Criminal Defence Against Murder Charges

Murder is among the most serious crimes you can be convicted of under UK law. It is considered the most serious form of homicide, with anyone found guilty receiving a mandatory life sentence.

The crime of murder is committed when:

  • An individual of sound mind
  • Unlawfully kills (not in self-defence, for example)
  • Another human
  • Under the Queen’s Peace (not in war time)
  • With the intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH).

Murder can only be committed by an individual or group of people, not a company or corporation. Instead, they may be prosecuted for the act of corporate manslaughter.

Defending a murder accusation

In addition to general defences such as acting in self-defence, there are certain defences which are only able to be used when someone is accused of murder.

If an individual accused of murder claims to have acted in self-defence or defence of another it must be proven their response was proportionate and reasonable. During the trial, a range of evidence will be given which will form the basis of a decision on whether the defendant acted in a manner which could be expected of a reasonable person in their situation, and if the force used was reasonable.

Alongside this, it is possible to state the homicide should be classified as manslaughter due to either:

  • Diminished responsibility
  • Negligent conduct
  • An unlawful or dangerous act being committed which did not intend death.

Proving causation is also vital in murder cases, this being to prove the defendant's act directly caused the death of the victim, without there being an intervening act.

Joint enterprise murder

Even if an individual did not directly murder another, the joint enterprise murder regulations still allow them to be prosecuted for the murder of the victim.

This law, also known as common purpose, is commonly used in gang killings, where although one person committed the physical act of murder, multiple members were involved in planning the murder or knew a murder was likely but did not make a reasonable attempt to stop it.

Although this has recently become more difficult to convict, it gives the courts the powers to treat those heavily involved in the murder as though they committed it and bring forth a suitable punishment, even if they didn’t pull the trigger.

Attempted murder

Attempted murder charges can be bought forward if it is possible to prove the defendant attacked the victim with the express intent off killing them but failed to succeed.

In order to prove attempted murder, a motivation to kill in that moment must be established and proven, simply preparing is not enough. In addition, threatening to kill someone does not constitute proof unless it was accompanied by a relevant action such as a serious and sustained attack.

Attempted murder charges are treated incredibly seriously and can result in lengthy custodial sentences.

Murder sentencing

An adult found guilty of murder in the UK will automatically be subject to a mandatory life sentence. There is a possibility of parole, however. The length of time until you can apply for parole depends on the severity of the act and is as follows:

  • Murder committed by a person over the age of 18: 12 years
  • Murder involving the use of a knife or other weapon (excluding guns and explosives): 25 years
  • Murder involving a firearm or explosive, committed for personal gain or to obstruct the course of justice, murder involving sexual or sadistic conduct, the murder of two or more persons or a racially, sexually or religiously aggravated murder: 30 years
  • The murder of two or more persons where each murder involves premeditation, abduction, sexual or sadistic conduct; the murder of a child involving sexual or sadistic conduct; a murder committed to further a religious or political cause; the murder of a person previously convicted of the crime or murdering a police or prison officer in the execution of their duty: full life term

Once eligible for parole, the defendant will have the opportunity to apply for a parole hearing, where a neutral board will discuss their suitability for release. If found ineligible, the defendant will continue serving their life sentence.

If given a full life term, however, the defendant will not gain the opportunity to apply for parole and is certain to serve their life in prison except for rare circumstances.

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