Murder/Voluntary Manslaughter Criticisms and Reforms

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A2 law unit 3 model answer

Murder/Voluntary manslaughter criticisms and reforms

Question

Discuss the criticisms which may be made on the law on murder (including voluntary manslaughter)

Suggested answer

It is difficult to divorce criticism of the law on murder without also considering the relevant partial defences under the Homicide Act 1957. This point was made by the Law Commission in August 2006 when they published the results of their review on provocation and diminished responsibility. “The law on murder is "a mess" and should be comprehensively reviewed for the first time in more than half a century” stated the Law Commission in its 2006 report.

The Law Commission said a major overhaul was required - including a re-think of whether murder should always carry a life sentence - because of "the breadth and depth of discontent" with the current law. Results of a consultation exercise showed 64 respondents out of 146 - including 21 judges - believed a mandatory life sentence for every case of murder was "indefensible and should cease", the commission said. They said it was incorrect to roll all types of murder from serial killings to mercy killings into one single category. They proposed two tiers for murder. First degree for murder with intent and second degree murder where there was intention to cause serious harm or one of the partial defences.

A logical system would identify the most serious forms of killing and call them murder, but it might also attempt to identify other forms and grade them for sentencing. This could be somewhat similar to the system in the US where Homicide offences are dealt with in terms of “degrees” with each degree linked to a tariff sentence in the interests of consistency.

The offence of murder has long been criticised for its lack of cohesion. It is a common-law offence developed through decisions in many cases over long periods of time. These cases have in turn led to uncertainty and ambiguities,...
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