Are there any jurisdictions where there is a defense to criminal charges of murder or rape or assault, when carried out by the victim of a serious crime by the crime victim as retribution, in circumstances where the murder or rape or assault committed by the crime victim does not constitute self-defense or a defense of others?

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    I suspect not. Qiṣāṣ (retribution) is available under Shari`a and is at the discretion of the victim or heirs. But as far as I can tell it can be exercised only after a hearing by the judge.
    – user6726
    Mar 4, 2018 at 2:01
  • Since no answers means either nobody knows, or nobody cares, or there are no such countries, and we can't know which one is the case, you might ask for countries where it is no defense as well.
    – gnasher729
    Mar 4, 2018 at 16:45
  • I recommend generalizing this question to "retribution defense, period?" It is unlikely that the victim of murder could carry out any act of retribution, but at least under "frontier law" their kin not only could but often did and were even expected to.
    – feetwet
    Apr 1, 2018 at 14:55

4 Answers 4


It is possible in the UK for a person to have a partial defence to murder in very specific circumstances, one of which may possibly include the defendant acting in "retribution".

Under English Law, there are three special defences which exist solely for the crime of Murder. One of these defences, is the defence of Diminished Responsibility.

The defence is set out in s.2 of the Homicide Act 1957, and it provides that a Defendant is not guilty of murder if, during the murder, he suffered from an abnormality in mental functioning, where:

  1. The defendant must, at the relevant time, have been suffering from a recognised medical condition

  2. This condition must provided an explanation for the Defendant's acts and omissions in doing or being a party to the killing.

  3. This condition substantially impaired the Defendant's ability to do one or more of the following:

    a) To understand the nature of the Defendant's conduct

    b) To form a rational judgment

    c) To exercise self control

The reason why this may be applicable in the context of revenge or retribution, is in the principle case of R v Ahluwalia

In summary, a woman murdered her husband, by pouring petrol on him in his sleep, and setting him afire.

She was held to be not guilty of murder because of this defence. Specifically, the court held that she suffered "battered woman syndrome" as the result of 10+ years of emotional abuse and beatings by her husband, .

The reason why this is relevant to the question is because when giving her reasons for killing her husband, she stated:

"She wrote to her mother-in-law from prison saying, amongst other things, that the deceased had committed so many sins, "so I gave him a fire bath to wash away his sins". However, in the course of interview she repeated a number of times that she did not intend to kill the deceased, but only to give him pain."

It is certainly arguable that her actions fall within the meaning of retribution.

Of course, not just any kind of provocation will raise this defense, you need to be suffering a mental condition, but it is clear that this condition may arise directly from the actions of the victim. I highly recommend reading the full judgment, as the court goes in depth through the law on provocation (since here, on the day of the killing, the husband told the Defendant that he would beat her the following day), and whether the pre-meditated nature of the killing (she bought the ingredients for the fire beforehand, having already decided to set the victim on fire) meant that the defence could not apply.


Not quite an absolute defense, but related: Crime of passion.

Many countries accept (or used to accept) acting "in the heat of passion" as a defense, or at least mitigating circumstance. While this is not quite the same as retribution, in practice it was often applied in situations where the general opinion was that the accused had been "wronged" or "provoked" before commiting their crime, so in practice if often applied to acts of retribution (particularly to honor killings)

For example, in Italy article 587 of the Criminal code prescribed a lower punishment for killing one's spouse, daughter or sister "in the heat of passion" when the victim was involved in "illegitimate carnal relations". The article was only abolished in 1981.


If you consider jumping bail to be a crime, and the bail bondsman to be the victim, then many states in the US allow wide latitude in committing assault in response.

There also is significant latitude given to police officers alleging violations of drug laws in committing acts that would otherwise be considered rape.


No, revenge is not a legal defense in any country, because the law and revenge can not coexist as you would not have an organized system of laws, if you could simply act out to get revenge.

There is a course that studies those who want to legalize revenge and you can read the books listed in the syllabus. http://vernunft.org/sites/default/files/syllabi/revenge%20and%20the%20law.pdf

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    I do not know of any country that currently has such a defense. But it is false that "the law and revenge can not coexist". They have co-existed in the past. The Werguild system was such a system as was the "unwrittnen law" defense for crimes of passion. Apr 17, 2019 at 18:39
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    Exactly my point. There can be a system in which retribution is legal under particular circumstances, but those circumstances are regulated, and it is part of an overall system of law. The classic Icelandic system, of circa 950 CE, is an example. If a killer followed specific rules, he could not be legally attacked, but must be tried by the Althing. But if he broke the rules, say by trying to hide, the victims relatives were legally entitled to take revenge. The Germanic werguild system had similar provisions, allowing revenge sometimes. Law and revenge CAN coexist. Apr 17, 2019 at 19:25
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    It was not "execution of the law" in a modern sense. The law gave permission for revenge, it did not require it. You are arguing in a circle: revenge and law cannot coexist, because if the law permits it it isn't revenge. And in the Icelandinc case it did not require a decree of the thing to authorize revenge in a specific case. Apr 17, 2019 at 19:31
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    When you say "law and revenge can not coexist" you are talking about all times. That they did coexist in the past shows that the could now, if some country chose to readopt such a system. As far as i know, none has. Apr 17, 2019 at 20:41
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    It was a written law, part of a set of written laws. Read Friedman, who discusses it in some detail. Apr 17, 2019 at 21:12

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