Lord Justice General
HIGH COURT OF JUSTICIARY
OPINION OF THE COURT
THE HONOURABLE LORD PROSSER
NOTE OF APPEAL AGAINST SENTENCE
HER MAJESTY'S ADVOCATE
8 January 1999
This is the appeal of Barbara Cassidy who pled guilty on 18 November 1997 to a charge of culpable homicide. The sentencing judge imposed a sentence of 7 years imprisonment which he backdated to 6 August 1997. The culpable homicide consisted of a single blow with a knife to the back of the deceased as a result of which he died some two days after the blow was struck. It is acknowledged that the force involved in the blow was moderate or indeed light.
The deceased and the appellant have been in an association for some months. The appellant herself was at the time 33, she was a single parent, she had had a lasting relationship with the father of her child which had come to an end in 1995 and it was thereafter that she had taken up with the deceased. In presenting the appeal Miss Scott described the situation as one in which they were bad for each other. The position was that the appellant had a substantial alcohol dependence and considerable depression. The deceased had a problem with both drink and drugs, and it is plain that the relationship was one of considerable turmoil.
Miss Scott referred to a number of matters as context or the overall background for what she described as an act which was out of character. There had recently before the event been threats to the household including death threats which had produced a state of acute anxiety in the appellant. This was said to be the explanation of her having been carrying a small knife at the time of this particular offence. The anxiety was increased by her concern for her son. There had been a problem involving the son with allegations (apparently without foundation but nonetheless perturbing) by the son against the deceased and this had increased the appellant's anxiety. There had been a background of some violence in the preceding months with an alleged assault by the deceased on the child, assaults on the appellant herself and in particular an assault on her on 1 August shortly before the homicide. In that last assault the deceased had thrown a plate at the appellant. The plate had been broken. He had then used a broken piece of it to threaten her and she had cut her finger on it in self defence. More broadly as far as the background is concerned we were told that the appellant was on anti-depressants and reports from Cornton Vale indicate that she was perhaps suffering from what could be described as depressive illness.
On the day in question there had been an argument. It appears that both the appellant and the deceased were intending at least to cut down on their consumption of alcohol. They had finished such alcohol as there was in the house. The deceased wanted to go and get more drink and the appellant did not want him to do so. They went down into the street. She was trying to stop him going for alcohol and he had grabbed the finger which had been injured approximately one week before. Miss Scott submitted that this was not a slight matter. It was genuine provocation. It resulted in the appellant striking the deceased. He had fallen to the ground but he had then moved off. It was then that she ran after him and delivered a single blow with the knife to his back. We were told that she had thought it was his shoulder. The sequel is one in which she has continued to suffer from considerable anxiety and depression. We were told of her remorse and in particular her remorse at losing the man who had been her companion over a substantial period. It was accepted that the trial judge had taken account of the matters which we have described which were before him. The one aspect which it was said he had considered insufficiently was the overall background of stress as opposed to the more immediate provocation involved in the grabbing of the injured finger. There are of course many cases in which an overall background of stress is an element which the Court will take into account even in relation to assault by use of a knife. There are cases in which that final event can be seen as the last straw, relating to an escalating background perhaps of violence and certainly of stress. While we do not underestimate the anxiety and stress felt by the present appellant and the overall unsatisfactory nature of the relationship and the elements of violence in it, it does not appear to us that this particular event can be seen as the last straw in the way that is sometimes the case, or as arising from that background and as an element in a pattern of escalating stress. The fact is that despite what had happened and despite the deceased moving away, the appellant was carrying a knife and did go after him and did stab him in the back. That being so we cannot criticise the sentencing judge for having given insufficient consideration to the overall background. The background does not appear to us to be of the kind which would necessarily call for a significant degree of leniency or reduction in the sentence otherwise appropriate. We are satisfied that the sentence selected by the judge was within the appropriate range and the appeal is refused.