Murder

Status: This project is complete. Our recommendations on partial defences have been implemented in large part by the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. The remainder of our recommendations have been rejected by Government

In our 2004 report, "Partial Defences to Murder", we described the current law on murder as "a mess" and recommended a complete review of the law of murder. In October 2004, the Home Office announced that such a review would take place. This was confirmed on 21 July 2005 when the then Home Office Minister Fiona MacTaggart announced the terms of reference of a comprehensive review of murder law.

The project

On 20 December 2005 we opened a consultation seeking feedback on our provisional proposals for reforming the law of murder. We sought responses from, among others, the public, criminal justice practitioners, academics and those who work with victims' families. The consultation closed on 13 April 2006.

On 29 November 2006 we published our report, "Murder, Manslaughter and Infanticide".

We recommended that instead of the current two tier-structure of general homicide offences, namely murder and manslaughter, there should be a three-tier structure:

  • first degree murder (mandatory life sentence)
  • second degree murder (discretionary life sentence), and
  • manslaughter (discretionary life sentence).

First degree murder would be confined to unlawful killings committed with an intention to kill and unlawful killings committed with an intent to cause serious injury where the killer was aware that his or her conduct involved a serious risk of causing death.

Second degree murder would encompass unlawful killings committed with an intent to cause serious harm and unlawful killings intended to cause injury or fear or risk of injury where the killer was aware that his or her conduct involved a serious risk of causing death. In addition, second degree murder would encompass cases which would constitute first degree murder but for the fact that the accused successfully pleads provocation, diminished responsibility or that he or she had killed pursuant to a suicide pact.

Manslaughter would consist of unlawful killings caused by acts of gross negligence and unlawful killings caused by a criminal act that was intended to cause injury or by a criminal act foreseen as involving a serious risk of causing some injury.

We also recommended reforms in relation to complicity in murder, diminished responsibility, provocation and infanticide and that the Government should undertake a public consultation on whether, and if so to what extent, the law should recognise either an offence of "mercy" killing or a partial defence of "mercy" killing. 

Other jurisdictions

This report makes a comparative study of murder in overseas jurisdictions.