56It became clear in reviewing and reflecting on the abuse suffered by victims of family violence who kill their abusers that, in many cases, the final acts of homicide were acts of desperation – whether or not the defendants were acting in self-defence – in circumstances most of us do not fully understand and will never experience. This Report recommends changes to the law and measures to improve understandings of family violence, appreciating that legal reform is meaningful only when accompanied by shifts in thinking.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the repeal of the provocation defence it may be that legal rules, and therefore law reform, make less of a difference than we might expect in the resolution of criminal cases – or certainly criminal cases that involve the “wicked” problem of family violence … [I]f the same unexamined assumptions that are typically made in these kinds of cases continue to be made (that women’s use of violence in intimate partnership simply mirrors what we know about men’s use of violence; that help is readily available to those victims who are facing dangerous and potentially lethal violence who seek it; and that leaving a violent relationship is always an option and is an effective means of addressing the violence) and if we fail to understand the manner in which coercive control, social marginalisation and structural exclusion entrap victims of family violence, then it is unlikely that reforms to the legal requirements of self-defence will effect much substantive change either.
58It is anticipated that the recommendations in this Report will ensure that those who act in genuine self-defence will not be deprived of access to that defence in law. Others, who kill not in self-defence but nonetheless in extenuating or mitigated circumstances, may have the abuse they have suffered, and its effects, fully and sensitively taken into account by the law and people who administer the criminal justice system. For defendants in both categories, family violence should be seen, understood and treated in a way that reflects the true nature and dynamics of this particular and insidious form of abuse.