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Murder - defences - the specific defences to a charge of murder

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The specific defences to a murder charge
(and only a murder charge, nothing else)

Referred to as "specific and partial" defences.

"Specific" because they are available only to a charge of murder, "partial" because the defendant is not totally acquitted, simply convicted of manslaughter.

Diminished responsibility S2

  • The defence is that the killer was suffering from an abnormality of the mind at the time of the crime that impaired the mental responsibility for committing the act or omission.

  • If accepted, the conviction would be for manslaughter.

more in voluntary manslaughter, here

Provocation S3

  • A defendant must show that the actions and behaviour of the dead person was such that any reasonable person would lose control of the mind, and that the loss of self-control was sudden and temporary. R v Richens (1993).

  • If accepted, the conviction would be for manslaughter.

  • The defence is not available to a defendant who has time to think and reflect before committing the murder. R v Thornton (1992) CA.

more in voluntary manslaughter, here

Suicide Pact S4

"Suicide pact" means a common agreement between two or more persons for them all to die.  It does not make any difference whether they take their own life, or kill each other.

There must be a settled intention by each party to die in pursuance of the pact.

Suicide is no longer an offence of self-murder at common law, since the Suicide Act 1961.

Where a person, acting in pursuance of a suicide pact between himself and another, kills the other or is a party to the other being killed by a third party, he is guilty of manslaughter.

Needless to say, this is only relevant if one or more of the parties survives the suicide pact.

more in voluntary manslaughter, here

Homicide Act 1957

  • The above defences, introduced by the Homicide Act 1957, reduce the charge of murder to manslaughter.

  • The effect is that murder carries the minimum of life imprisonment, manslaughter the maximum of life imprisonment.

The below appear not to be part of your syllabus


is where a child under the age of 12 months is killed:

(a) By its mother, and

(b) At the time of the killing, the mother was mentally disturbed because of not fully recovering from the effects of the child's birth.

The maximum punishment the same as for manslaughter.

Causing death by reckless driving

Committed by a motorist who drives recklessly and causes the death of another.

Maximum punishment 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine.

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