The legal context
3.42From our case review, we can make some preliminary general observations and identify some trends:
- Whether the defendants were acquitted or convicted of murder or manslaughter, tragic surrounding circumstances are a constant in these cases, but they take a range of forms and engender different reactions.
- It is more common for these defendants to proceed to trial than to enter a guilty plea, and in most cases that go to trial, the charge is murder.
- These defendants are, however, rarely convicted of murder. Usually, they are convicted of manslaughter or acquitted.
- It is not clear whether the repeal of provocation has worked against victims of family violence who kill their abusers. In terms of charging, there were proportionately more murder trials before repeal of the defence than after, and the proportion of cases where defendants pleaded guilty to manslaughter was broadly similar pre-repeal and post-repeal. In terms of convictions, three of the four murder verdicts we have identified since 2001 were returned in cases where provocation was or could have been run. In the fourth case, R v Rihia, the defendant pleaded guilty. We do not know what would have been the outcome if her case had gone to trial.
- While, since R v Wihongi, victims of family violence convicted of murder appear to have a good case for displacement of the presumption of life imprisonment, there has been only one subsequent murder conviction (R v Rihia), and to date, murder sentences have still been considerably longer than sentences for manslaughter in this area.
3.43We explore these observations and trends, and their implications, further in Part 3.