This article is written like a crim law outline. It’s taken in note form. It can also be helpful for non-law school students who just want to learn about the law.
Homicide is split up into murder and manslaughter.
In England and Wales, there is no liability for homicide. The offences themselves are murder and manslaughter.
You wouldn’t say someone is liable for property offences.
Murder is the most serious offence. It’s the only offence that carries with it a mandatory life sentence.
We also included a criminal law essay at the end that you might find interesting.
Homicide In The UK Law
The reason for that is the defendant (D) isn’t just infringing on the rights of the victim (V) but removed the V’s ability to experience anything in the future.
A mandatory life sentence does not mean they have to spend the rest of their life in prison, but that is also possible.
It’s rare that someone spends the rest of their life in prison. The D often spends around 15 years in prison. If released on parole, they would be restricted on what they can do for the rest of their life.
If you breach parole, you go back to jail right away.
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Circumstances matter at sentencing, not during the trial verdict. The judge can offer a sentence at the high level, or at a reduced level for crimes like theft.
Murder is murder. Judges have to issue the sentence of life.
There are ways to try and move the charge of murder to manslaughter. We will talk about that later.
Is there anything in a statute in the United Kingdom? There was a Homicide Act that was useful, but it does not define murder. Instead, you have to look to the common law.
Judges have defined murders for us.
Actus Reus for murder
The elements of what is required are…
- An act or omission that causes death. (act)
- The V must be a person, who is not in a war zone (circumstance)
- And the result must be that they die (result)
You can commit murder via an omission.
What is a person? When is someone a person? When are they alive and when do they die? The law says you are a person when you leave the womb. It’s about physical location.
When there is a birth, a fetus becomes a person. It doesn’t matter if the cord is cut.
In AG’s Ref , someone stabbed their pregnant girlfriend. She gave birth to a child who was alive but died later. There was no murder, because of no transferred malice. However, there was a liability for manslaughter.
If the fetus had died before birth, there wouldn’t have been murder or manslaughter.
When has someone died? A machine can keep you breathing. It is said someone is dead when they are brain dead.
Mens Rea for murder
For the MR, the act must be voluntary and intentional, not recklessness.
Need to have knowledge that the V is a person.
There needs to be the intention to cause death or grievous bodily harm.
Cunningham  is the best common-law authority for the actus reus and mens rea elements. This is a different “Cunningham” case than the one that deals with recklessness. That case was in 1957. They are different cases.
It’s a constructive liability offence. This is when “a person may also be criminally held liable for any consequences resulting from his unlawful conduct.”
There are a few defences to murder. Self-defence, necessity, and the defence of insanity are a few of them.
Homicide In The UK
Duress doesn’t work for murder. You cannot be threatened into committing murder. This defence works for almost every other crime.
If a defence applies, then the D is acquitted. There is a special defence for doctors, although it’s not clear. There is the question of a doctor providing strong painkillers that kills someone that is dying.
But should the doctor be charged? There is still an ongoing debate. You should see the case of Adams  CrimLR 365. This case is about this sort of situation. The court found no liability. They said the doctor can alleviate pain as long as it’s accidental. The main intention was to help the patient.
In Cox (1992), the doctor used poison and meant to kill the patients, but to alleviate pain. The courts found liability.
There seems to be a special defence for doctors in those circumstances. The courts can accept the shortening of life if it’s done for the right reasons. If there are no defences, then you can look at partial defences.
A full defence leads to an acquittal. A partial defence leads to downgrading murder to manslaughter.
The issue is whether Dave should be criminally liable for the murder of Fred, Andy and Pete. The litigation parties are the Crown who is starting the criminal action, and Dave who is the criminal defendant.
Murder requires the actus reus (the guilty act) and the mens rea (the guilty mind). This essay will not discuss defences.
Actus Reus in the deaths of Fred:
The actus reus deals with everything that happened outside of the mind of the accused.
According to Gibbins and Proctor (1998) 13 Cr APP R 134; and AG’s Ref (No 3 of 1994)  3 All ER 936; there are three elements of the actus reus that must be satisfied for the crime of murder. There must be conduct, circumstances, and the result.
Dave pulled the trigger (conduct), Fred was a human (circumstance), and Fred died (result.) The actus reus circumstance element of “being under the Queen’s peace” was also met. Dave was not a member of the armed forces operating in a war zone.
Mens Rea in the deaths of Fred:
Mens rea deals with everything that happened inside the mind of the accused. Given that there is no statute for the required elements of murder, we need to look to the case law.
For the mens rea of murder, the cases of Cunningham  AC 566; and Moloney  AC 905; which set out the needed mental elements.
The elements of mens rea for murder are that there was an intentional and voluntary act, knowledge of the circumstance(s), and an intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.
Dave clearly intended to murder Fred and did so voluntarily++, therefore the mens rea for murder is met.
Actus Reus in the deaths of Andy:
Dave pulled the trigger (conduct), Andy was a human (circumstance), and Andy died (result.) The elements of the actus reus are met.
Mens Rea in the deaths of Andy:
With the murder of Andy, the question is if Dave intended to kill him.
What Dave thought about the risk of shooting Andy is irrelevant. This was explained by the court in Brady  EWCA Crim 2413. The foresight of any risk is enough for criminal liability.
Both Dave and a reasonable person would know that there was a risk to Andy when he got shot. Therefore, both subjective and objective mens rea would apply for murder.
Andy had to die in order for Dave to get what he wanted, which was the death of Fred. It was a means to an end. Because of this, Dave had the mens rea for the murder of Andy. It was virtually certain that shooting Andy would kill him, and Dave knew that. In the alternative, there was certainly foresight of any risk.
Actus Reus in the death of Pete:
Dave did not cause the death of Pete. People in England and Whales have no duty to save someone else’s life unless there is a duty to care. People in a family generally have a duty to act for each other. The case of R v Gibbons and Proctor  shows that a parent can be found liable for murder for an omission when there is a duty to act.
Mens rea in the deaths of Pete:
Dave did not intend for Pete to die, nor was it a means to an end. Therefore, there was no intention to kill.
I do not believe that Dave had the correct mindset to be liable for murder. I found that the case of R v Stone and Dobinson  1 QB 354 was in line with Dave’s actions. In this case, two defendants failed to look after someone they were living with, and that person died as a result. The defendants were found liable for manslaughter.
In the case of R v Instan  1 QB 450, the defendant was the niece of the victim. The victim died after they were not fed. The defendant was found liable for manslaughter.
Given that the question doesn’t ask to determine liability for manslaughter, I will not look at those elements.
The death of Fred:
The actus reus and mens rea for murder have been met. The mens rea element of intention and voluntariness was met. Dave should be found criminally liable for murder in the death of Fred.
The death of Andy:
The actus reus and mens rea for murder have been met.
The mens rea element of intention and voluntariness was met. Dave had the intention to kill Andy, in that it was a means to an end.
If Andy had survived, Dave might have been happy. But at the same time, Dave should have known that by shooting Andy there was a serious risk to Andy’s health.
There did not have to be pre-planning in the death. At the moment of the shooting, there was coincidence between the actus reus and mens rea.
Coincidence means that there must be a connection between the conduct part of actus reus and the mens rea.
Dave should be liable for murder in the death of Andy.
The death of Pete:
Given the result of the case of Gibbins and Proctor, which found that biological parents were found criminally liable for the starvation of their child, it is possible that Dave could be found liable for murder. However, most case law, like R v Stone and Dobinson and R v Instan shows that manslaughter is a more likely conviction.
The courts seem to struggle to deal with omissions versus positive act crimes. The rulings seem inconsistent and confusing.
It is not clear if the elements of manslaughter, such as Dave being the cause of death were met, but the question only asks about liability for murder.
References For Homicide In The UK
Nicholls (1874) 13 Cox CC 75.
Gibbins and Proctor (1918) 13 Cr App R 134.
Brady  EWCA Crim 2413
AG’s Ref (No 3 of 1994)  3 All ER 936;
Cunningham  AC 566;
Moloney  AC 905;
R v Instan  1 QB 450
R v Stone and Dobinson  1 QB 354