The answer is that in all of these cases society justifiably expects the recipient of the unwanted sexual advance to exercise self-control. A violent response to an unwanted non-violent sexual advance, to the extent that the recipient forms the intention to kill or seriously wound, is so beyond the pale, or so far out of the ordinary, that we do not extend any reduction in culpability to the offender in these circumstances.

In my opinion, there is nothing so different, so special or so extraordinary, in the situation where the non-violent sexual advance is made by a man to another man, as to justify offering the offender in such cases any extra legal protection. In contemporary Australia, a man who receives an unwanted sexual advance should exercise the same level of self-control as we expect of any other person.

To have a separate legal standard apply to these cases is homophobic because it implies there is something so objectionable about a non-violent sexual advance by a man to another man that a violent reaction is almost to be expected, and at least somewhat excused. This does not reflect the reality of contemporary Australia, where, with the exception of marriage, gay men enjoy (most of) the same rights as other men, and are accepted as equals by the majority of society.

Even if a small minority of people remain firmly intolerant of homosexuality, that does not mean there should be a ‘special’ law to reduce the culpability of such a person where they are confronted by an unwanted homosexual sexual advance. To retain such a provision is unjust and discriminatory, and is a mark against any legal system which aspires to fairness.

The above discussion outlines why the homosexual advance defence is wrong in principle. What should not be forgotten is that the homosexual advance defence is also wrong in practice, or in the outcomes which it generates. After all, the defence does not simply exist in the statute books, ignored and unused. Instead, it has been argued in a number of different criminal cases, sometimes successfully.

This means there are real offenders who are in prison (or who have already been released), who have had their conviction reduced from murder to manslaughter, and most likely their sentence reduced along with it, simply because they killed in response to an non-violent homosexual advance. The legal system has operated to reduce the liability of these offenders even when broader society does not accept that such a reduction is justified. As a result, these offenders have not been adequately punished, meaning that above all these victims have not received justice.

Similarly, the family members and friends of the victims killed in such circumstances have witnessed the trials of these offenders, expecting justice to be served, only to find that the killer is not considered a murderer under the law. Instead, these family members and friends find some level of blame is placed on the actions of the victim, that somehow by engaging in a non-violent sexual advance they have helped to cause and even partly deserved their own death.

For all of these reasons, I strongly support the abolition of the homosexual advance defence, or ‘gay panic’ defence, in any jurisdiction where it remains.

Therefore, I commend the Queensland Palaszczuk Labor Government for its commitment to remove this abhorrent law from the statute books via the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016.

It does so through the inclusion of clause 10, which would amend section 304 of the Queensland Criminal Code, the provision that establishes the partial defence to murder of provocation.

Specifically, I welcome the proposed insertion of new sub-section 304(3A):

“Further, sub-section (1) does not apply, other than in circumstances of an exceptional character, if the sudden provocation is based on an unwanted sexual advance to the person.”

Prima facie, the inclusion of this new sub-section substantively removes the partial defence of provocation for circumstances where the ‘provoking conduct’ was an unwanted, non-violent sexual advance.

In principle, then, the homosexual advance defence, or ‘gay panic’ defence, would be abolished in Queensland by the passage of this Bill.

However, I do have two concerns about the drafting of the amendments to section 304, and their potential operation.

First, by including the phrase ‘other than in circumstances of an exceptional character’, I am concerned that this leaves the door slightly ajar to at least some cases where the homosexual advance defence may be sought to be used.

I note that, for the purposes of new sub-section 3A, there is no restriction on what might constitute ‘circumstances of an exceptional character’ (with proposed new sub-section 6A merely providing that regard may be had to any history of violence, or of sexual conduct, between the offender and the victim).

This leaves room for judicial interpretation, and the possibility, albeit remote, that the homosexual advance defence may still be successfully raised.

For this reason, I suggest that the operation of the reforms to 304 be reviewed after a period of five years, to assess whether these amendments have operated as intended.

Recommendation 1: The operation of the proposed reforms to section 304 should be reviewed after five years, to assess how they have operated in practice, including how the term ‘circumstances of an exceptional character’ has been applied in cases where a defendant has sought to invoke what would be described as the homosexual advance defence.

The second concern I have about the proposed amendments is the inclusion of the definition of ‘unwanted sexual advance’ in new sub-section 9:

“In this section-

unwanted sexual advance, to a person, means a sexual advance that-

(a) is unwanted by the person; and

(b) if the sexual advance involves touching the person – involves only minor touching.

Examples of what may be minor touching depending on all the relevant circumstances-

patting, pinching, grabbing or brushing against the person, even if the touching is an offence against section 352(1)(a) or another provision of this Code or another Act.”

The attempt to provide clarity of what forms an unwanted sexual advance, as a means to prevent the successful use of the homosexual advance defence, is clearly welcome.

The reference to section 352(1)(a) is also useful because, as the Attorney-General noted in her second reading speech “the spectrum of conduct that falls within the offence of sexual assault is very broad”, and this should not automatically result in an increased ability of a murderer to seek to have their charge downgraded.

However, the creation of a definition of unwanted sexual advance creates the risk, and arguably the incentive, for the perpetrator of these types of offences to exaggerate the ‘touching’ that was involved in the unwanted sexual advance that preceded the murder.

Given the nature of these cases, there will necessarily be no ability for the victim to provide any evidence disputing this exaggeration.

It would obviously be disappointing if, in attempting to remove the homosexual advance defence, the Government introduces a provision that instead allows its continued use, in certain circumstances, with the defendant induced to increase their claims about the unwanted sexual advance by the deceased.

It is difficult to see how this particular risk can be completely excluded – other than by adopting the approach of some other states and territories (including Victoria, Western Australia and Tasmania) to abolish the partial defence of provocation entirely.

As with the definition of ‘circumstances of an exceptional character’ above, I suggest that the operation of these provisions generally, and the definition of ‘unwanted sexual advance’ specifically, be reviewed after five years, to determine whether there have been any unintended or unforeseen consequences of these amendments.

If there have been, then at that point it may be appropriate to consider abolishing the partial defence of provocation altogether, and replacing it with specific defences or partial defences for a limited range of scenarios (for example, in the context of family violence).

Recommendation 2: The operation of the proposed reforms to section 304 should be reviewed after five years, to assess how they have operated in practice, including how the definition of ‘unwanted sexual advance’ has been applied, and whether it has simply induced defendants to exaggerate their claims about the unwanted sexual advance by the deceased.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this submission regarding the Criminal Law Amendment Bill 2016, and specifically about clause 10, a provision that is intended to finally abolish the homosexual advance defence, or ‘gay panic’ defence, in Queensland.

As indicated above, I welcome these reforms in principle. The above two recommendations are offered in order to help ensure that the intention of the Bill is reflected in practice.

I can be contacted at the details provided with this submission, should the Committee have any questions about this submission, or require any additional information about the matters raised.

Sincerely

Alastair Lawrie

Yvette D'Ath

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath, who introduced the Criminal Law Amendment Bill on 30 November last year.

LGBTI Highs & Lows of 2014

A short final post to bring to a close this blog for another year. As always, the past 12 months have been incredibly busy, having seen significant achievements in LGBTI rights in some areas, and a disappointing lack of progress in others. The following are my personal views on a couple of the major highlights of 2014, two ongoing ‘lowlights’, and one item of unfinished business.

  1. NSW Finally Repeals the Homosexual Advance Defence

In May, NSW Parliament passed the Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Act 2014, finally removing the homophobic and biphobic ‘homosexual advance’ or ‘gay panic’ defence from our statute books. This was a long overdue reform, and is testament to the hard work of many, many LGBTI activists, and organisations (including, but not limited to, the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby), over the past 15-20 years.

From my own perspective, I was happy to play a small role as part of the overall movement to abolish this discriminatory law. I was one of 52 individuals and organisations to lodge a submission to the Parliamentary inquiry into the Partial Defence of Provocation in 2012 (submission here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2012/08/10/submission-on-homosexual-advance-defence/ ), and also made a submission to the then Attorney-General on the draft Crimes Amendment (Provocation) Bill in late 2013 (submission here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/11/14/submission-on-crimes-amendment-provocation-bill-2013-re-homosexual-advance-or-gay-panic-defence/ ).

Now that NSW has finally removed this stain from the Crimes Act, it is time for Queensland and South Australia to also consign the homosexual advance defence to the dustbin of history.

  1. Victoria and NSW Pass Legislation Allowing Historical Convictions for Homosexual Sex to be Expunged

This was another long overdue law reform, and one that is essential to help remedy some of the injustice caused, both by the criminalisation of male-male sexual intercourse (with decriminalisation taking effect in Victoria in March 1981, and in NSW in June 1984), and also by the differential age of consent post-decriminalisation (with the age of consent equalised in Victoria in 1991, and in NSW, shamefully, not until 2003).

This achievement belongs primarily to those campaigners in Victoria who kept the issue alive for many years, if not decades (including Jamie Gardiner, someone whom I am privileged to be able to call a friend and mentor), and who put in the legal policy development work over the past couple of years (including Anna Brown, of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby and the Human Rights Law Centre), among numerous others. The NSW reforms were able to successfully ‘piggyback’ on this advocacy south of the border.

For my part, I was able to pursue this issue as the Policy Working Group chair of the NSW Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby 2012-2014, as well as writing to the new Premier, Mike Baird, in May of this year calling for a party vote in favour of Bruce Notley-Smith’s Bill (letter here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/05/25/letter-to-nsw-premier-mike-baird-re-lgbti-equality-and-conscience-votes/ ).

But I am perhaps most proud that it was a motion that I drafted which was passed at ALP State Conference in July which ensured the Labor Opposition would vote, as a bloc, in favour of this reform – although it would be remiss of me not to say that it was Penny Sharpe’s advocacy behind the scenes that ensured this motion was successful.

As with the homosexual advance defence, it is now up to other states to similarly pass legislation to allow men affected by these laws to have their convictions expunged. And for Queensland, this must also include amendments to finally introduce an equal age of consent (with a higher age of consent for anal intercourse still in force there).

  1. Australia Still Persecuting LGBTI Refugees

Onto the ‘lowlights’ of 2014 and the first could be taken from 12 months previously – and in fact it is, with Australia’s ongoing policy of sending LGBTI refugees to countries which criminalise homosexuality for processing and resettlement also featuring atop my end of year Highs & Lows from 2013 (see original post here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/27/no-1-australia-sends-lgbti-refugees-to-countries-which-criminalise-homosexuality/ ).

Sadly, the situation one year later isn’t all that different. The policy is still in breach of our international human rights obligations, is still fundamentally unjust, and is still an insult to humanity itself – both of the refugees, and ours because it is being done in our name. The Immigration Department essentially confirmed in a response to me that the Government will continue to send LGBTI refugees to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea, and to Nauru, for the foreseeable future (see my letter and their response, on behalf of Minister Scott Morrison, here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/02/02/letter-to-scott-morrison-about-treatment-of-lgbti-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-sent-to-manus-island-png/ ).

The only glimmers of hope at the end of another depressing year in this area are that a) Minister Morrison is today being replaced in the Immigration portfolio and b) the treatment of LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees has been receiving increased media coverage, both in LGBTI community publications (including the Star Observer and samesame) and importantly in mainstream media (with a special mention of the Guardian Australia for their ongoing work in this area).

  1. Lack of Progress on Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People

This ‘lowlight’ is also taken from the 2013 list of Highs & Lows, although at that stage it was presented in a much more favourable manner, given the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs had only recently handed down its report on the Involuntary or Coerced Sterilisation of Intersex People in Australia (see post here: https://alastairlawrie.net/2013/12/25/no-3-senate-report-on-involuntary-or-coerced-sterilisation-of-intersex-people-in-australia/ ).

Unfortunately, 12 months on and there has apparently been little progress in this area – despite the Report itself being debated in the Senate in March, I am unaware of any formal Government response, let alone significant reforms to implement its recommendations. Let’s hope that, in 2015, the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments all take action to ensure that the human rights of intersex children are no longer violated in this way.

  1. Campaign for the ALP to Adopt a Binding Vote on Marriage Equality

The final entry in this list of ‘Highs & Lows’ is actually an item of unfinished business, both of the past 12 months, and also stretching back to the 2011 ALP National Conference, which adopted marriage equality in the party’s platform, but then immediately undermined it by enabling members of the parliamentary party to vote against this plank of the platform for any reason whatsoever.

As I have written previously (see my major post on this topic, ‘Hey Australian Labor, It’s Time to Bind on Marriage Equality’ https://alastairlawrie.net/2014/07/13/hey-australian-labor-its-time-to-bind-on-marriage-equality/ ), it is highly unlikely that marriage equality will pass Commonwealth Parliament in this term without a binding vote for ALP MPs. Which means that the votes by the Tasmanian State ALP Conference in July, and Queensland State Conference in August, to support a binding vote were incredibly encouraging, and even the close loss in NSW in July was heartening (because, if those voting patterns were repeated across Australia, it would likely be successful at the national level).

This campaign, which I refer to as #ItsTimeToBind, will be one of the most important of 2015, as we move towards ALP National Conference in Melbourne in July. Let’s see whether Bill Shorten will stand up and be a Leader who supports the fundamental equality of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex Australian, without exception.

So, that brings me to the end of my writing for another year. On a personal note, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has read, commented (even when they have disagreed), shared and liked my posts. As you can probably tell, I enjoy writing, and I enjoy it even more when I know that people are interacting with it (and the almost 16,000 unique visitors, from 141 countries, this year is both humbling and, to be honest, a little bit exciting).

On that point, if you do enjoy reading and visiting this blog, please consider signing up (either on WordPress or via email – the subscription options for both are located at the top of the right-hand side-bar), and to stay up-to-date you can also follow me on twitter https://twitter.com/alawriedejesus . Have a happy and safe end to 2014, and let’s hope that 2015 brings with it even more progress towards full LGBTI equality, both in Australia and overseas. Thanks, Alastair

2nd Anniversary of Election of O’Farrell Government

So, last week I wrote a column on behalf of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby (GLRL) for the Star Observer, looking at the 2 year anniversary of the election of the O’Farrell Liberal-National Government in NSW. It has been published today, and can be found at the following link: http://www.starobserver.com.au/opinion/2013/04/03/speaking-out-6/101597 . I will publish the full text of the article here next week (ie after the current edition).

Basically, NSW has not gone backwards on LGBTI law reform over the past 2 years, unlike our neighbours North of the Tweed under Premier Campbell Newman (who continues to wage war against the rights of and services for the Queensland LGBTI community). It is unclear which model the likely incoming Prime Minister Tony Abbott will follow (although one has to suspect he will be more like Newman than O’Farrell).

But just because O’Farrell and his Government have not gone backwards doesn’t mean there has been any great progress either. The next 12 months will be key, in particular seeing whether he and his Government support state-based marriage equality, abolish the homosexual advance or gay panic defence and continue, and hopefully expand, the Proud Schools program.

Full text:

As always, there has been a lot going on over the past month, including the community’s response to police (mis)conduct during the Mardi Gras Festival, as well as the Legislative Council’s hearings into State-based marriage equality laws.

One event which almost went unnoticed was the 2nd anniversary of the election of the O’Farrell Government, which happened last week. This officially marked the halfway point of this term of Parliament.

Many people in the LGBTI community probably greeted the election of a Liberal/National Government back in March 2011 with a degree of trepidation, not knowing exactly what to expect on gay and lesbian issues. The good news is that there have not been any major backwards steps on gay and lesbian law reform in NSW.

In fact, there have been some small wins, with the continuation of the Proud Schools pilot, and the passage of a symbolic motion in favour of marriage equality by the Legislative Council in mid-2012. However, there have been no major advances on gay and lesbian rights under the O’Farrell Government so far either.

As the Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, we believe that over the next 12 months it is time for the Liberal/National Government, and the Parliament more broadly, to demonstrate its commitment to treating the LGBTI people of NSW equally.

There are three major legislative and policy issues which are already on the agenda for the coming year. The first is the Upper House Inquiry into the partial defence of provocation, which is due to report by 2 May. We will be looking for the O’Farrell Government to abolish the homosexual advance or ‘gay panic’ defence, because non-violent sexual advances should never be a justification to downgrade a murder conviction to manslaughter.

The second issue is the State-based marriage equality Bill, which should be voted on later in 2013. The GLRL wants parliamentarians of all political persuasions to support the legal recognition of the equality of same-sex relationships.

The third issue which is already on the agenda is a decision on the long-term future of Proud Schools. At the Lobby, we believe that all LGBTI students deserve to have an education free from bullying, prejudice and discrimination. Consequently, we want to see Proud Schools continued and indeed expanded across NSW.

This is obviously not an exhaustive list, and the Lobby will be campaigning on other issues, including removing religious exceptions in anti-discrimination law and calling for a review of the criminalisation of commercial surrogacy arrangements, during the ‘second half’ of this term.

But, by acting on the three issues identified above, the O’Farrell Government, and the NSW Parliament generally, would demonstrate that they genuinely believe LGBTI people should be treated equally. Time will tell.

OFarrell hand

Premier O’Farrell – We won’t let you put these issues to one side this year…

Submission on Homosexual Advance Defence

The following is a submission which I am lodging today with the NSW Legislative Council Provocation Committee which is inquiring into the Partial Defence of Provocation. It is an opportunity to make the argument that the homosexual advance defence, or ‘gay panic’ defence, should be repealed because it is unjust and discriminatory. The Committee has extended the deadline to Friday 24 August 2012 so I would encourage anyone interested to make a similar submission.

NB On Tuesday 23 2013, the Committee handed down its final report. In it, all members of the Committee, including the Chair, Mr Fred Nile, recommended that non-violent sexual offences should not be the basis of a provocation defence. Which means in practice, that all members have recommended that the Homosexual Advance Defence be abolished. This is obviously a great result – it is now up to the Premier, the Hon Barry O’Farrell MP, to implement this reform, as quickly as possible. The full report can be found here: http://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/Prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/61173C421853420ACA257B5500838B2E?open&refnavid=CO4_1

Submission to the Legislative Council Provocation Committee Inquiry into the Partial Defence of Provocation

This submission will focus on one aspect of the operation of the partial defence of provocation – the so-called homosexual advance (or ‘gay panic’) defence.

In particular, it will argue that the law of provocation should be reformed by either amending s.23 of the Crimes Act 1900 to ensure that non-violent sexual advances cannot be considered as an act which induces provocation, or by repealing s.23 in its entirety to remove the partial defence of provocation altogether.

This is necessary to ensure that never again can a person who commits homicide have their offence downgraded, from murder to manslaughter, with a consequent reduction in maximum sentence, simply on the basis of a non-violent sexual advance.

As noted in the Committee’s briefing paper for this inquiry, the statutory basis of the partial defence of provocation lies in s.23 of the Crimes Act. In particular, sub-sections (1) and (2) provide that:

(1) Where, on the trial of a person for murder, it appears that the act or omission causing death was an act done or omitted under provocation and, but for this subsection and the provocation, the jury would have found the accused guilty of murder, the jury shall acquit the accused of murder and find the accused guilty of manslaughter.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an act or omission causing death is an act done or omitted under provocation where:

(a) the act or omission is the result of a loss of self-control on the part of the accused that was induced by any conduct of the deceased (including grossly insulting words or gestures) towards or affecting the accused, and

(b) that conduct of the deceased was such as could have induced an ordinary person in the position of the accused to have so far lost self-control as to have formed an intent to kill, or to inflict grievous bodily harm upon, the deceased,

It is difficult to comprehend how these sub-sections have ever operated to mitigate the responsibility of an offender who kills another person in response to a non-violent sexual advance. It is almost impossible to understand how it could still be the case in 2012.

The ultimate fault for this sorry state of affairs lies with the majority of High Court justices in Green v The Queen [1997] HCA 50. With all due respect to Chief Justice Brennan, Justice Toohey and Justice McHugh, they incorrectly applied the ordinary person element in sub-section (2)(b) to mitigate the responsibility of the offender. As has been made clear in repeated criticisms of this decision, the ‘ordinary person’ in contemporary Australia is not so homophobic that their response to a non-violent homosexual advance is to form the intent to kill that person or to wish to inflict grievous bodily harm upon them.

This point was of course made eloquently by Justice Kirby in his dissent:

“If every woman who was the subject of a “gentle”, “non-aggressive” although persistent sexual advance… could respond with brutal violence rising to an intention to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm on the male importuning her, and then claim provocation after a homicide, the law of provocation would be sorely tested and undesirably extended… Any unwanted sexual advance, heterosexual or homosexual, can be offensive. It may intrude on sexual integrity in an objectionable way. But this Court should not send the message that, in Australia today, such conduct is objectively capable of being found by a jury to be sufficient to provoke the intent to kill or inflict grievous bodily harm. Such a message unacceptably condones sexual violence by people who take the law into their own hands.”

The truly offensive nature of the homosexual advance defence is revealed by asking why it invariably applies only to non-violent sexual advances by a man to another man? As Kirby asks, rhetorically, if a non-violent sexual advance from one man to another was sufficient to justify forming the intention to kill or seriously wound, why should this not also apply to a non-violent sexual advance by a man to a woman? Further, why shouldn’t a woman who receives an unwanted non-violent sexual advance from another woman have access to the partial defence of provocation? Why doesn’t it also apply to a man who receives an unwanted non-violent sexual advance from a woman? Or, in my case, as a gay man, why can’t I access the partial defence of provocation if I receive an unwanted sexual advance from another man?

The answer is that in all of these cases society justifiably expects the recipient of the unwanted sexual advance to exercise self-control. A violent response to an unwanted non-violent sexual advance, to the extent that the recipient forms the intention to kill or seriously wound, is so beyond the pale, or so far out of the ‘ordinary’, that we do not extend any reduction in culpability to the offender in these circumstances.

In my opinion, there is nothing so different, so special or so extraordinary, in the situation where the non-violent sexual advance is made by a man to another man, as to justify offering the offender in such cases any extra legal protection. In contemporary Australia, a man who receives an unwanted sexual advance should exercise the same level of self-control as we expect of any other person.

To have a separate legal standard apply to these cases is homophobic because it implies there is something so abhorrent about a non-violent sexual advance by a man to another man that a violent reaction is almost to be expected, and at least somewhat excused. This does not reflect the reality of contemporary Australia, where, with the exception of marriage, gay men enjoy the same rights as other men, and are accepted as equals by the majority of society.

Even if a small minority of people remain firmly intolerant of homosexuality, that does not mean there should be a ‘special’ law to reduce the culpability of such a person where they are confronted by an unwanted homosexual sexual advance. To retain such a provision is unjust and discriminatory, and is a mark against any legal system which aspires to fairness.

The above discussion outlines why the homosexual advance defence is wrong in principle. What should not be forgotten is that the homosexual advance defence is also wrong in practice, or in the outcomes which it generates. After all, the defence does not simply exist in the statute books, ignored and unused. Instead, it has been argued in a number of different criminal cases, sometimes successfully.

This means there are real offenders who are in prison (or who have already been released), who have had their conviction reduced from murder to manslaughter, and most likely their sentence reduced along with it, simply because they killed in response to an non-violent homosexual advance. The legal system has operated to reduce the liability of these offenders even when broader society does not accept that such a reduction is justified. As a result, these offenders have not been adequately punished, meaning that above all these victims have not received justice.

Similarly, the family members and friends of the victims killed in such circumstances have witnessed the trials of these offenders, expecting justice to be served, only to find that the killer is not considered a murderer under the law. Instead, these family members and friends find some level of blame is placed on the actions of the victim, that somehow by engaging in a non-violent sexual advance they have helped to cause and even partly deserved their own death.

The saddest part of preparing this submission was in reading the Committee’s briefing paper and learning that, not only have at least 11 men been killed in these circumstances in NSW, but also that 11 families were so profoundly let down by the justice system between January 1990 and September 2004. It is highly likely that the defence has been used more times since then, dishonouring more victims and causing additional pain to more families already dealing with the loss of a loved one.

I wrote earlier that it is the fault of the High Court, in Green v The Queen, that the homosexual advance defence remains a part of the criminal law. Where the courts get it wrong, as they clearly have in this area, it is the responsibility of the parliament to remedy the error and thereby ensure the justice system operates in a fair and non-discriminatory manner.

There are two options for the NSW Parliament to abolish the homosexual advance defence.

The first would be to amend s.23 of the Crimes Act 1900 by inserting a section which would exclude non-violent homosexual advances from forming the basis of provocation. This was the course of action recommended by the Homosexual Advance Defence Working Group in 1998, and appears to have been adopted in the ACT and NT.

The second option would be repeal s.23 in its entirety and abolish the partial defence of provocation altogether, as has been done by Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

As I have concentrated solely on the homosexual advance defence and not on the impact of such a change on cases involving family violence and other instances where the partial defence of provocation may be applied, I am not in a position to recommend which of these options should be adopted in the broader context (for example, if s.23 is repealed entirely, it may be necessary to incorporate a new provision for ‘defensive homicide’, as the Victorian Parliament did in 2008).

Nevertheless, I believe it is clear the NSW Parliament should adopt one of these courses of action to ensure that no more killers are able to rely on the homosexual advance defence to reduce their conviction from murder to manslaughter. The homosexual advance defence is unjust, it is discriminatory and it should be made history.

Recommendation

The NSW Parliament should either:

a)      Amend s.23 of the Crimes Act 1900 by inserting a section which would exclude non-violent homosexual advances from forming the basis of provocation; or

b)      Repeal s.23 of the Crimes Act, thereby removing the partial defence of provocation entirely.

Alastair Lawrie

10 August 2012