Chapter 6
Self-defence and family violence – is there a problem?

Persisting misconceptions

6.13In the context of self-defence, a jury’s understanding of family violence affects how they assess a claim of self-defence by a victim of family violence. Misconceptions can undermine their assessment of the defendant’s credibility or the reasonableness of his or her actions.

6.14We identified in Chapter 2 persisting misconceptions, including the belief that a primary victim of family violence can avoid further violence by leaving an abusive relationship; that fear of future violence is irrational or unreasonable; and, if the primary victim used violence in the past, her fear was not real. We discussed the need to understand family violence as a pattern of harmful behaviour with a cumulative effect and a form of entrapment. Victims’ responses must be considered in the context of:424

6.15This shift in thinking is necessary to counter misconceptions that can affect a jury’s assessment of self-defence claims by victims of family violence. In a similar vein, the concepts of imminence, lack of alternatives and proportionality are difficult to reconcile with contemporary understanding of family violence, as we discuss below.

424Family Violence Death Review Committee Fifth Report: January 2014 to December 2015 (Health Quality & Safety Commission, February 2016) at 39.