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The Importance Of Improving Judicial Awareness Of The Effects Of Domestic Abus

R v AHLUWALIA [1992]

By Saahas Sharma & Aman Singh Dayal – members of AVA

A major issue of concern which was never properly addressed by the UK judiciary was in relation to the partial defence of provocation over the law of murder. While it provided a scope of defence for circumstances where a man committed an unlawful offence against his wife, which was instigated by a particular act from his partner, for example adultery, the same balance was undoubtedly non-existent for a woman who had lived experiences of abuse from her husband which provoked them to commit murder.[1] Nevertheless, a significant shift in the law emerged from the outcome in R v Ahluwalia which proved to be a paramount case in developing changes to the common law.[2]


Background Context

In 1989, Kiranjit Ahluwalia was found guilty of murder after she killed her husband, Deepak, who died from serious injuries which were inflicted upon him from a fire Kiranjit created in the couple’s bedroom.[3] Kiranjit’s actions stemmed from the years of abuse she and her children suffered from Deepak, both physically and verbally. This, at the time of appeal, was unable to provide a substantial argument to overturn or reduce Kiranjit’s conviction, thus she was set to face life imprisonment.


Howbeit, news of this miscarriage of justice Kiranjit had suffered due to the nature of the outcome, relevant support organisations, such as Southall Black Sisters and Justice for Women, stepped forward to support Kiranjit by ordering a re-trial with new evidence and approaches to be presented to the court to change its original decision.[4] A re-trial occurred in September 1992 where Kiranjit’s conviction was reduced from murder to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility. What’s more, due to already serving just over 3 years in her current sentence, the courts found this to amount to a sentence for manslaughter, therefore she was released immediately.[5]


Influence Of The Case

Within the original judgement, Lord Taylor outlined that a delay in regard to Kiranjit’s action after being provoked by Deepak was, to an extent, evidence that she deliberately went on to kill him, thus failing the defence of provocation.[6] This was a poor approach to adopt as determining the time from when Deepak last attacked Kiranjit to her retaliation a few hours later was found to fall outside the scope for a provocation defence as she did not react instantaneously when provoked. [7] This failed to consider how some may be unable to react straightway due to the fear they have been put through in the context of the abuse they have suffered, as we can see in the position of Kiranjit.


Nonetheless, the retrial was able to change this with more focus on the loss of control principle. [8] The director of the Southall Black Sister campaign, Pragna Patel outlined her views on how this new concept of provocation now reflects “women’s reality while not being lenient on men who claim that they lost self-control due to adultery or in anger”. [9]This has shifted the English courts perception over the provocation defence, in particular where women have committed murder due to the domestic abuse they have suffered. The approach adopted within Kiranjit’s retrial has continued to prevail and support others in a similar position, such as Emma Humphreys and Sara Thornton.[10] This highlights a significant change with an improved social awareness and understanding by the UK judiciary. Nonetheless, this does not mean all is well in the current criminal justice system as it still remains imperfect in terms of gender equality to some extent.


Further Source

For a further understanding into the Ahluwalia case, we highly recommend you read ‘Circle of Light: An Autobiography. This is an insightful book which Kiranjit Ahluwalia herself, along with Rahila Gupta, had composed in 1997 which entails more detail about the background of her life and first-hand comments on the various events she faced during her marriage and while she was detained in prison. Furthermore, Kiranjit Ahluwalia’s extraordinary life has also been illustrated in the 2006 film titled Provoked: A True Story. The film sees widely acclaimed Bollywood actress, Aishwarya Rai, play the role of Kiranjit where she displays her journey from a wife who has faced domestic violence which resulted her to be convicted as a murderer, to the woman who brought about change in both the law and within the public domain on women who kill due to domestic abuse.


[1] Mandy Burton, 'Defences and mitigation: the persistence of narratives of woman blaming', Domestic abuse, victims, and the law, (1stedn, Routledge 2023). [2] [1992] 4 All ER 889. [3] Southall Black Sisters, Kiranjit Ahluwalia (December 2020) <https://southallblacksisters.org.uk/campaigns/domestic-violence/kiranjit-ahluwalia/> accessed 2 February 2023. [4] Southall Black Sisters (n 3). [5] Southall Black Sisters (n 3). [6] Mandy Burton (n 1). [7] Justice For Women, About Kiranjit < https://www.justiceforwomen.org.uk/kiranjit-ahluwalia > accessed 2 February 2023. [8] Catherine Baksi, ‘Landmarks in law: the case that shone a spotlight on domestic violence’, The Guardian (18 June 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/jun/18/landmarks-in-law-the-case-that-shone-a-spotlight-on-domestic-violence> accessed 2 February 2023. [9] Catherine Baksi (n 8). [10] Catherine Baksi (n 8).

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