Homicide. Unlawful killing is when and a person of sound mind and of the age of discretion can commit the actus Reus of murder by unlawfully killing another person. This means that the defendant in a murder case must be legally responsible for his actions
Amy Lynne Martin
The act of homicide is broken down in English law to murder and manslaughter, in other countries such as the USA murder or manslaughter is usually referred to just as homicide. In the USA murder is broken down into different degrees however in English law it is not, it is murder which follows with a mandatory life sentence. There can be various different types of manslaughter dependent on the situation and very different aspects involved with the crime itself.
Unlawful killing is when and a person of sound mind and of the age of discretion can commit the actus Reus of murder by unlawfully killing another person. This means that the defendant in a murder case must be legally responsible for his actions and cannot be classed as insane, cannot have committed the crime under diminished responsibility and has to be a person and not a corporation. Currently in England the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old, over the years there have been calls for this to be raised to 12 and in some cases 14, this would follow many other countries throughout the world. A key argument in this case is that the murder of Jamie Bulger in 1993 was carried out by two 10 year olds and although child murderers are uncommon, should it happen again in the future, the children who are involved in the act would not be held responsible for their actions.
The actus reus in murder is broken down to unlawfully killing another person and that the defendant must have caused the death, The death must also be of a human being which does cause a confliction within the law as to when life begins. Currently life begins not at conception but when the foetus is expelled from the mother’s womb. The Mens Rea can be defined as the intention to kill or to cause grievous bodily harm to another person. The intention can either be direct or oblique and Lord Mustill stated “….a conscious intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. It is therefore, possible to commit a murder not only without wishing the death of the victim but without the least though that this might be the result of the assault…..” This statement defined mens rea to what it is today. For a murder charge to be safe the actus reus – the guilty act – and the mens rea – the guilty mind – must be present. In Attorney – General’s Reference (No 3. Of 1994) (1997) HL the accused was not convicted of murder because his intention was to harm the mother, for a murder conviction to have succeeded it would have been necessary to prove he intended to harm the child. The actus reus in this case was the stabbing of the mother, he had intended to cause severe harm and possibly death to this person however although the child later died he had not intended to kill or harm the child therefore mens rea was not present for murder of the child.
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In the case of Airedale National Health Service Trust v Bland (1993) HL this highlighted the issue around lawful and unlawful killing. Tony Bland was in a persistent vegetative state (PVS) for three and a half years following a severe injury incurred in the 1989 Hillsborough disaster. The court applied to the court for a declaration to allow health professionals to discontinue the treatment of Tony Bland as it had been agreed there was no hope of recovery and that he was fed artificially and mechanically. The court dealt with the issue surrounding this case by looking at the best interests of the patient to which declaration was made for the withdrawal of life support. This was classed as a lawful killing as the health professionals were not killing the patient although the actus reus would be present as their acts would undoubtedly cause the death of the patient however they did not intentionally kill the patient they were merely allowing the patient to die, which would have been the case is there had been no medical intervention. “An omission to act will not be a breach of duty I this case or cases of this nature.” Was declared by the court to ensure that the health professionals initiating the turn off of the relevant machines not to be punished under criminal law.
In the fictional case of Deborah and Eric, Deborah was charged with the murder of Eric, in this case the actus reus was indeed present, the guilty act was that Deborah knifed Eric which caused serious bodily harm. This was an unlawful act which eventually killed him although Novus actus interveniens was also present due to the fact that the medical team gave Eric a new drug as treatment; Eric proved to be allergic to this drug and died soon after. Although it could be seen that the drug in effect caused the death, had Deborah not stabbed Eric, he would never have required medical treatment. This example can be seen in R v McKechnie (1992) CA where the victim was hit over the head with a chair causing injuries which prevented the doctors from treating a condition which was later discovered when the victim was in hospital. Due to the injuries the victim incurred in the attack with the chair he was at high risk of death if an anaesthetic was administered, however the condition which was discovered – a duodenal ulcer – then burst which ultimately caused the death of the victim. It was held that the doctor’s decision not to operate on was reasonable as the head injuries incurred in the attack were the significant cause of the victim’s demise. The defendant was rightly convicted of manslaughter as in criminal cases the blame cannot be apportioned. The defendants act doesn’t need to the sole or man cause of death, it is sufficient that their acts significantly contributed to the demise of the victim.
When a person unlawfully kills someone it is automatically classed as murder, however the charge can be reduced to manslaughter on various different grounds. Diminished responsibility and provocation are two grounds used when attempting to have a charge reduced to manslaughter. The Coroners and Justice Act 2009 replaced S.2 of the Homicide Act 1957 by stating “A person who kills or is party to the killing of another is not to be convicted of murder if D was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning” this then was broken down into different parts; firstly if the defendants actions arose from a recognised medical condition; the abnormality of mental functioning substantially impaired D’s ability to do one or more things mentioned in sub section [1A] and provides an explanation for the defendants acts and omissions in doing or being party to the killing. All of the criteria has to be applied to a person before a charge of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility can be accepted.
The laws of provocation fell under S.3 of the Homicide Act 1957 but were abolished by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009; however within this act there is now the defence of “Loss of Control” which can be a partial defence to murder. Prior to the abolishment provocation could be used as a defence to murder and was used in the case of R v Ahluwalia (1992) CA. In this case the defence of provocation was used with different aspects. Firstly the fact that the D’s husband was refusing to speak to her and demanded money had provoked her into killing the victim also the D suffered from “battered woman syndrome” as her husband best her on a regular basis which made her more prone to loss of self control resulting in performing an act which she would not have done had she of had full self control at the time.
Manslaughter comes in two different forms; voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter has three different types, firstly there is constructive manslaughter and the law states the death must be caused by an unlawful act and that an omission to act cannot create liability this can be seen in the case of R v Lowe (1973). This case consisted of a father, with low intelligence, failed to call a doctor when his 9 week old child became ill but claimed to have told his wife to do so, she did not do so and the child died 10 days later. The court held “there is a clear distinction between an act of omission and an act of commission likely to cause harm. If I strike a child in a manner likely to cause harm it is right that if the child dies I may be charged with manslaughter. If, however I omit to do something with the result that it suffers injury to health which results in death …a charge of manslaughter should not be an inevitable consequence even if the omission is deliberate” Gross Negligent Manslaughter is the second type which is when death is caused the carrying out of lawful acts but those acts have been carried out below the standard expected. The essential ingredients of involuntary manslaughter by breach of duty are: proof of the existence of the duty; breach of that duty causing death and gross negligence which the jury considered justified in a criminal conviction. This can be applied to the case of R v Adomako (1994) HL where Lord McKay stated “…gross negligence…depends…on the seriousness of the breach of the duty committed by the defendant in all the circumstances in which he was placed when it occurred and whether, having regard to the risk of death involved, the conduct of the defendant was so bad in all the circumstances as to amount in the jury’s judgment to a criminal act or omission” This ruling overruled a previous case of R v Seymour and set the new precedent in regards to Gross Negligent Manslaughter. The Final type of manslaughter is Reckless Manslaughter which is when the D is aware of a risk of death or serious injury and goes on to take the risk. Reckless manslaughter would have been committed providing the acts were the cause of death. This was highlighted in the case of r v Lidar (2000) where the defendant was the driver of a moving car onto which the victim was clinging whilst fighting with the defendant. The victim fell and was killed when the car ran over him. The defendant was convicted of reckless manslaughter as he was aware of the risk that if he continued to drive that there was a risk the victim would lose his grip resulting in them being run over, as the defendant was aware of this risk and decided to take it this was classed as reckless manslaughter.
For a defendant to be charged with voluntary manslaughter the accused has to be able to establish a defence of diminished responsibility or loss of self control, which is the new provocation defence, only after this has been established can a murder conviction be reduced to voluntary manslaughter. This was highlighted in the case of R v Ahluwalia in the appeal courts, had evidence which was not adduced at the original trial but the court of appeal admitted the evidence which was that the defendant had suffered years of abuse from her husband eventually suffering from battered woman’s syndrome, which is also referred to as post traumatic stress disorder. The syndrome is recognised by the courts as the constant abuse the women incur can lead to sudden temporary loss of self control and can be seen to amount to diminished responsibility. So providing the defendant is able to establish and prove they were suffering from a total loss of self control or diminished responsibility could be proved then the charge can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Homicide is a broad term which is generally why it isn’t a word normally associated with the English Legal System. We have it broken down into different sections to make it clearer and easier for all concerned to understand the differences between the indictments and the punishments that are involved as well as breaking down what has to be involved on each individual basis. One thing is certain, for a murder charge to stick the defendant must have no excuse for killing the victim, the actus reus and mens rea must fully be present in the case for the conviction to be safe.
- The English Legal System by Catherine Elliott and Frances Quinn
- Homicide: Causative factors and Roots by Richard M. Yarvis
Turning off the life support machine
For example schizophrenia
Those things are: a) to understand the nature of D’s conduct B) to form a rational judgement C) to exercise self control
D, an anaesthetist, failed to observe during an eye operation that the tube inserted in V’s mouth had become detached from the ventilator, causing V to suffer a cardiac arrest and eventually die.
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A fine essay. A tighter writing style will improve this essay. 4 Stars.