Date authored: 23 rd August, 2014. Homicide is the collective term for both murder and manslaughter in England and Wales.
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Murder is a common law offence that has developed through the courts over time. The common definition of murder comes from Edward Coke who wrote, murder occurs when a person of sound body and mind unlawfully kills any human being under the Queen’s peace with malice aforethought.  This definition lays out both the actus reus and mens rea of the offence. The actus reus is uncontroversial: the killing of any human being during the Queen’s peace. This makes murder a result crime; liability flows from an action (or omission) of the defendant resulting in death. Controversy and academic debate surrounds the second part of the offence, namely the mens rea element. Malice aforethought has been interpreted by the courts as meaning with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. It is this second interpretation of malice aforethought that brings the debate. It means a person can be convicted of the legal system’s ultimate, heinous crime despite a lack of intention to kill. Lord Steyn expressed the problem eloquently in R v Powell; “in English law, a defendant may be convicted of murder who is in no ordinary sense a murderer.”  The proponents of change base their arguments around fair labelling, mandatory sentencing, interpretation of the current law and the contradictory results of as is. Debate only follows where there are two points of view, and despite the pitfalls of the current law on murder, there are proponents of the current system. The arguments for the current system revolve around the sanctity of life, difficulty of overcoming the evidential burden, a deterrent approach and a view of social responsibility. These differing viewpoints will be explored below in more detail. One of the major complaints about the current law is based on the idea of fair labelling. In our society it is seen as unjust to label someone inaccurately, especially when that label is one of murderer. Glanville Williams wrote, “the particulars stated in the conviction should convey the degree of the offender’s moral guilt, or at least should not be positively misleading as to that guilt… In any case, a man may feel a sense of injustice if the terms of the conviction do not represent his real guilt.”  To be labelled a murderer without holding the intention to kill would not be representative of the defendants ‘real guilt’. Being convicted of murder not only results in a mandatory life sentence, but once, or if,
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