The definition of murder is the ‘unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being under and under the Queens peace with malice aforethought either expressed or implied’. However, there is no statutory definition of murder because it’s a common law offence defined by Coke (1552/1634) which has a life sentence of 14/15 years. This law is still noted as the most serious offence and deserves legislation by Parliament. There’s no differentiation between the different kinds of killing from the proposed reform of murder. Since the 21st century there has been a wide variety of killing, starting from serial killings, euthanasia, self defence and terrorism to impulse killings. However, there are ‘sympathy killings’ where the defendant is encouraged by the suffering of the victim to kill. For three decades, there have been many debates about the current law and way it’s structured. The law separates murder between the levels of seriousness and culpability which helps them impose the appropriate sentence.
The new direction for oblique intent of virtual certainty is brief, easier for a jury to understand. Unlike the detailed information in MOLONEY and those formulated by the C/A in Hancock& Shankland. Their lordship has stressed the need for any direction to be ‘clear and simple and expressed in as few words as possible’ but it is still a long way from its ordinary meaning & this is bound to cause confusion to the jury. The main problem is the law on intention/oblique intention (foresight of consequence). S.8 of criminal justice act 1967 tried to make the law clear on this point stating the ‘foresight to consequence was not intention; it was only evidence from which intention could be inferred’. It is felt that this approach in WOOLIN can cause problems. Prof J smith argues that although a jury may be certain that D foresaw the consequences of his actions as a virtual certainty they still do not have to say that D had the intention. The law commission and Prof Smith favour the same approach: ‘A result foreseen as virtually certain is = to an intended result’ today’s law means a person who kills foreseeing death/ GBH as virtually certain may be a murderer, under the reforms the person would be murderer. In MATHEWS & ALLEYENE 2003 they agreed with the judgement in WOOLIN which meant ‘foresight of consequence is not intention just the evidence’
The four main factors in which the law on murder is made satisfactory is that there’s difficulties deciding what is meant by intention, the fact that defendant can be convicted of murder even though he/she intended to kill, the fact that the only sentence for murder is life imprisonment, the use of excessive force in a situation where some fore was justifies does not provide any defence and having no defences to duress.
Most senior judges argue that the mandatory life sentence is unfair as there are many sectors of killing and that they shall not prosecute every defendant with the same sentence. With this being undemocratic, it’s less likely for political parties or Parliament to support the public’s opinion that murder receives a life sentence too readily. The law commission comes handy as they developed the two degrees of murder. The first degree, the maximum life sentence where the defendant had the intention and knew there was a risk of death. The second degree is attracting the minimum life sentence (discretionary) where the defendant had the intention but wasn’t aware of aware of a serious risk of death. Another statement against the mandatory life sentence is that it might lead to unacceptable verdicts of manslaughter where the jury is reluctant to impose a murder verdict because of the existence of the life sentence.
Another factor of the mandatory life sentence is that is a defendant is aged 18 or over is convicted of murder, the judge has to pass to sentence them life imprisonment. The judge has no discretion in what sentences to impose; this is known as a