The offence of defensive homicide was introduced in Victoria in November 2005 as part of a wider package of homicide law reforms recommended by the Victorian Law Reform Commission (‘VLRC’). This article looks at how certain reforms provide clarity to the partial defences to murder, and the respond to growing concerns that homicide law was operating in a gender-biased way.
In particular, the operation of homicide law in Victoria was seen to disadvantage women who killed their male abusers, while simultaneously excusing the use of lethal violence committed by men against their female intimate partners. To date, there have been only five cases in which an accused person has been found guilty of the offence of defensive homicide following a contested trial. In the remaining 16 cases, the matter has been finalised by the Crown accepting a guilty plea from the accused.
Given that a guilty plea to defensive homicide can only be entered upon the Crown agreeing to withdraw any additional homicide-related charges, it is likely that many of these cases involved plea bargaining. While the pragmatic, emotion-based and financial benefits of obtaining a guilty plea are well established, the use of plea bargaining to resolve defensive homicide cases raises concern because it limits the ability to effectively evaluate the practical application of this new offence, including its impact on gender bias in the operation of homicide law.