R v AHLUWALIA

Victim to an arranged marriage and having endured years of systematic and debilitating abuse at the hands of her husband, the defendant in this appeal case found herself subjected to yet further suffering through the absence of vital medical evidence when her case was presented at trial.

Having been introduced by her brother and sister-in-law while abroad, the defendant, who had been previously studying towards a degree in law, was by cultural obligation and the wishes of her family, forced into marrying the man who later became the subject of her actions.

Prior to their starting a family, the husband began a campaign of mental and physical abuse spanning a decade, until such time as her spirit was broken and death seemed the only solution.

After two failed suicide attempts, the defendant, who herself had been subjected to continuous death threats and physical battery, discovered that her husband was now having an affair with another woman, while uncompromisingly flaunting it with little thought to how degrading and shameful such deceit was to both them and their children.

It was after pleading for him to remain in the marriage, that the defendant set aside a bucket of petrol and a bottle of caustic soda until the time came for her to retaliate.

Unable to sleep one evening, the defendant entered the marital bedroom and proceeded to throw the contents of the bucket over the husband, before lighting a stick and igniting the petrol, whereupon the husband ran screaming from the house before being taken to hospital suffering major burns and dying days afterwards.

At trial, the court found itself with no evidence to support her actions, and after examining both defences offered, the judge explored the argument that her actions represented the cumulative effect of years of provocation by the husband, and that the jury should interpret her actions as that of manslaughter and not murder.

Relying on the changes made to the Homicide Act 1957, there was greater emphasis on the expanse of time between causative actions and those of the defendant, rather than instantaneous responses to attacks.

However, insufficient emphasis was placed upon the mental state of the defendant at the time the act took place, which subsequently resulted in a murder charge, despite the background to the matter.

When taken to the Appeal Court, the judges held that arguments of misdirection were insubstantial to the effect that the jury might have mitigated the verdict.

However, there was the discovery of medically professional evidence that relied upon the Mental Health Act 1983 when describing the defendant as suffering from ‘a major depressive disorder’, thus allowing for diminished responsibility as an alternate defence.

Although the Court typically frowned upon the late presentation of key evidence, it made allowances on this occasion under the powers of section 23(1) of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, before moving to request a new trial, on grounds that fair and balanced representation was critical to the maxim that ‘Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done’, while reminding the parties that:

“The phrase “sudden and temporary loss of self-control” encapsulates an essential ingredient of the defence of provocation in a clear and readily understandable phrase.”