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When culture means gender: issues of cultural defence in the English courts

Phillips, Anne (2003) When culture means gender: issues of cultural defence in the English courts. Modern Law Review, 66 (4). pp. 510-531. ISSN 0026-7961

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Identification Number: 10.1111/1468-2230.6604002


The use of cultural defence has been much discussed in the American context and has figured as one of the areas of concern in feminist assessments of multiculturalism. This paper examined two categories of cases from the English courts, those where cultural context has been seen as significant in interpreting the actions of female defendants, and those where ‘culture’ is invoked to explain severe acts of violence against women. It argues that cultural arguments become available to female defendants mainly when they conform to stereotypical images of the subservient non-Western wife. They have not, on the whole, been successfully employed by male defendants to mitigate crimes against women, though there are troubling exceptions. The larger problem is that mainstream culture itself promotes a gendered understanding of agency and responsibility, as when it perceives men as understandably incensed by the sexual behaviour of their women, or women as less responsible for their actions because of the influence of men. The conclusion is that the uses and abuses of cultural defence highlight issues that have wider provenance, for it is when cultural arguments resonate with mainstream conventions that they have proved most effective.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: This is an electronic version of an Article published in Modern law review, 66(4) pp. 510-531 © 2003 Blackwell Publishing. The definitive version is available at LSE has developed LSE Research Online so that users may access research output of the School. Copyright and Moral Rights for the papers on this site are retained by the individual authors and/or other copyright owners. Users may download and/or print one copy of any article(s) in LSE Research Online to facilitate their private study or for non-commercial research. You may not engage in further distribution of the material or use it for any profit-making activities or any commercial gain. You may freely distribute the URL (<>) of the LSE Research Online website.
Divisions: LSE Human Rights
Gender Studies
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
K Law > K Law (General)
Date Deposited: 12 Dec 2005
Last Modified: 17 Oct 2021 23:07

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