Law Text Culture


Affectively speaking, I think that words can be much more harmful than actions. There’s a sting in words which no action can replicate (Cummins J Leonboyer Nov 1999: 1168).
The opening quote to this article reflects a legal moment in which there is a movement or passage from the dead body to the legal text. The above statement was made by Cummins J during legal argument in the absence of the jury in Leonboyer, a case I observed. Counsel for the defence had asked his Honour to make a ruling that the partial defence of provocation be left for the jury on the ground that words allegedly spoken by the deceased caused the defendant, her fiancé, to feel insulted and lose all self-control. While under the influence of that loss of self-control, he inflicted at least 24 stab wounds to her head, back, groin and shoulder thereby causing her death. The words allegedly spoken by the deceased were that she had been ‘fucking’ another man, which she followed with a taunt, in Spanish, about the defendant’s sexual prowess (‘he did it better than you did’).