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Murder and Voluntary Manslaughter

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Introduction

Rudi Harnick U6G2 Unit 4 Essay Discuss the criticisms which may be made of the law on murder (including voluntary manslaughter) Contrary to Common Law murder is defined as the killing of a human being within the Queens Peace with malice aforethought and on conviction carries a mandatory life sentence. On the other hand voluntary manslaughter is a Common Law offence and carries up to life imprisonment. For both murder and voluntary manslaughter the Actus Reus is exactly the same: a voluntary act (or omission in some cases) that is the factual and legal cause of the death of a human being. In the UK there is no legal definition of death and this could lead to uncertainty when the jury is considering whether the defendant is guilty or not. Problems are yet to occur and even when the Criminal Law Committee considered this problem in 1980 they concluded that statute should not intervene. So the courts have continued to interpret the meaning of death where necessary. For example in R V Malcherek the court decided it was suitable to assume that death occurs when the victim is brain dead. ...read more.

Middle

Another problem that has occurred when establishing whether the defendant has the required Mens Rea is that it has proven hard to see whether intent was oblique or not as the definition established in R V Woolin is not very clear or thorough (the consequence was a virtual certainty and the defendant appreciated that). Some people may find it injust that a defendant who intended to cause GBH will only be guilty of section 18 if the doctor saves the victims life but if the victim dies the defendant will be guilty of murder and will receive a mandatory life sentence. So he will be given a longer sentence even though his actions were the same. If there are mitigating circumstances the defendant can use the three partial defences (provocation, diminished responsibility, suicide pact) defined by the Homicide Act 1957 to reduce their liability to manslaughter. To see if the element of provocation can be satisfied we must see whether the provocative words or actions, where there was a sudden and temporary loss of self-control as in R V Duffy and we must also see if the reasonable man would of acted as the defendant did. ...read more.

Conclusion

There are a number of issues, which cause concern regarding a partial defence of diminished responsibility. A person may avoid being convicted of murder and get the conviction reduced to manslaughter if he can prove that at the time of the killing he was suffering from an abnormality of mind, whether caused by a defective development of the mind, an inherent cause or disease or injury, which was such as to successfully impair his responsibility for his action ( Section 2 Homicide Act 1957). Sometimes however the courts have found it hard to accept Diminished Responsibility as a defence as public opinion as sometimes been against it. For example in R V Sutcliffe the defendant was the "Yorkshire Ripper" and he was convicted of murder even though there was medical evidence that he was a paranoid schizophrenic. Also the meaning of "abnormality of mind" is not very clear as it does not mean abnormality of the brain so they cannot base it upon medical evidence. In some cases it has been questioned whether alcoholism can be used as a partial defence ( R V Tandy, R V Gitten and R V Deitschmann) but there is no specific test for this so the court must decide based on the circumstances. ...read more.

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