The law of murder in England and Wales changes on Monday. The main change to the law of homicide deals with provocation. At the moment, people who kill after being provoked into losing their self-control may have a defence to murder. But it’s not a full defence, which would result in an acquittal. Provocation is a partial defence, meaning that it leads to a conviction for manslaughter rather than murder. This is crucial – but only because murder attracts an automatic sentence of life imprisonment, while the sentence for manslaughter is within the court’s discretion. On 4th October 2010 the common law defence of provocation will be abolished and replaced by a new partial defence to be known as “loss of control”. It will no longer matter whether the killer’s loss of self-control was sudden. Defendants will still have to produce evidence that: 1. the killing resulted from a loss of self-control; 2. the loss of self-control had a “qualifying trigger”; and 3. a person in the same position “with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint” might have reacted in a similar way. A qualifying trigger can be: a fear of serious violence; or something said or done that was “extremely grave” and gave the defendant “a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged”; or both. In deciding whether the loss of self-control had a qualifying trigger, the courts must ignore such factors as sexual infidelity and a desire for revenge.
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