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Murder - introduction

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The classic definition of murder is

"Murder is when a man of sound memory and of the age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any county of the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura under the king's peace, with malice aforethought, either expressed by the party or implied by law….."


"( that the wounded party shall die of the wound or hurt, (within a year and a day of the same)."  This last sentence removed by The Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996

17th Century rule - Coke's Institutes.


Even today, murder is still a common law offence, the offence not enacted by parliament.


The Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996

3 years after attack

  • If the 'cause' of death occurs more than 3 years before the victim died or

  • D has already been convicted of some other offence (e.g. grievous bodily harm) in relation to the acts that caused the death the consent of the Attorney General must be secured before prosecution can be brought. Otherwise, the normal rules of causation apply.

Committed anywhere

British citizen can be tried in a British court for murder or manslaughter committed anywhere in the world: Offences Against the Person Act 1861.

Only one punishment for murder

The Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1964, says that a person convicted of murder must be sentenced to life imprisonment. 


"Sentenced" to life does not mean "serve" a sentence of imprisonment for the rest of their life.

In practice, most are released after 10 - 15 years "on licence" which means they can be recalled to prison for a many reasons.


So, part of the life sentence is served in prison, and the remainder served not in prison.


Death during sporting games.

Sportsmen indulging in their sporting past times consent to those inevitable injuries that occur as a result of contact sports.


R v Bruce (1847) established that a murder charge would result if the death were caused by above average violence in the 'game' or non-adherence to the rules of the game.


Euthanasia is murder.

The mercy killing of a terminally ill patient does not provide any defence, no matter how compassionate. Doctors who kill are murderers. Cox, R v (1992) Winchester Crown Court, Ognall J .


Double Effect

They may be immune from liability if the treatment is to ease pain but incidentally accelerates death, as shown by the Annie Lindsell case 1997. 


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