Homicide - Murder, Attempt Murder and Manslaughter

Murder

Murder is committed when a person of “sound mind” unlawfully kills another, with the intention to either kill or cause “grievous (serious) bodily harm.”

This offence must be tried at a Crown Court before a judge and jury. After one appearance before a Magistrates Court, the case will be sent directly to the Crown Court.

Murder carries a mandatory life sentence for an adult, with the crown court judge specifying a tariff to be served before the inmate may be considered for supervised release or "Parole." People convicted under the age of 18 are detained “at Her Majesty’s pleasure”. Again,this in effect means that the length of the sentence in real terms, or ‘the tariff’, will vary depending on individual circumstances. These can include the way in which the offence was committed and whether or not the defendant has any previous convictions. About 15 years ago the average tariff was 12 years and now it is about 21 years. Media, public acclaim and politicians have been significant in this regard.

Attempt Murder

To be guilty of attempted murder, a person must have the intention to kill another person, and have done something “more than merely preparatory” to commit the killing.

This may mean that knocking on someone’s door with a kitchen knife, while intending to kill them could be considered attempted murder. Physically stabbing at someone with a knife, but not succeeding might be considered attempted murder.

But in most cases, attempted murder usually has to involve an attempt so serious that death could well have followed from the actions of the defendant.

Among other things, a jury will look at the following factors in deciding whether someone is guilty of attempted murder:

Was the attack so severe that it looks like murder was intended?

Was a weapon which could easily inflict death used (for example a gun)?

Did the defendant use any words or show any behaviour which indicated that he or she intended to kill?

Manslaughter

When a person kills someone but intends only to hurt them, or to exert some force on them, this is called manslaughter and is generally considered to be a much less serious offence.

With murder, the intention of the attacker has to be to either commit really serious harm or to kill. With manslaughter, although the end result is a death, the attacker must only be intending to do some harm, or being negligent or reckless as to whether some harm would be involved.

Incapacity and deemed unfit to plead

Sometimes the suspect/defendant is of such unsound mind that a prosecution is not progressed, he or she being deemed unfit to plead and the individual concerned is sent to secure psychiatric hospitals, such as Broadmoor Hospital. This is a supposedly therapeutic institution providing assessment, treatment and care in conditions of high security.

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