Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : Politics Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

Paul Margach and the lie of provocation

An edited version of this article appeared in the Herald-Sun on Thursday 23 February 2006

Unlike the Ramage murder case that captivated Melbourne in late 2004, the trial of wife murderer Paul Margach - possibly the final case tried under the provocation law abolished last December - passed with little fanfare. James Ramage lived in Balwyn and sent his children to the exclusive Scotch College and Lauriston Girls School. In the media he wore the title 'millionaire businessman' like a badge of honour. At trial, defence counsel Philip Dunn trawled through Julie Ramage's two affairs, including the one that followed her leaving the marriage. She had, the court was told, deserted a devoted husband. Despite strangling his wife in the family home and dumping her in a bush grave, Ramage was found not guilty of murder and received eight years in gaol. Somehow, a jury believed his wife had provoked him to kill. The public was shocked.

For whatever reasons, Paul Margach was not so lucky. During his trial, defence counsel Chris Dane walked the same path as Philip Dunn. Margach's wife had flirted with another man, sent text messages and, on the day of the murder, not only said to her husband 'I don't want a boy, I want a man', but that she'd had sex with the bloke and it 'was good', said Dane. Despite evidence there was no affair and that the possessive Margach had taped his wife's phone conversations and, finally, brutally stabbed her some twenty times, Dane wanted the court to believe his client was also a victim. As with every provocation case, it was the woman not the killer husband whom the family believed was on trial. And what was this woman's crime? That she said she was seriously considering leaving a controlling and violent husband.

This wasn't the first provocation murder for lawyer Chris Dane. In 1988 he assisted the late Bob Kent QC in the trial of Kevin Crowe. Like Margach, Crowe had killed his estranged wife in front of her two children. He'd used a rifle rather than a knife. In an astounding decision the judge had allowed nude photos of Crowe's wife, Christine Boyce, to be shown to the jury. Kent's argument captured the flawed logic of the provocation defence and the complicity of some members of the legal community in it:

…it is relevant to know that the person…was an attractive woman both in face and body and that in those circumstances a juror might say, 'an ordinary man in this man's situation may well have acted, lost control and acted in that way [the photos show] she is somebody whom we could understand him having a great passion for.

Imagine the pain and humiliation experienced by Christine's family when the photos were admiited as evidence and the vicious Crowe was subsequently found guilty only of manslaughter? If that wasn't bad enough, Crowe copped around four years in gaol and then tried to get custody of the children.

What's chilling is that Paul Margach could so easily have gone the way of Crowe and Ramage, or of Peter Keogh, the man who stabbed my sister to death in 1987. Who knows what the verdict might have been if he hadn't incriminated himself and told police 'I'm her husband, she was having an affair, so I stabbed her'?

Despite Margach's admission that he killed his wife because of 'the affair', prosecutor Boris Kayser did not oppose provocation being put to the jury. Why did he not dissent, you ask? Because, as they have done in a number of recent 'wife-murder' cases, the wise men of the appeal court might have overturned the verdict and demanded a re-trial with provocation!

And if the appeal court had so ruled, would those fierce defenders of civil liberties who railed against the Howard government for failing to save Nguyen Tuong Van from hanging in Singapore have protested outside the appeal court? No, the law's disregard for a murdered wife's rights has never prompted a protest meeting by lawyers or judges. No, just as it was the community not lawyers that forced the government to abolish this barbaric law last year, it was a jury of twelve ordinary Australians, not the civil libertarians who saved Tina Margach from the provocation slur.

With provocation gone, is it the end of women being blamed for men's violence? There is nothing in the legislation to say a woman's infidelity, alleged or otherwise, won't be dissected in a murder trial. And it certainly won't be excluded when a judge calculates a sentence. While the jury's out on this question, one question won't go away. How do we to stop these killer men? That's the real challenge for every decent bloke, including Prime Minister, John Howard, who should turn his gaze from Muslim men to the Aussie blokes in his own backyard.

Phil Cleary
www.philcleary.com.au

My most recent book, Getting away with murder, deals with the Ramage case. My previous book, Just another little murder, deals with the 1987 murder of my sister.

 

 

 

 

 

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