Chanting and singing women carrying balloons and flowers swamped Kiranjit Ahluwalia in a wave of emotion as she left the court, after her guilty plea to manslaughter was accepted by the judge.
She had spent more than three years in prison, one of several battered women jailed for murdering their husbands whose cases have been taken up by women's groups and lawyers who believe the law discriminates and shows little mercy to those who have been the victims of domestic violence.
Her 1989 conviction for murdering her husband, Deepak, was overturned in July by the Court of Appeal and yesterday she had been due to face a retrial. But after the prosecution announced that it was prepared to accept psychiatric reports saying that at the time she set fire to her husband she was suffering from mental illness which impaired her responsibility, Mr Justice Hobhouse ordered her immediate release.
'I consider justice does not require you be detained in prison any longer,' he said, imposing a sentence of three years and four months, matching exactly the time she had already served.
The court erupted into cheers and claps and Mrs Ahluwalia, 36, burst into tears. But the ruling, while acknowledging the effects of repeated battering on women, is unlikely to lead to the change in the law demanded by women's groups or to the freeing of other women jailed for killing their husbands.
Last year, the Court of Appeal firmly refused to redefine the law on provocation to take into account battered wives syndrome in both Mrs Ahluwalia's appeal and in the case of Sarah Thornton, who is serving life for murder.
Instead, Lord Justice Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, attacked the compulsory life sentence for murder, commenting that he could not bend the law in individual cases where it was thought a sentence was too harsh.
Yesterday Mrs Ahluwalia said: 'I am very pleased. I just look forward to spending time with my children again. We deserve some happiness in our lives.'
Lord Ashley, the Labour peer who has campaigned for battered women and who intends to introduce a Private Member's Bill to extend the defence of provocation and end the mandatory life sentence for murder, said: 'I warmly welcome the release of Mrs Ahluwalia, but no battered or provoked wife should have to suffer as she has done.'Reuse content