The law of homicide is mainly covered in common law, with the addition of a few bit of legislation, unlike the majority of criminal laws in the UK. Homicide covering Murder, Voluntary Manslaughter and involuntary Manslaughter.
Murder comes with a mandatory life sentence if the D is found guilty which generally is between 12-15 years. This may be increased in sentencing due to aggravating factors.
The definition of murder is the unlawful killing of a human being under the queens peace with malice aforethought. This contains all AR and MR elements of murder.
The AR elements of murder are as followed: R v Coke
- Unlawful killing
- Human Being
- Under the queens peace. (excludes justifies war killings)
And the MR element being Malice Aforethought, which translates into being the Intention to Kill or cause GBH as defined in R v Maloney. (indirect intent can apply also)
If all of these elements are present then there will be a Prima Fashe Case. However there are some circumstances where The charge of murder may be mitigated due to specific circumstances that caused the killing i.e. Loss of self control or Diminished responsibility. This will mitigate the charge to voluntary manslaughter which does not have a mandatory life sentence or mandatory sentence at all and they D could potentially even walk free that day. However there are criteria that the defendant must have met in order for their charge to be mitigated.
There mar be certain circumstances where people in specific positions have the power to end a life, for example in the case of Re A, doctors had to separate conjoined twins with the certainty of killing one of them, but essentially saving the other. They went forward with the operation. They had a defence in law otherwise they would have had the AR and MR for murder.
AG’s reference No 3 1994 stated that an unborn child was not a human being. for someone to be convicted of murder the child must have been born.
Loss of self Control
Loss of self control is set out in sections 54 and 55 of the Coroners and Justice act, and there is an evidential burden on the defence. This means that the defence only have to drop a bit of evidence in, and then the prosecution will have to disprove them beyond all reasonable doubt for this not to stick.
The elements that need satisfying to be mitigated to Voluntary manslaughter are:
- the act or omission was a result of a loss in self control
- there must have been a qualifying trigger
- a person in the same situation would have acted the same
The qualifying trigger must have also been:
- as a result of fear from violence to them or another person
- or things said or done that make the D feel as though they have been seriously wronged
Diminished responsibility is set out in section 2 of the Homicide Act. There is what is known as a reverse burden of proof for this defence, meaning that the defence must prove that the defence but only on the balance of probabilities.
For this to be used as a defence d must prove that they were suffering from an abnormality in mental functioning which:
- arose from a recognised medical condition
- substantially impaired their ability to understand their conduct
- and provides an excuse for their conduct.
When deciding whether the mental condition is recognised they will look at the World Health Organisation which have a produced a list of all recognised mental illnesses, which recently included Battered Women’s Syndrome (Ahluwalia).
This is where the Mens Rea not present, however the defendant could have potentially caused the death of another. There are 2 category in which someone can be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Unlawful act/constructive manslaughter, and Gross Negligence Manslaughter.
Unlawful Act/ Constructive Manslaughter
This offence does not have many elements because it uses the elements of to her crimes along side it. For someone to be guilty of this offence, they must have committed an dangerous unlawful act with the required MR, which resulted in the death of another. Therefore, the elements of the other crime, whether that be for instance robbery where someone gets killed. The elements of robbery would be explored.
The term Unlawful in drug offences may not apply to supplying drugs to someone who in turn dies as a result of a drug overdose. It would have been possible if they had taken the drug together, however this was not the case and there was not enough of a strong correlation between the act and the death. R v Kenny.
In Cases like R v Church where the defendant though the claimant was dead and threw her body in a river and she drowned, it will be held that even though the MR of the offence isn’t present for the significant act which caused the death, the nature in which they performed the act is good enough to warrant a conviction.
Gross Negligence Manslaughter
These are very rare cases and are for cases where someone has been so grossly negligence that it has caused the death of another.
the leading case for GNM is R v Adomako, in which an anesthetist failed not notice that the oxygen tube had fallen out a patient along with many others factors and they were convicted of GNM as a result.
For someone to be convicted of GNM they must have:
- Owed a duty of care
- Breached that duty of care
- The breach in the duty caused the death in another
- and the breach be so grossly negligent that “it is so independent and potent that it makes the original act look insignificant. “
R v Singh also adds another element by questioning whether the reasonably prudent person would have foreseen death (not just a risk).
These are very high standards and therefore is the reason to why convictions for this type of Homicide are very rare.