The commonwealth and state jurisdictions put into practice Crimes Act and Criminal Codes, which identify certain behaviours as crime because they are deemed as deviant by society (Warren, 2012). Although in the legal system, each individual has the right to be treated equally in the jurisdictional system, and right for their side of the story to be heard in the court of law. This paper will be exploring the idea of the legal definition of a criminal, and critical exploring circumstances which can lead someone who can be perceived as both a criminal and a victim. The case which will be looked at is The State of Western Australia v. Liyanage (2015) WASCA. Majority of the circumstances of the case was found on the ABC Premium News (Christian, 2015; Taillier, 2016), who covered the judgment and sentencing.
On the 6th of June, in the early morning hours Chamari Liyanage, obtained a mental hammer and struck her sleeping husband Dinendra Athukorala on the head. At least two blows were inflicted on his head, which caused “extensive blunt force injuries” in his head, as well as his neck, which resulted in Dinendra Athukoralo to substantial blood loss leading to his death (Christian, 2016). Chamari was arrested and charged with murder, which is defined as an intentional killing by a sane person who is legally responsible for the act (White & Perrone, 2010). However, looking into Charamari’s case this discussion found that her situation was a lot more complicated than that. This case study aims to critically analyse factors which led to the incident, these include examining her vulnerability as a migrant woman in context to domestic violence, shame and provocation. Additional the case study will examine the judge and jury, as well Chamari as the stakeholders and how their perspective impacted the judgement. Lastly it will look at the case in light of the Australia Association of Code of Ethics (2010) and the author’s own ethical base of practice.
Following on from the introduction, shortly afterward dealing the fatal wounds on Dinendra Athukorala (the deceased), Chamari Liyanage (the accused) called triple zero and requested assistance. When the ambulance arrived Dinendra had already deceased, and could not be assisted. The forensic examination from the scene reveals that there were no signs of struggle or a physical fight on the scene, which supports that the deceased was struck in his sleep. Chamari was then apprehended by the police and charged with murder under s279 the Criminal Code (WA).
On the 22 of February 2016 Chamari Liyanage appearing at a court in Geraldton, was found guilty of manslaughter, she was sentenced to four years in jail. The supreme court jury deliberated the evidence presented for case up to almost seven hours, after a trial which went for three weeks. The defense case, led by Chamari’s lawyer Mr P.G Guidice, argued that although the accused did inflict the fatal injuries, she had no memory of the accident, therefore her actions were not voluntary. The evidence presented firstly was a video of Chamari’s interview which was conducted by the police on the morning of her arrested. She informed the police that she had no recollection of the events which occurred between her falling asleep and standing over her dead husband’s body. During the interview Chamari revealed the details of her marriage, she described in detail the physical and emotional abuse that she had suffered from her husband. The accused showed the police marks on the wall of their matrimonial home, where her husband had thrown dinner plates at her, and metal chair which her husband used to tie her up and beat her on, as well as a wooden rolling pin. She told the police that her husband Dinendra Athukoralo forced her to engage in sexual acts which he recorded and posted online. She was made to have non-consensual sexual relations with other women for her husband’s pleasure, he also forced her to watch child pornography whilst they were having sex. He controlled her finances and social life. Chamari also testified on her behalf in court, she revealed that her husband pushed her to have extra marital affairs by posting her number on online dating websites. She stated that she felt frustrated by her husband seducing young women, particularly teenagers, for the couple to have sex with. Leading up to his death his behaviour had escalated, which led her to be in a constant state of “panic and anxiety”. The accused informed jury that she had tried to kill herself multi-times but stopped herself because of her parents.
Two forensic psychiatrists presented evidence for the defense, they stated that Chamari was in a state of automatism, which occurs after an individual has suffered psychological trauma, they body acts independent of their body. The couple’s friends testified that the couple seemed happy and in love, to which Chamari said was a disguise.
In the sentencing, Judge Hall stated that it was likely that the accused knew what she was doing when she struck her husband, accepted amnesia, but post-traumatic amnesia. The Judge said he believed she had acted in self-defense of her situation, however although the deceased was manipulative and merciless, what she had done was excessive. Chamari lawyer closing statement to the prosecutor’s statement that she could have just left the relationship, was that there are a lot of good reasons why women do not leave abusive partners, and the law needs to be reformed in these types of cases.
Cultural: Shame and Isolation
In the recent years, Australia has seen an influx of migrants, according to the Australian Bureau of Statists (2015), the migrant community makes up 25% of the total population. This is why cultural context should be taken into consideration in the criminal justice system.
Chamari Liyanage and her husband, both doctors moved to Geraldton, Western Australia from Sri Lanka in 2011. When she testified in court, Chamari stated that one of the reasons why she married her husband was because she had pre-marital sex with him, therefore she was worried that no one else would want to marry her. In her culture when women do not marry, it brings shame to their family. In their study Bhuyan & Sentinuria (2005) that shame keeps migrant women from reporting and leaving domestic violence relationships. The family structure is emphasised as the foundation, therefore martial issues are dealt with privately, and it is the women’s job to keep the marriage together. During Chamari’s testimony, she revealed that when she spoke to her mother in law about the violence, she was blamed for the abuse and advised that if she listened to her husband, there would be no marital conflict. This further proves that when Chamari tried to disclose her abuse to her immediate family she was pressured into staying, so that’s she did not bring shame onto herself.
Violence at home has been described as a silent epidemic because of the low reporting rates (Morgan & Chadwick, 2009). It is an even greater secret in migrant communities in Australia. Dasgupta (2005), states that although migration tends to improve a women’s financial and life status, it deprives them from protection which their family and community offer. Chamari claims that her husband controlled her social and financial life, which led to her being entirely dependent on him. One of the strategies which women use to end abuse is seeking formal help from the police, social support services and crisis accommodation (Ghafournia, 2011). However, as a migrant woman Chamari could have faced the challenge of not being aware of her legal rights, as well as knowledge of social services which she could have used to seek help.
Provocation: Self-defence and battered wife syndrome
The judge in Chamari case, based his judgement of her sentence on the belief that she acted in self-defence. Stating that he believed she knew what she was doing when she dealt the fatal wounds on her husband, her knowledge as a doctor medical doctors led her to make calculated decisions on targeting vulnerable areas on his head and neck. Bradfield (2002), however argues that the trauma that women face in abusive relationships affects their ability to self-regulate their anger and aggression. The primary defence which was used in Chamari’s case was battered women syndrome and self-defense. White & Perrone (2010, p. 207) describe the Battered Women Syndrome as a transient psychological state of mind which occurs in otherwise reasonable women as a result of domestic violence. It is often used in the court of law, in situation where women who have long histories of being victims of abuse, commit an illegal act, which occurs in context to the abuse (Russell, 2010). In a research which was undertaken in Australia it was found that 70 per cent of cases in which women killed their husbands, there was evidence of domestic violence (Bradfield, 2002). In Chamari’s case the prosecutor argued that at the time which Chamari attacked her husband, there was no immediate threat, as Dinendra Athukoralo was sleeping. The prosecutor also disputed their two psychiatrics claim of Chamari being in a state of automatism, as she had apologised to her husband’s family, meaning knew what she had done and was admitting her guilt. The defence argued that although she was not facing a threat at that time, “she had a belief that the deceased would harm her, therefore “her actions are reasonable to protect herself from harm in the circumstances she believed herself to be in.
The primary stakeholders for this case are the judge, the jury and Chamari. The judge because he represents the legal system, the jury due to the fact that there are central to the case as they represent the Australian community, and lastly Chamari as her perspective and experience are what brought the case together.
Judges are chosen from “a draw of mainstream barristers of high professional standing” (White & Perrone, 2010, p.363) and are appointed by the government. Although they are generally experience in working in the legal system, they are criticism on their ability to be objective Appointed judges are predominantly white, Anglo Saxon, conservatives from privileged backgrounds (Davis & William, 2003). Individuals are a product of their life experiences, which they can bring into their professional work. This therefore raises question on the judge making the right call in his sentencing of Chamari, who is a migrant woman, from culturally linguistically diverse background and is a victim of domestic violence. In the AASW code of ethics, in order for social workers to provide an ethical service to clients, their must be aware of how their own assumptions, life experiences and values affect their professional life (AASW, 2010).
The Jury are a randomly selected group of people represent the Australian community to give a verdict on the bases of the evidence presented in court. Although the jury does tend to be more inclusive, there is still an underrepresentation of the diverse perspective, in particular the Indigenous and migrant community (Clough et al, 2007). Some of the reasons for this in the migrant community, is the requirements English proficiency and Australian citizenship, which excludes newly arrived migrants from the jury system. As the jury is a number of randomly selected members of the public, it raises questions on their ability to critically examine the evidence without their prejudices which can affect them being impartial. Through the evidence presented by the social worker Ms. Cooke, which the deemed not admissible, she presented a survey published by Anglicare WA community perceptions report: Family and Domestic Violence in 2014. In the study, a large number of people did not connect the idea that domestic violence is an attempt by the perpetrators to establish power and control over their victims. Some members of the public, did attach belittling and controlling some else’s daily tasks to domestic violence (2014). This survey casts doubt on the members of the jury’s understanding of the situation in which Chamari was in, which could have impacted their judgement of her being found guilty of manslaughter.
Chamari’s experience of being a high risk victim of domestic violence led to the incident that occurred. She pleaded not guilty of the murder charge because she had no memory of her striking the fatal wounds on her husband. The two psychiatrics and the social worker who had examined her found her to have the symptoms of the battered women syndrome. Due to the abuse which Chamari was left helpless as she could not predict the outbreaks of violence. She stated one of the reasons that she could not leave was because he threatened to harm her family in Sri Lanka, as he came from a wealthy family with power in the community. If Chamari was aware of the different support services that were available to support women, and not felt like it was impossible to escape her situation, her actions might have been different. During their testimony her work colleges and friends, stated that she was a respectful doctor, who never showed aggression or signs of anger.
AASW code of ethics
The Australian Association Social Worker Code of Ethics (2010) serve as the guide for when workers are making professional decisions. When social workers are faced with dilemmas, they must always serve in the best interest of their clients, in context to the values of the profession of respecting the dignity and value of a person.
The following in my approach as a future practitioner in context to Chamari’s case:
- In Chamari’s lawyer closing statement, he stated that laws in to be reformed in context women who have been victims of domestic violence. In the criminal justice system, during the sentencing the court should consider the full context of the circumstances leading up to the crime to determine the appropriate sentence (White & Perrone, 2010). The core aims of social work include creating social and systematic change through advocacy and social development (AAWS, 2010). I believe that social workers can affect the change in the judicial system through conducting ethical research, and changes in services provision, in particular to accessibility of services for migrant women. The argument which resonated with me in this case is that if Chamari had been provided with social and formal support, the circumstances which led up to the incident would have been different. This argument is supported by the rights theory in ethics, which has two main features, the right holders and the rights observers (Hinman, 2010). In Chamari’s case she would have been the rights holders, and the state and community would be the right observes. As a rights holder Chamari, the state is obliged to provide her with access to protection, and in return she is entitled a responsibility, which in the context of the criminal justice system, would be to not commit a crime. However, Chamari did not have access to protection, which the state should have provided, because of this she ended up committing a crime as a means to protect herself.
- It is important for social workers, as stated in the AASW code of practice (2010), to be aware of our own assumptions/attitudes and values. I believe that for social worker to provide a service that meets the need of clients, as well as empowers them, clients such as Chamari should be valued and accepted as unique individuals within their cultural context and life experience.
- Social workers should work to build relationship with clients. When working with a client such as Chamari, social workers I would be particularly aware not to be judgemental, whether through verbal expression or body language can have a damaging effect on the client. It could cause the client not to have a lack of trust in services which should be there to support them, therefore be lost opportunity for a learning experience.
- Cultural competence is virtual for providing clients from diverse backgrounds with ethical and professional service (AAWS, 2010). Recognising Chamari’s culture and her family upbringing, it would help me as a worker to treat her with care and respect whilst being mindful of her differences.
In conclusion, the legal definition of what constitutes to be a criminal, needs to be critical explored, in particular in relation to battered women. The rights theory discusses that individuals in society should be provided rights by the state, in which in turn they have a responsibility to not commit a crime (Hinman, 2013). In the social work profession workers commit to being drives of ethical change in society. With awareness of the cycle of domestic violence, in particular a migrant woman’s experience, the professional judgement from the juridical officer and the jury could have been different. In Chamari’s case, if she had been provided with access to formal and social support, the circumstance leading up to her crime would have been different.
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