Philosophical matters of law are usually under the providence of the High Court.
But an inquiry is underway in the NSW Upper House into what separates us from animals.
In Renaissance Europe ‘rational man’ was portrayed as someone who “knows, chooses, and acts”.
Karl Marx wrote, “Man makes his life activity itself an object of his will and consciousness”.
Yet scratch the surface and you will find the beast within.
In the words of novelist and clergyman George Macdonald, “A beast does not know that he is a beast, and the nearer a man gets to being a beast, the less he knows it”.
This seems to be the rationale behind NSW continuing to allow a partial defence of provocation to murder.
Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia have abolished it, while Queensland has limited use.
Put simply, the law allows men who’ve killed their partners in a fit of jealous rage to face the lesser charge of manslaughter.
“It is invariably in circumstances where they allege they have been insulted, mocked, humiliated, or spurned,” according to Ken Parish, legal academic at Charles Darwin University.
Another term for it is the ‘gay panic’ defence – used by men who murder to affirm their masculinity after a homosexual advance.
Tragically, it took the death of Sydney woman Manpreet Kaur at the hands of her husband for the law to be re-asessed.
Chamanjot Singh slashed her throat eight times with a box cutter.
Why? Because he believed she’d been unfaithful.
He was sentenced to six years’ jail for manslaughter.
Yesterday, a Christian group put forward a submission to the inquiry to retain the defence, “to recognise a person’s right to assert their personal or sexual autonomy”.
“This seems to imply the extraordinary proposition that no one has any right to expect… fidelity or lifelong commitment in a relationship. The exclusion would effectively rule out the classic case of a husband arriving home to find his wife engaged in a sexual act with another man.”
Excerpt from the submission by Family Voice Australia
This raises several philosophical questions.
Why is a pro-family group promoting mariticide?
Aren’t religious types supposed to turn the other cheek?
Is adultery considered worse than murder?
Does ‘loss of control’ mean of a man over a woman?
And isn’t ‘reason’ what separates us from the animals?
(Or maybe it’s just that we don’t use our tongues to clean our private parts.)
Our large prefrontal cortices are supposed to control our violent impulses.
Each year, around 77 Australians kill their partners. But there are tens of thousands of divorces. Most of us are able to exercise willpower.
However, there is a grey area in the legislation.
It has been used to defend women suffering from battered wives’ syndrome.
These women make a calculated decision to kill their partners after, sometimes, decades of abuse.
Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon of Deakin University, who completed her PHD on provocation, says women can instead use the law of self-defence.
In a case currently before the NSW Supreme Court, a woman has pleaded guilty to manslaughter after cutting off her husband’s penis because she thought he was a “serial predator” and hated the way he treated women.
Queensland has dealt with such cases by retaining the partial defence of provocation for battered women.
In New South Wales, we can no longer stand idly by while men make pathetic excuses for lethal domestic violence.
Provocation as a defence evolved in the 18th century when men were expected to bear arms to defend their honour.
It was based on a ‘reasonable man’ test.
In 2012, it is no longer reasonable for a man to draw his sword to seek vengeance.
We are not animals, after all.