Murder & manslaughter - the law
In order for an individual to be convicted of murder, the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that an individual, who is of sound mind, has unlawfully killed another person with the intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.
The mandatory sentence for this offence is life imprisonment. The sentencing judge will set a minimum amount of time that must be served in prison as part of the sentence, before an individual is eligible for parole. This starting point can vary depending on the particular circumstances of the offence and the offender. This can include whether a weapon was used, the degree of planning, the previous offending history of the defendant and the age of the defendant.
Partial defences to murder
There are three partial defences to murder under English law. These are ‘diminished responsibility’, ‘loss of control’ and ‘killing in pursuance of a suicide pact’. These could potentially reclassify the murder charge to manslaughter. Partial defences differ from complete defences such as “self-defence”
Voluntary manslaughter requires the same components of the offence of murder, namely that an individual has unlawfully killed another person with the intent to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm. However, if an individual successfully argues the partial defences of diminished responsibility, provocation or killing in pursuance of a suicide pact, this would reduce the offence from one of murder to an act of voluntary manslaughter. This is important as it would mean that a mandatory life sentence would not need to be imposed. It is therefore essential that advice is sought to determine whether either of those partial defences are available.
Involuntary manslaughter differs from the above as it requires all of the other components of murder, however importantly it does not require an individual to intend to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. Involuntary manslaughter would include unlawful act manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.
To satisfy this offence, a corporate entity, which can include companies, government departments, the police force or a partnership, must have committed a gross breach of a relevant duty of care which has been substantially caused by the way in which its activities were managed or organised by senior management. This breach must have caused or substantially contributed to the death.
Conviction for this offence can result in a fine between £180,000 - £20,000,000 which depends on the size of the corporate entity and the relevant aggravating factors, which includes factors such as the health and safety record of the entity, any identified cost-cutting exercises at the expense of safety and the vulnerability of the victims.
Notable recent cases
R v H - Murder at the Old Bailey: The defendant had been subjected to physical abuse from her partner and was in fear of her life. We successfully argued that the defendant had acted in self defence and she was acquitted of murder.
R v B - Attempted murder of a child at Liverpool Crown Court: The defendant was acquitted of attempted murder. The case instead proceeded as child neglect and the defendant received a non-custodial sentence.
R v H - Murder at Liverpool Crown Court: The defendant was found not guilty despite admitting that he used the knife which resulted in the fatal injury. We successfully argued that the defendant had acted in self-defence.
R v M - Murder at Oxford Crown Court: The defendant had been convicted of attempted murder 12 years earlier. The victim had since died and the prosecution alleged that his death was the result of the original injury. We successfully argued that the original jury had been wrong in their guilty verdict and, despite the conviction for attempted murder, that there was sufficient doubt that the defendant had caused the original injury. The defendant was found not guilty.
R v A - Murder at Manchester Crown Court: The prosecution argued that our client was involved in a joint enterprise with others. The defendant was found not guilty.
R v D - Murder at Bradford Crown Court: The case involved the fatal stabbing of a male with a knife. Whilst the jury did not accept that the defendant had acted in self-defence, they did accept that he did not have the intent to kill or cause serious harm. The defendant was found not guilty of murder but convicted of manslaughter.
R v M - Conspiracy to Murder at Manchester Crown Court: The defendant faced trial alleged to have plotted with others to kill a man. Whilst the co-defendants who were convicted of conspiracy to murder received sentences of life imprisonment, our client was acquitted of that charge by the jury and as a result of only being convicted of a lesser offence, received a much reduced sentence.