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Chris Ford: Government Right To End Provocation Defence In Wake Of Weatherston Trial

Chris Ford
Chris Ford

Justice Minister Simon Power's decision to effectively repeal the partial provocation defence in murder cases is a welcome one in the wake of the trial by ordeal that Clayton Weatherston subjected his victim Sophie Elliott's family to in the Christchurch High Court these past three weeks.

The murder of a beautiful, talented woman who was going to work at the Treasury (not my most favourite place in the world, admittedly) was horrifying in terms of its viciousness, callousness and premeditation.
Weatherston's brutality in virtually executing his girlfriend in her own home, supposedly a place of safety and sanctuary, will not be forgotten by neither her family who lived through it or the nation that was shocked by it.

But the question must be asked - why has it taken a tragedy such as this to get movement from Parliament on this issue? No one knows as it has never been a priority for politicians to address unjust laws too quickly anyway.

There have been other cases where this defence has been used before and successfully (as it was) in the prosecution of the killer of a gay interior designer whose killer successfully argued that he had been 'provoked' into taking the gay man's life on account of repulsing an unwanted sexual advance by him.

Now this same defence has attempted to be deployed in the killing of a young woman, Sophie Elliot. Weatherston, who hired one of this country's best known defence lawyers Judith Ablett-Kerr to defend him, used the law as a hinge with which to try and obtain a lesser sentence and at the same time impugn the person of his victim along the way.

But this attempt on the part of a vile, evil, manipulative and controlling, albeit, intelligent man failed. Weatherston's behaviour as exhibited nightly on our television screens during this trial by ordeal has been widely and rightly slammed. Now this young man, once a Treasury mandarin and a right wing one at that, will be forced to spend a vast majority of the next phase of what would otherwise have been the height of his career, in jail.

Yes, I know what some of you who follow my blogs will be saying in that why is this trendy-lefty liberal suddenly in favour of sending someone to jail, especially if his political views are to the right of his own?

Well, irrespective of Weatherston's political views, I have always believed that prison should be reserved for the worst of the worst (see my blog on container prison cells for proof) and Weatherston clearly fits this criteria. I also believe that a sort of poetic justice awaits him as he will be spending time in prison with people he would never have associated freely with on the outside, namely, members of the criminal fraternity who are mainly working class and poor in origin, who are the victims themselves of the capitalist free-market ideology that his former employers, Treasury, champion so much.

Another aspect of the partial provocation defence laws that has not been commented upon is not only do they potentially discriminate against women and gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered people within the justice system but also disabled people as well. Remember the case of the Nelson man who killed his young baby son who had multiple impairments soon after returning home from a Christchurch hospital? He got off on the reduced charge of manslaughter due to the fact that he had been traumatised by the way in which the news of his son's impairments had been delivered to him by medical staff. The jury and the court, swayed by society's generally negative conception of disability (especially when it comes to people with high impairment levels) sent the man home to a chorus of mass public approval in a decision that outraged disability activists and advocates like me.

Therefore the Government should specifically include in any legislation that the defence of partial provocation be denied to any defendant when it particularly comes to the killing of people from minority groups including those with disabilities, people who are gay and women, etcetera.

If Simon Power acts soon enough, we can prevent the next Clayton Weatherston-type killer from getting away with it and send a message that violence against any person is not okay for any reason in the eyes of the law.

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