The Law on Murder
Murder is committed when a person of “sound mind” unlawfully kills another, with the intention to either kill or cause “grievous bodily harm”.
The main points to prove are:
• The act must be the substantial cause of death.
• The date of the offence is the date of death
• If there is any doubt whether the death was caused by any “supervening” event (such as medical negligence) the prosecution do not have to prove that the supervening event was not the significant cause of death.
• A murder committed by a British citizen outside the Uk may be tried in this country as if it had been committed here.
• Motivation will be a key part of both the Prosecution and defence case.
Murder can only be tried at a Crown Court before a judge and jury. When the Defendant appears in court for the first time they will go to the Magistrates Court , thereafter the case will be sent directly to the Crown Court.
Murder carries a mandatory life sentence for an adult. People convicted under the age of 18 are detained “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”. This in effect means that the length of the sentence in real terms, or ‘the tariff’, will vary depending on individual circumstances. These can include the way in which the offence was committed and whether or not the defendant has any previous convictions. The normal starting point is for 15 years but this can increase if there are aggravating features such as a conviction for a double murder.
When a person kills someone but intends only to hurt them, or to exert some force on them, this is called manslaughter, and is generally considered to be a much less serious offence. With murder, the intention of the attacker has to be to either commit really serious harm or to kill. With manslaughter, although the end result is a death, the attacker must only be intending to do some harm, or being negligent or reckless as to whether some harm would be involved.
To be guilty of attempted murder, a person must have the intention to kill another person, and have done something “more than merely preparatory” to commit the killing. In most cases, attempted murder usually has to involve an attempt so serious that death could well have followed from the actions of the defendant.
Among other things, a jury will look at the following factors in deciding whether someone is guilty of attempted murder:
• Was the attack so severe that it looks like murder was intended?
• Was a weapon which could easily inflict death used (for example a gun)?
• Did the defendant use any words or show any behaviour which indicated that he or she intended to kill?
Defences to Murder
Lawful Killing. – such as self defence
Diminished responsibility -Was the defendant suffering from such abnormality of mind whether as a result of having a definable mental health condition as substantially impaired their responsibility for their acts or omissions in doing or being a party to a killing.
The main change to the law of homicide deals with the defence of provocation.
The law used to be, 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.
However, on 4th October 2010 the common law defence of provocation was 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.
My brief Solicitors are very experienced in dealing with clients charged with murder from domestic violence cases to serial killers.
If we can assist anyone charged with this most serious offence please do not hesitate to call us.