29/07/2008

Government Propose Changes To Homicide Laws

A defendant facing a murder trial may soon be able to have the charge reduced to manslaughter - if they can show they were "seriously wronged" by their victim.

The change is proposed as one of a number of reforms on homicide in England and Wales being conducted by the Law Commission.

The consultation paper sets out the Government proposals for reforms on partial defences to murder of diminished responsibility and provocation; the law on complicity in relation to homicide and infanticide.

The paper states that it is over 50 years since the last "comprehensive review of the law on homicide" and suggests that the existing "partial defence of provocation" should be abolished and replaced with new partial defences of "killing in response to a fear of serious violence" and "killing in response to words and conduct which caused the defendant to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged".

However, sexual infidelity on the part of the victim "does not constitute grounds for reducing murder to manslaughter", the paper insists.
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Attorney General Baroness Scotland says that the proposed changes will bring murder laws "right up to date".

However, barrister Geoffrey Robertson, QC, has told the BBC that the changes did not address all his concerns.

"Quite a few of these reforms are moderate and sensible, but the real problem with the law of murder is that it doesn't distinguish - it has a mandatory life sentence," he said.

Solicitor Harriet Wistrich, founder of Justice for Women said "it will really help things move forward so we have a defence for the modern age that helps those who have suffered long-term abuse to use as a defence".

The proposals will face public consultation before the new legislation is introduced.

Currently, a conviction for murder attracts a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment or in the case of an offender aged under 18, detention at Her Majesty's pleasure.

Meanwhile, the Home Office has published a 'map' of domestic homicide, showing wide variation in the numbers of women murdered by a current or ex partner across police forces around the country.

For example, it reveals that three wives and girlfriends out of 100,000 are killed each year in Humberside, as compared to just 0.5 in Avon and Somerset.

(DS)

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