Is the current law on murder in urgent need for reform?

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Is the current law on murder in urgent need for reform?

Murder is currently defined as the unlawful killing of a human being within the Queen’s peace with malice aforethought. Murder is a common law offence and has not therefore been defined under any statute. It is a homicide offence, and carries a mandatory life sentence.

The mandatory life sentence aspect of the law is one of the main criticisms people make of the law. If a person is convicted of murder, the trial judge is required to pass a life sentence. Some people argue that motive is not relative under the current law, meaning that a person who commits a mercy killing (R v Cocker) would receive the same sentence as a person who commits an act of terrorism or acts in cold blooded murder. The only current way to reduce the sentence for a mercy killing is to plead the partial defence of diminished responsibility, which carries risks.

Both the House of Lords Select Committee Murder and Life Imprisonment (1989) and an independent committee chaired by Lord Lane in 1993 suggested the abolition of the mandatory sentence for murder, which would then leave the sentence to the discretion of the judge, and perhaps (to some extent) the jury and furthermore, Lord Irvine, the former Lord Chancellor has branded the current law “inappropriate [since] murder embraces such a multitude of diverse sins”.

At present, a person who helps to end the life of a terminally ill relative on compassionate grounds is treated in the same way as a cold-blooded killer. In cases such as R v Moloney, where the defendant is more stupid than evil, the defendant can be placed anywhere in between the two ends of the spectrum. The current mandatory life sentence in inflexible and goes against the doctrine of judicial independence. A Crown Court trial, with the aid of jurors, is supposedly society registering its disapproval of homicide offences, yet the circumstances of a particular offence could make a tremendous difference to the way that society views it. Yet if a defence fails, the person, however stupid, will be sentenced to life imprisonment.

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If the life sentence were to be abolished it would have to be in line with a system of classification of homicide crimes, or the abolition of the distinction between murder and manslaughter with the court having discretion over the sentence.

There are further problems with intention, or the mens rea or murder. In many countries, there are degrees of murder, where first degree murder is intention to kill, and second degree murder is equivalent to involuntary manslaughter. Under current English law, a defendant may be convicted of murder if they intended to cause GBH (R v Ibrams) ...

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