Thursday, 24 July 2008

'Marital Coercion' - A Likely Defence?

The verdict is in for Anne Darwin, who I posted about last week. Unsurprisingly she’s been found guilty of deception, and her part in the scam to net £250,000 through fraudulent insurance claims is apparently as serious as the actual perpetrator of the crime, her husband John Darwin. While Mrs Darwin’s involvement is clear, the extent to which her defence of ‘martial coercion’ stands up is not as clear. In any case, this defence doesn’t seem to have been given any serious consideration anyway. Reports of Mr Darwin’s controlling behaviour and manipulation of his wife (despite accounts from people who know her that she is an unassuming woman of meek character) have been largely ignored as if they are the inevitable accusations of a desperate woman. For me, the jury is still out on Ann’s alleged submission to a crime which was of her husband’s design but I think we have been too quick to overlook the claims that she might have been pressured into it. Common attitudes towards marital control and domestic violence (mental and emotional as well as physical) seem to dictate that Anne would have found it easy to refuse to take part in the scam, that she would have handed her husband in. Unfortunately it’s not quite as simple as that. If, as she claims, Anne Darwin was a victim of her husband’s manipulation (the ‘marital coercion’ defence has only been used 5 times in the last 75 years so there is little in the way of precedent to draw upon) she would have found it very difficult to refuse him and would have believed herself to have no choice but to partake in the scheme. The irony for me is that the defence is not oft used because it is considered anachronistic, or ‘not appropriate to modern conditions’ (according to a request to abolish it is 1977!). People need to open their eyes. Martial coercion – in short the ability of one spouse (not necessarily the husband) to control another and influence their decision to participate in unlawful activity – exists in more ways we’d like to admit, and because its taboo and something we don’t like to admit still exists, laws that are designed to provide protection from it are being ignored, or worse destroyed. Worrying stuff.