In this article, we will explore the definitions of murder and manslaughter in the UK, the differences between the two, and the legal consequences for those convicted of these offences.
Murder is the more serious of the two offences and is defined in English law as “the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought.” This means that the person who committed the act of killing intended to cause harm or death. The mens rea, or mental element of the offence, is essential in determining whether a person is guilty of murder or not. The intention to cause harm or death can be express or implied, and it does not necessarily have to be directed towards the specific person who was killed.
Manslaughter, on the other hand, is defined as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice aforethought.” This means that the person who caused the death did not intend to kill or cause serious harm, but their actions led to the death of another person. Manslaughter can be further classified into two types: voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another in circumstances that would usually amount to murder, but the killer was acting under diminished responsibility, suicide pact, or loss of control. Diminished responsibility can occur when a person suffers from a mental disorder that impairs their judgment, and loss of control can occur when a person loses control of their actions due to fear of fatal violence or anger.
Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person causes the death of another person through an unlawful and dangerous act or through gross negligence. This type of manslaughter differs from voluntary manslaughter because the victim’s death is unintentional.
The penalties for murder and manslaughter are severe in the UK. A conviction for murder carries a mandatory life sentence, with a minimum term of imprisonment that must be served before the offender can be considered for release. The Judge sets this minimum term, taking into account the seriousness of the offence, the offender’s culpability and the aggravating and mitigating factors of the case. In contrast, the sentence for manslaughter can vary depending on the circumstances of the case. Voluntary manslaughter can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, while involuntary manslaughter can carry a maximum sentence of 14 years’ imprisonment.
In conclusion, the key difference between the two offences is the mental element or intent of the offender. Murder requires the intention to cause harm or death, while manslaughter does not. Understanding the definitions and distinctions between these offences is crucial, both for those working within the justice system and for the wider public.
If you find yourself accused of such an offence, it is imperative that you seek legal advice and assistance from the outset when being interviewed by the police.
Richardson Lissack are specialists in this particular field and will seek to identify all potential defences and partial defences available from an early stage. In addition, our specialists are well versed on the recent legislative developments concerning the controversial issue of joint enterprise.