Australian state moves to scrap ‘gay panic defence’

South Australia – Image:

The only state in Australia where the so-called ‘gay panic defence’ can be used in court moved on Thursday to scrap the provision, but LGBT+ rights campaigners said further reforms were needed to combat hate crime.

Defendants accused of murder in South Australia have been able to argue that they acted out of panic over a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity – potentially allowing charges to be downgraded to manslaughter in some cases.

LGBT+ rights groups have long called the provocation defence archaic and discriminatory, and a bill to revoke it was tabled by the state’s attorney-general, Vickie Chapman, in the local parliament on Thursday, a spokesman for her office said.

Chapman, who did not make immediate comments, has said previously that the defence “is outdated, gender-biased, difficult to understand and, in certain cases, downright offensive”.

Thursday’s parliamentary session was adjourned until November, before the reform bill was discussed.

More than 25,000 people signed an online petition launched last week calling for the defence to be scrapped.

The argument has been rarely invoked. It has been used four times in the last decade, most recently in 2015, according to the South Australian Rainbow Advocacy Alliance, a campaign group.

“It’s a fantastic step that it’s finally introduced. I’m hoping it will pass quickly, it’s long overdue,” said Matthew Morris, the head of the group that jointly organised the petition.

“For a lot of community members it’s the defence’s existence in general that is a concern,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone, from the state capital, Adelaide.

But Morris said the proposed reform was not enough to protect LGBT+ people, and urged courts to consider prejudice due to sexual orientation as a factor, when sentencing in criminal cases.

Advocacy group, Equality Australia, said there was “no place” for the panic defence, and that revoking it would help end discrimination against LGBT+ Australians.

“Attacking someone because who they are offends you should increase your punishment, not reduce it,” the group’s chief executive, Anna Brown, said in a statement.

Neighbouring New Zealand banned the legal argument in 2009, and more US states are taking steps to prohibit the defence, after Washington state became the 10th to do so this year.

-Beh Lih Yi @behlihyi – Thomson Reuters Foundation

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