Women who kill their abusive partners : an analysis of queer theory, social justice and the criminal law

Carline, Anna

Law; Law enforcement; Prisons
December 2002

Thesis or dissertation

© 2002 Anna Carline. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis examines the criminal law's treatment of women who kill their abusive partners through a theoretical framework developed from queer theory and social justice. More specifically, in relation to queer theory, the thesis considers the work ofJudith Butler and her notions of gender as performativity, cultural intelligibility, materialisation and resignification. The model of social justice used is drawn from the work of Iris Marion Young. One particular aspect of her model of social justice is considered to be pertinent: cultural imperialism. Cultural imperialism maintains that an injustice in the form of domination and oppression is committed when inferior social groups are constructed from the outside by the dominant social group and where their particular characteristics are rendered 'Other'.The thesis applies the work of these two authors to a number of criminal cases in order to analyse the following issues: the construction of a woman's identity by the legal system; the existence of differences between women - particularly racial, cultural and ethnic differences - and the possibility of achieving justice within the existing criminal law. The thesis scrutinises Court of Appeal judgments and provides a close reading of two cases: Zoora Shah, who remains convicted for murder, and Diana Butler, who was, on retrial, convicted for manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.I argue that the murder/manslaughter and custody/probation distinctions are linked to the unintelligible/intelligible gender distinction. I further argue that in those cases in which a manslaughter conviction is achieved, the result can be seen to be both at once just and unjust. Whereas it may be 'legally just' when compared to cases involving men who have killed their partners, it is also 'socially unjust' due to the cultural imperialistic manner in which a woman's identity is constructed. Furthermore, the thesis highlights that, in addition to prevailing gender scripts to which women must conform, there also exists racial regulatory scripts which impact upon the construction of a woman's identity and her perceived cultural intelligibility. Attention is also paid to the instability of meaning which is considered to provide an opportunity for subversive transformation.In the conclusion the thesis forwards an overview of a proposed defence, which is based upon a reformulation of the battered woman syndrome and the defence of duress. This defence is considered to offer a more socially just outcome for womenwho kill.

Department of Law, The University of Hull
Johnstone, Gerry; Alsop, Rachel
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