Infidelity can be murder defence again in Britain
Published 18/01/2012 | 05:00
KILLERS in England can again use sexual infidelity as a defence in murder cases after the country's most senior judge ruled that it can cause people to lose control.
Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, said juries should be allowed to consider the fact a victim had been unfaithful as a possible provocation, in defiance of a new law that explicitly banned the use of infidelity as a defence.
Lord Judge ruled that infidelity could not be presented as the sole reason for murder and that other "triggers" must be shown if it is to relied upon as a defence.
Sitting in the Court of Appeal, he quashed the conviction of a man who killed his wife after she admitted sleeping with five men and then goaded him about it.
The last Labour government changed the law regarding murder defences to exclude sexual infidelity in "loss of control" killings.
But Lord Judge said to exclude it in cases where it was integral was to risk "injustice" and that the law was likely to "produce surprising results".
His ruling risks a fresh conflict between the judiciary and MPs. When the law was first drawn up in 2009, it was met with fierce opposition in the House of Lords, where one peer described the move as "outstandingly obnoxious".
The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 replaced the murder defence of provocation with a new partial defence of "loss of control", but exempted sexual infidelity as a catalyst.
Following the appeal-court ruling, those accused of murder can once again use evidence that their victim was unfaithful to them as part of the reason why they lost control and killed.
Lord Judge, sitting with two other judges, gave the general guidance after hearing three "loss of control" test cases.
The court dismissed two but upheld the appeal of Jon-Jaques Clinton, who was jailed for life after killing his wife, Dawn, at their home in Berkshire.
The couple, who had two children, had separated two weeks before the 2010 killing and the day before her death Mrs Clinton, a dinner lady, told her husband she was having an affair with a man she had met online.
When he confronted her about the infidelity, Mrs Clinton taunted him saying that she had slept with five men and gave graphic details.
She also "sniggered" after discovering he had been looking at suicide websites, adding "it would have been easier if you had, for all of us".
Clinton, a building site manager, was also under pressure at work and was worried about how to cope with two children without her after a 17-year relationship. He attacked her with a lump of wood and strangled her.
At his trial, the judge told the jury to disregard any evidence about sexual infidelity and then formally withdrew the loss-of-control defence as an option, leaving the jury to consider diminished responsibility as the sole defence. The Court of Appeal quashed the conviction and ordered a retrial.
In more general comments, Lord Judge said the law was unequivocal: loss of control triggered by sexual infidelity cannot, "on its own", qualify as a trigger for the purposes of the defence.
But, he said, to seek to compartmentalise sexual infidelity, and "exclude it when it is integral to the facts as a whole" was "unrealistic" and "carries with it the potential for injustice".