'Abused wife' seeks her release

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The Independent Online
IN A DESPERATE attempt to appease her brutal and oppressive husband and win back his affections, Kiranjit Ahluwalia pledged not to laugh, have friends or drink black coffee - and to put on weight - to fulfil his wishes.

They were the promises of a wife so emotionally destroyed by 10 years of domestic violence that she had reached the 'nadir of self-abasement,' Geoffrey Robertson QC told the Court of Appeal. But days later she snapped, killing her husband, Deepak, by pouring petrol over his bedding and setting it alight.

Ahluwalia, 36, is challenging her murder conviction and mandatory life sentence in an appeal that again tests the law on provocation as a defence in cases of domestic violence.

Yesterday campaigners for Ahluwalia - mostly women - staged a noisy protest outside the court, banging drums, blowing whistles and carrying balloons and placards demanding reform.

Although Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, indicated he may be reluctant to put a new interpretation on provocation, he did give encouragement to those seeking to abolish the mandatory life sentence for murder. 'There may be a great deal to be said for the mandatory life sentence going,' he said, later adding that defences to murder - provocation, self-defence and diminished responsibility - 'were designed to find a way round the mandatory life sentence'.

He added that fault with the mandatory sentence was not a reason to interfere with the definition of defences. 'We can only have the greatest sympathy for this woman and what she had to put up with.' There was a public policy element in the interpretation of provocation to stop people taking the law into their hands.

Lord Taylor, sitting with Mr Justice Swinton Thomas and Mr Justice Judge, had heard how within days of her arranged marriage, Ahluwalia had been subjected to violence, abuse and threats which reached intolerable levels in 1986 and in the months before the killing in May 1989. She twice tried to take her life.

Some relatives, who knew of her injuries, 'bitterly regretted' not intervening. Their cultural and religious background had also prevented them giving evidence at her trial.

The pledges to her husband shortly before his death were 'a classic example of a woman who has suffered domestic violence and humiliation, who had entirely lost her self-esteem and who is prepared to sacrifice everything to succumb to the most outrageous demands in order to retain her family honour,' Mr Robertson said.

The appeal continues today.

(Photograph omitted)