Battered woman syndrome: Updating the expert checklist

The aim of this article is to examine the current state of the battered woman syndrome (BWS) defence in Canada and propose an update to the list of factors considered by experts evaluating the applicability of the defence to individual cases. The history and current legal definition of the defence are presented, and theories relating to BWS are summarized. Factors required of expert testimony in BWS cases are presented; cases relevant to the development of the defence that highlights these assessment factors are discussed. In a subsequent section, limitations of the defence and the role of the expert are explored. The PTSD Checklist (used in clinician diagnosis) is summarized before an updated, BWS-specific expert checklist is proposed. The updated checklist proposes six elements to be considered by an expert assessing a BWS case: 1. environmental factors, 2. attempts to leave or alter the situation, 3. risk factors of the abuser, 4. risk factors of the victim, 5. triggers for violence, and 6. contrary evidence. It is hoped that using this checklist will help experts to cover all the essential elements they must consider in order to conclude that a woman satisfies the criteria for BWS. In particular, this updated checklist will help experts to prepare comprehensive testimony that addresses the five issues defined by Justice Wilson as the expert’s duty to assess. In addition, this checklist will help experts present a firm foundation for a defence regarding the critical question of why the night of the offence was different from all other nights.

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