THE HEATHER OSLAND CASE
THE HYPOCRISY OF THE LAW
The following letter was sent to the Herald/Sun in December 1998 following
an article by Jill Singer. Rather than print it Opinion page Editor, John
Kiely, passed it on to Jill Singer who then referred to it in a follow up
Jill Singer, "This killer got justice" (Herald/Sun -
17/12), is a hard task master. Even the fact that Heather Osland
experienced years of abject terror at the hands of her violent husband
isnít enough to persuade Singer to don the smile of compassion.
Itís remarkable that a Ďmoderní woman should demand such saintliness
from another woman. When Roland Jonker killed his three children then suicided
in Perth two months ago, the Herald/Sun ran the headline 'Dad loved his
boys to death'. It doesnít quite have the ring of the battle cry
accompanying Singerís diatribe against Osland and her supporters.
I must confess to believing that Frank Oslandís systematic campaign of
terror against his wife left her with no alternative; only his death could free
her from the concentration camp into which heíd flung her. This was no dinner
party, Jill, and Frank Osland was no ordinary bloke. Where was Heather to go?
History is studded with the dead bodies of women who chose subjugation, soft
words, or intervention orders in an attempt to pacify or ward off violent
partners. The courts and the police have been a dismal failure. Thatís one of
the reasons why women such as Heather Osland struggle to leave violent men. By
failing to consider the case in this context Jill Singer lends her support to
those who continue to blame women for the violence perpetrated against them. The
censorious Ďwhy didnít she leave him?í is never far away.
Given Heather Osland believed that as long as her husband lived she was in
danger, it is hardly surprising she helped plan his killing and watched while
her son struck the fatal blow. While Singer wants to see the callousness of a
murderer in the intercepted telephone calls and the planning, I see a woman
engulfed by fear. Hence, on closer examination the killing reads like a dark
tragedy replete with chaos and uncertainty. To describe Osland as having 'killed in cold blood.....(and) ...ruined one sonís life' is classic
tabloid. One wonders how many threats to kill and how much terror a bloke must
commit before Jill thinks heís crossed the Rubicon.
In her final paragraph she says Oslandís supporters should find themselves
'a more deserving cause'. Ironically, a day before the Singer article,
a woman rang asking whether Iíd followed the trial involving the killing of 43
year old Kareen De Jager by her de facto husband. Under the headline 'Jail
for drill killer' the Herald/Sun described how David Bambridge killed De
Jager with a drill (in fact she was strangled following the clubbing with the
drill) after she allegedly 'taunted him and mimicked his speech
impediment'. Sounds like a picnic when compared with Heather Oslandís
journey! Following the granting of a defence of provocation by Justice George
Hampel, Bambridge was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to six years
with a minimum of three. So common are these killings and defences of this kind
it warranted only a paragraph in the newspaper.
In his judgment in the Osland appeal, Justice Kirby exhorted us to uphold the
sanctity of human life. Set against the Ďprovocationí cases of Kareen De
Jager and my own sister, Vicki, whose killer was found guilty of manslaughter in
1989, Justice Kirbyís words sound hollow indeed. No-one should have to live as
Heather Osland did or have to kill to save their own life. Nor should men be
allowed to kill on a trifling and then claim provocation. Itís time we tried
to understand just why it continues to be the case.
the face of a concerted campaign by the Herald/Sun one wonders whether the
sometimes tough talking Victorian Attorney General will have the balls to pardon
following is a letter I sent to Mr Rob Hulls in July 2000.
Youíd probably be aware that over the past decade Iíve
written and made numerous public statements regarding what I consider are
inconsistencies in the Criminal Justice system as it pertains to acts of
violence against women. Whilst itís true that the killing of my sister in 1987
and the subsequent granting of a defence of provocation by Justice George Hampel
was the impetus for my position, it is the inconsistencies in the law that
Attorneys General have a great opportunity and indeed a
responsibility to further the goal of equality before the law. So just as itís
imperative that decent people condemn, as you have done, the Northern Territoryís
racially discriminatory sentencing regime, so too should you and we condemn the
law when it discriminates against women or in favour of violent men.
You would be aware that a recently commissioned Federal
Government report, 'Fatal Offences against the Person', handed down a
finding suggesting the law of provocation was gender biased. There is any number
of thoughtful and scholarly people who would and do argue that discrimination
against women is endemic in the criminal law. High Court judge Mary Gaudron is
the most recent to declare that 'sexism is endemic in the law'.
Along with Mary Gaudron there are many non-legal people who,
having experienced a trial involving the killing of a daughter, sister or
mother, are baffled by the outcome. Too often theyíre not in a position to
generate public interest or catch the ear of a lawmaker. Yet in so many cases
the stories that come my way are so similar to the one with which Iím
familiar. The most recent have come from the De Jager and Smart families who lost
a woman to an act of male violence only to be stunned by the court proceedings.
My contention is that Justice Hampel was wrong to allow a
defence of provocation in my sisterís case. I did not accept then and still
believe Justice Hampel to have been wrong in drawing on the killing of Zerrin
Dincer by her Turkish father in 1981 to support defence counselís right to
plead provocation in my sisterís case. Itís instructive that Zerrin Dincerís
father was found guilty of manslaughter after Justice Lush allowed a defence of
On page 222 of my book "Cleary Independent"
I have this to say about the Dincer case:
"In that celebrated case, a defence of provocation was
allowed on the grounds that the accused, Dincer, was a devout Muslim who
carried permanent cultural characteristics and that it was therefore
appropriate for the jury to consider the effect on him of his daughterís
perceived sexual conduct. Ö In R v. Dincer, gregarious defence barrister
Colin Lovitt implored Justice Lush to accept that Dincer was a fundamentalist
Turkish Muslim who, upon hearing the screams of his wife, entered a house in
South Melbourne and was swept up in the chaos. In his sock he carried a knife,
which witnesses claimed was normal in Dincerís Turkish circles. As his
daughter raised her arm she was fatally stabbed. Notwithstanding the danger of
attributing Ďpeculiarí characteristics to specific ethnic groups, the
circumstances as placed before the court presented no similarity to those
presented in R v. Keogh. Ö "
I went on to ask whether "Ö the thoughts of Justice
Lush in R v. Dincer stood condemned as a piece of careless typecasting of the
Islamic community? Would there be an apology to Zerrin Dincer, on the grounds
that neither Turk nor Arab is so beguiled by cultural myths as to kill in their
name? Ö "
Rob, the point is, if Justice Lush wasnít blinded by racial
typecasting was he blinded by some other cultural and gender typecasting?
In the same chapter I went on to state the following:
"It was commonly understood that the granting of a
defence of provocation in R v. Keogh was a significant moment in the annals of
criminal justice in Victoria. Prosecutor Bruce Walmsley described the case as
Ďa lemoní and felt that Justice Hampel had taken the ordinary man test so
far that almost anything was possible. Even John Champion (defence barrister)
was surprised. Yet, despite the disquiet within the hardbitten legal
fraternity, not one word was fired in public anger. Ö "
If there was a last straw it was the decision handed down in
the Heather Osland case. Here was a woman who hadnít even lifted the weapon
that killed a husband accused and acknowledged by a host of witnesses to have
subjected her to barbaric forms of violence. No such mercy was shown to Osland
who was found guilty of murder and sentenced to something in the vicinity of 15
years gaol despite her son committing the act that killed her husband.
I believe there is sufficient evidence to conclude that too
often flawed cultural assumptions underpin the judgements of many criminal law
judges. Itís this issue of flawed cultural assumption that I explore in the
chapter ĎMurder by any other nameí of my book. Itís also an issue Iíve
addressed in a range of articles for The Age.
In many ways the law of provocation in its conceptualisation
and its application is a useful starting point in assessing the operation of the
Criminal Justice system. My contention is that there are a sufficient number of
rulings in cases involving the killing of women to indicate that regressive
assumptions underpin the law. So just as we expunged a host of prejudicial forms
of cross-examination from rape cases, so too should we explore the kind of
assumptions from which too many judges proceed in cases involving the murder of
However, as I argued in relation to the trial following the
killing of Keith Hibbins in the Fitzroy Gardens, similar assumptions operate in
I look forward to talking with you about this issue.