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Should murder law be changed?

08:21 UK time, Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Calls for different degrees of murder charges have received the backing of the director of public prosecutions. Should murder be graded?

Keir Starmer told the BBC he supports calls for the introduction of first-degree and second-degree murder charges in England and Wales, along similar lines to the US system.

Critics of the current mandatory life sentence say it can be hard for juries to ascribe degrees of culpability.

Can society justify life-long imprisonment? Do you support calls for changes to murder law? Is a shift to the system necessary?

This debate has now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Comments

Page 1 of 4

  • Comment number 1.

    No. The US system is rife with plea bargains.

    All trials should be comprehensive in dealing with all facets of the alleged crime; it is appropriate for a judge to consider the severity of the offence and guide a jury accordingly.

    We do not want or need a plea bargain regime in this country.

  • Comment number 2.

    Does it matter? in the vast majority of cases "a mandatory life senence" actually mean 5 to 10 years in a chushy jail.
    I suppose having 1st & 2nd degree murder will in practice mean a "life sentence" of 2 to 5 years for the lesser and the same 5 - 10 years from 1st degree.
    Until we actually do something about sentences fitting the crime, not to mention justice being seen to be done we will continue with a down hill spiral of violent crime

  • Comment number 3.

    I was shocked by what Lord Falconer said on the Today Programme this morning. Effectively he was saying "Who cares if the law is fair, or people are wrongly convicted? The important thing is the message it sends out." That's an outrageously callous and cynical attitude to have, locking up a few innocent people is ok as long as our poll ratings are good, but unfortunately sums up much of the law and order policy of the previous government.

  • Comment number 4.

    It seems a strange one this, as as I understand it if you Murder someone you meant to do it, if you kill someone but didn't mean to if is classified as manslaughter. I therefore can not see how you can grade murder, unless you do it on the basis of how horrific the way the person was murdered or how much they suffered.

  • Comment number 5.

    "Critics of the current mandatory life sentence say it can be hard for juries to ascribe degrees of culpability"

    Semantics wise - why is it called a 'life sentence', when countless people only serve a few years?

    Genuine question, what is it's origin?

  • Comment number 6.

    I would have thought that our existing laws were sufficient.
    If premeditated or unintentional you have the Murder and Manslaughter laws.
    What needs revising is the sentancing for the offences.
    Plus the terms should run conseculatively.

  • Comment number 7.

    Yes, we should have different degrees of murder charges. This does mean that it will be hard for juries to ascribe various degrees of culpability. Perhaps almost impossible when there are several gang members involved. It may be as a deterrent to young people who act in a baying mob. But we also need to do a great deal more to dissuade so many of our youngsters from joining gangs in the first place. And this is a whole new debate.

  • Comment number 8.

    Murder is murder.

    Have this government gone soft on criminals ? It would appear so.

  • Comment number 9.

    I don't see why "intent to cause grievous bodily harm" is less serious than intent to kill.

    "No, your honour, I didn't mean to kill him, I just wanted to cut his legs off, I had no idea anyone could die from that!"

  • Comment number 10.

    I believe there should be more levels - what about the drunk driver who kills? There was no intent to do 'actual bodily harm', so they would get off with manslaughter, but since they drank and then drove, any accident was due to their lack of concern. There should at least be a 3rd degree, for drunk and drug driving resulting in death.

    Pity 1st degree won't be a death sentence. I expect 'life' won't be life either. When will we realise that people who kill with intent to do so, will do it again if they can and we are funding their 'accommodation' until they can.

    Want to save money and make more room in prisons? Reintroduce the death penalty for 1st degree murder that is unequivocal - that is a full body of evidence so there is no question. Introduce it for multiple rape too (so it can't be argued that it was 'date rape'. While we're at it, lets have 3 strikes and your out too.

  • Comment number 11.

    for intended murder hang them for ohers a life on a jury unanimous verdict life sentence , and include death by dangerous driving

  • Comment number 12.

    Hopefully we would have a Murder Indictment for the most evil of premeditated of crimes that would mean Prison for life without any possibility of Parole. The lessor non premeditated offences could have a suitable tarif of custody and parole.

  • Comment number 13.

    2. At 08:47am on 08 Sep 2010, littletenter wrote:
    Does it matter? in the vast majority of cases "a mandatory life senence" actually mean 5 to 10 years in a chushy jail.

    ----

    Exactly like Butlins I heard (3rd hand from some bloke who drove past a prison once).

  • Comment number 14.

    It has been suggested that the UK follow the US system in certain respects. Might it not be a sensible idea, as seems to be in the US, that a life sentence means life.
    I cannot see the point of having a ststem in the UK, where a life sentence may mean less time incarcerated than on a lesser charge, such as aggravated burglary. We do have an odd system, where a man who having bragged of his "killer punch", is seen on cctv killing a man in an unprovoked attack,(all this on the BBC site), and then receives a 6 yr sentence.

  • Comment number 15.

    "This system is very wrong crimes against property" are more important than "Crimes against people" in America. This is just a easy way to save extra money for the Con/Dem Government and has nothing to do with British justice. A cheap shot!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    4. At 08:55am on 08 Sep 2010, David wrote:

    It seems a strange one this, as as I understand it if you Murder someone you meant to do it, if you kill someone but didn't mean to if is classified as manslaughter. I therefore can not see how you can grade murder, unless you do it on the basis of how horrific the way the person was murdered or how much they suffered.

    -------------------------

    I do see how a murder can be graded. The system fails in many cases due to many problems. To give an example-

    You and your partner are attacked. Your attacker is armed and either you dont know what he will do, or he is ready to kill you and your partner. This is a self defence situation but you may end up killing him and especially if you overkill the attacker, you could be seen to have murdered them.

    Or even worse case your partner has been killed and you chase the attacker down and finish him off. In this case you actively pursued the guy with intention to murder.

    To any normal human being you would support the defendents position as it was the attacker who created the situation and escalated the violence. But how can you do that in a court to give a reduced sentence as is all you can do?

  • Comment number 17.

    Leave the system as it is but the death penalty should be re-introduced for murders linked with gun related crime.

  • Comment number 18.

    Why is it necessary to continually meddle with laws that have served the justice system well?

    Oh, I forgot...it's the powerful lawyer lobby and all their parliamentary lawyer mates making the law so complex that double the time (and fees...kerching!) is required to resolve seemingly simple issues.

  • Comment number 19.

    Fortunately the law on murder only affects a very small proportion of people.

    However, there are many laws that affect almost everyone: property, family, employment and so on but these seldom feature in the media or as discussion topics.

    Still, while everyone's getting worked up about this topic, some repeal of other law formerly conferring important rights upon us could be going on, with many of us blithely unaware.



  • Comment number 20.

    So - from what I understand -

    If you kill someone and intended to kill them all along, it's murder.
    If you kill someone but only intended to seriously hurt them, it's manslaughter.

    If people can't grasp this idea, doesn't that say more about the state of education in this country than the state of the legal system?

  • Comment number 21.

    I listened to Today this morning and understood the discussion about 'joint enterprise' - that in the case of gang killings, there is a distinction between the person who lead the attack and wielded the weapon, and those who were just in the background with varying degrees of intention to kill and culpability. The appropriateness of a murder conviction for all equally is therefore in question.

    My view is that there should be a sliding scale, from 'benign' manslaughter (usually assisted suicide within a loving relationship) at one extreme, up to cold premeditated murder at the other, and that judges and juries be given clear guidelines so that consistent sentencing and parole arrangements may be applied.

    It is the latter which is the problem, and which is of greatest concern to victims' families. They have a life sentence of grief and loss, but the perpetrator may be free in a few years. Rather than inventing new classes of murder, more attention should be given to fitting the sentence to the crime and taking into account the views of families.

    In terms of deterrence, there is clearly a problem when people feel no compunction in kicking someone to death who tells them off for making a noise, and who routinely carry knives or guns for 'protection'. Taking a human life must be seen to be the ultimate crime for which the punishment is truly severe.

  • Comment number 22.

    "8. At 09:01am on 08 Sep 2010, Beige Rage wrote:
    Murder is murder.

    Have this government gone soft on criminals ? It would appear so."



    The problem is that as it stands a loving husband who helps his wife with terminal cancer take an overdose or someone like Tony Martin using excessive force in self defence is guilty of exactly the same crime as someone like Peter Sutcliffe or Ian Huntley. The law ONLY allows a life sentence for murder.

    Surely a far fairer system for EVERYONE involved would be to loosely copy the US system and have something along the lines of:
    -Murder 1 to cover sex crimes, serial killing, organised crime etc which would be whole life,
    -Murder 2 to cover the 'catching your wife in bed with your best friend and fatally lashing out' sort of scenario with a 5-20 year tarif
    -Murder 3 for excessive self defence (Tony Martin sort of thing...he was found guilty of murder, yet is NOT the same as the Yorkshire Ripper) Mercy killing etc where manslaughter (which is by definition criminal negligence) is inappropriate but where long prison sentences are unfair and do not benefit society either.

    It would prevent a lot of pointless appeals and reassure society that justice is being done, plus wouldn't unfairly punish those who have killed but have mitigating circumstances.

  • Comment number 23.

    "Can society justify life-long imprisonment?" Yes - some crimes are so horrific, that the perpetrator should never be released from custody.
    "Do you support calls for changes to murder law?" Yes - the present legislation regarding 'joint enterprise' does need review and revision.
    "Is a shift to the system necessary?" What is meant by "a shift to the system"? It isn't English.

  • Comment number 24.

    4. At 08:55am on 08 Sep 2010, David wrote:
    It seems a strange one this, as as I understand it if you Murder someone you meant to do it, if you kill someone but didn't mean to if is classified as manslaughter. I therefore can not see how you can grade murder, unless you do it on the basis of how horrific the way the person was murdered or how much they suffered.
    The difference between first degree murder and second degree murder is that with first degree murder it was planned - for example a gun was bought in order to shoot someone later and second degree murder is not planned - for example in the heat of an argument you grab an object close to hand, ie knife, and stab someone. Yes the intention is still there but in second degree murder the planning is not.

  • Comment number 25.

    There's a lot of ignorance about the offence of murder and life imprisonment.
    In the case of murder, the prosecution only has to prove that there was an intention to cause serious bodily harm. It does not have to prove there was an intent to kill. The only offence where the prosecution has to prove an intention to kill is attempted murder.
    A sentence of life imprisonment carries with it a tariff which is the minimum term a lifer must serve before he or she can be considered for release and most lifers serve well beyond their tariff.
    The starting point is 15 years. For offences involving firearms etc. it is 30 years and there is the whole life tariff which means never to be released where the murder was of such barbarity involving torture etc.
    It is complete and utter nonsense to suggest that lifers serve only 5-10 years but I guess if you read The Sun you will believe anything.
    As for cushy jails, have any of those who have posted comments been in an overcrowded, cell sharing and violent prison where people come out worse than when they went in. Society reaps what it sows.
    Of course the murder laws should be changed.
    How do you equate the same degree of murder and sentence for those who plant bombs and indiscriminatley kills innocent people, to those who mercy kill or the guy who gets caught up in a violent altercation on a Friday night and someone dies to a child sex killer. You dont give all burglars the same sentence yet all of these will receive the mandatory life sentence. There are degrees of culpability and indeed different motives and natural justice should recognise that.

  • Comment number 26.

    @1: Defendants already frequently plead guilty to lesser offences on the day of trial in this country.
    @10: There is already a law for death by a driver - 'Death by dangerous driving', driving under the influence of drink and drugs can always come under that law.

    I agree with the principle of different levels of murder, but how frequently could you prove that someone intended to kill rather than meaning to 'just maim'? A lot of people would be acquitted under this proposed law.

  • Comment number 27.

    Sounds a bit like some victims lives will be worth more than others?
    The crime is quite straight forward, Murder or Manslaughter. End of.
    For goodness sake coalition government, leave this alone. There are
    far more pressing problems facing this Country!

  • Comment number 28.

    Excellent news for the lawyers! The more complex the legal system, the greater the possibility for challenge, and the longer everything takes to resolve. All this means more cash for the legal 'worthies' who wax fat on pontification. It's not about justice, it never is.

  • Comment number 29.

    "Keir Starmer told the BBC he supports calls for the introduction of first-degree and second-degree murder charges in England and Wales, along similar lines to the US system."

    ah yes, the good old US of A, should we really adapt them as a role model for everything??

    if the DPP thinks that we could learn from our american cousins, he should bear in mind that more people per capita (than anywhere else) are imprisoned in 'the land of the free', and that their homicide rates are much higher than here in Europe.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_homicide_rate
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

  • Comment number 30.

    life should mean life, however a good figure ie; 30-40 years would be more of a sentence,mimum!!! and with this, a system of remission as follows, at the very least 2/3rds of sentence done with good behaviour a must, and only the last part of sentence ie; last 1/3rd considered for remission, i belive this is so you have to give a person something to aim for, or when they are inside they could kill again and under the present system they just get life again which means nothing if they can seek parole after (is it 7 years)? x prison officer...

  • Comment number 31.

    At 08:55am on 08 Sep 2010, David wrote:
    "It seems a strange one this, as as I understand it if you Murder someone you meant to do it, if you kill someone but didn't mean to if is classified as manslaughter."

    No. If you mean to seriously harm someone and not kill them, then it can still be murder. Manslaughter usually means you didn't mean to seriously harm them or there are extenuating circumstances (such as severe provocation, self-defence or mental health issues). Example: You attack someone with an iron bar, "only" intending to inflict GBH, but they die = Murder (you are inflicting a very serious attack, which could logically result in death, even if that's not what you intended). You hit somebody in a street fight and they fall over and bang their head, killing them = Manslaughter (you could not reasonably have expected the attack to kill them).

  • Comment number 32.

    To implement these changes,the degrees of murder should each carry an automatic minimum sentence which could be increased at the judges discretion thereby cutting out expensive appeals thar are merely a job creation scheme for the law profession.Although with Ken Clarke bending over backwards not to jail criminals,I don't hold out much hope.

  • Comment number 33.

    @8 Beige Rage: As always any excuse to attack government: This isn't a suggestion of the government, although they will consider the proposals - as they rightly should.

    There should be different grades of murder for premeditated and non-premeditated. Also for 'crimes of passion' in which some psychological shock temporarily suspends their normal behavior in an otherwise law-abiding member of society. Intent to harm but not kill, whatever the outcome, is manslaughter. But even with manslaughter there should be grades. If you hit someone and kill them with one punch, is that the same as getting into a fight and beating someone deliberately? You may not intend to kill them but a beating is far worse than a solitary punch which, unfortunately, kills someone.

    I disagree with the death penalty but think murder should attract a minimum 20 years and prisoners should work for any luxuries above the basics required for survival. It's idiotic that their human rights prevent them being forced to work. Why twenty years? It isn't arbitrary: Over time we all change. A forty year old isn't the person they were at twenty. Should someone lose their entire life for one mistake?

    Agree with others that sentences should be consecutive rather than concurrent. Concurrency basically lets someone off with some of their crimes and is an insult to those harmed. Consecutive sentences will automatically punish the more serious crimes and worst offenders. Confession to multiple crimes should, indeed, earn lower sentences otherwise criminals will just keep quiet, but there must be some punishment for repeat offending. I would also say that the debt to society is never cleared. By all means allow someone to hide their past if it was long enough in the past, we all change over time and can turn our lives around, but if you reoffend then you should get the sentence you previously served added to you current sentence. What a deterrent! No wondering if you will get away with a slap on the wrist, you will KNOW the minimum sentence you will get if you risk crime again. Consecutive sentencing also punishes those who didn't make that 'mistake' of killing in the stupidity of youth but killed more than once.

    Additionally, how about added minimum times for particular cruelty in murder? Automatically it increases the punishment and may act as a deterrent.

  • Comment number 34.

    I'd have thought that the current system works well enough. Murder is murder. Manslaughter is manslaughter.

    More importantly, why are we wasting our time on this? We have certain out of date draconian laws for which changes are constantly ignored by our politicians even in the face of growing public condemnation.

    Lets sort out drug laws first and foremost please, it is the single biggest criminal/personal freedom/economic issue there is.

  • Comment number 35.

    Is the American justice system so good that we have to change everything here to be the same. I certainly don't think so.

  • Comment number 36.

    We already (quite rightly) have this.

    Intentional killing is MURDER.

    Unintentional (accidental) killing is MANSLAUGHTER.

  • Comment number 37.

    An important discussion which will no doubt be conducted by academic lawyers and many others. But in the end the decision will be cost-driven, which is the only legal standard of reasoning considered by this government.

  • Comment number 38.

    I am concerned about this proposal as it appears to lessen the deterrence to kill illegally another human being. Bargaining in court will water down the punishments for this crime to such a degree that it will no longer deter potential perpetrators. One thing for sure is that it will create another lawyers' paradise and allow them to make even more money!

  • Comment number 39.

    "Should murder law be changed?"

    Yes. - and First Degree Murder should carry a mandatory whole life term with no possibility of parole - ever.

    While we're at it, we should also deprive judges of some of their dicretionary powers and impose minimum sentences on all crimes. For example, Second Degree Murder would have a tariff of 15 years to life and Manslaughter 10 years to life. The judge would have to impose a minimum sentence of 15 and 10 years respectively and there would be no possibility of parole until the minima had been served.

    Further, all crimes of violence should carry a minimum sentence of 1 year in prison, including violence against property such as B&E and smashing into cars etc.

    I'd also like to see Hard Labour reintroduced, especially for recidivists.

    What you might call white collar or non-violent crime (but with the exception of drug trafficking) should not result in imprisonment but should involve very large scale loss of personal assets and perhaps some sort of community sentence which involves doing some serious reparation.

    BTW, I've seen mention of plea bargaining in some posts. Have to say this isn't in the story on the BBC News pages, nor was it mentioned in the news item I saw on TV this morning.

  • Comment number 40.

    Murder is murder - the 'degree' can come in when sentencing - like it does now. Why do we need to change it? Do we need to change it? I'm not a lawyer so I don't know.

    I also think #2 should spend a week in Strangeways and see how 'cushy' it is.

  • Comment number 41.

    No - what is the point? A Judge already has the power to give a harsher sentence for "bad" murders like Myra Hindley situations and terrorism and more lenient sentances for "not so bad" murders like assisting suicide of a gravely ill spouse.

    Plea bargaining would also be a bad move, as it assists murderers to receive shorter sentances and might even make an innocent person plead guilty if the accused feels that his / her case for a just trial is lost.

  • Comment number 42.

    While the situation exists where " Life-In Prison " actually means 5-10 years, and then to possibly claim for wrongful verdict and win then justice is really worth nothing at all !

    The verdicts most definitely do not match the crime and are very often clearly seen to be inadequate - then nothing will change.

    I feel that over my years 70+ punishment has become much more lenient , capital punishment abolished and prisons much more comfortable and forgiving so while this exists then crime will continue to laugh at the Law.

  • Comment number 43.

    The whole purpose of having a trial by jury is to establish the truth and determine whether a person or persons are guilty or innocent of the charge of murder. (or other charges)

    I believe this proposal for 'degrees of murder'is a pre-emptive move in the form of 'damage-limitation' should proceedings be commenced against a very high-profile former UK prime-minister.

    There is no need to re-invent the wheel, the one we have has served us well for a long time.

  • Comment number 44.

    Why do we have to become even more like the US? We already have the ridiculous 'Supreme Court' which replaced a perfectly good system for the sake of it.

    No, whay we need is for sentencing to actually mean something. Removing Capital Punishment was a bad move. Life has to mean 'the rest of your life', as a reduction from execution.
    Drunk driving should also attract a life sentence if someone is killed.

  • Comment number 45.

    Very strange...Murder is killing someone with the mens rea to actually complete that offence ie the offender means to kill that person for whatever reason. Manslaughter however (I can't remember the exact definition having not been involved in law for a few years)is the accidental killing of someone. However to knowingly inflict GBH (Section 18) carries a maximum of life (discretionary for the judge) so I see no point in reclassification of murder as going on this new idea a S18 where the victim dies ie manslaughter would be 2nd degree murder. No,its still either murder or manslaughter. Kicking a bloke in the head while he's on the floor repeatedly until he's dead is murder. It's not an accident that said victim ended up with his skull fractured and died from a massive brain haemorrhage. Punch a bloke in the jaw during a fight, falls over,whacks his head on the pavement and dies it's manslaughter. This will result in plea bargains galore and result in a lot of scum walking away from courts with the sentences given out these days. You shouldn't try to fix something that's not broken.

  • Comment number 46.

    I saw the headline for this article and I thought at long last the people in power have listened to the public and are considering reinstating capital punishment but no it appears to be yet another wishy-washy attempt to reduce the prison population by giving out lesser sentances for murders classified as Second Degree. I am all for passing the correct levels of punishment but if someone has committed murder and planned to do it, is a rapist or paedophile with no chance of rehabilitation or a career violent criminal then they should swing. Society needs to weed out this type of negativity from the gene pool and the government MUST send out the message to villains that if you commit crime you will be punished and it will not be the preceived hoilday at Her Majesty's expense.

  • Comment number 47.

    I may be wrong but there are already ways to differentiate the type of murder, such as manslaughter and murder to name a few, but there is also pre-meditated murders, provoked manslaughter to just name 2.

    The problem is stupid sentencings. When illegally downloading a song can cost you £100,000+ whilst a murderer does only half of his/her sentence. When people are actually able to sue someone for defending their property. Thats whats wrong with our legal system.

  • Comment number 48.

    The only thing this country needs is death penalty.

  • Comment number 49.

    Yes it should. Premeditated murder should in my opinion carry the death sentence. Likewise gun and terrorist crimes should be classed in the same way also causing death by dangeruous driving or being drunk is just as bad.

    I know a family who have been left totally devastated after their son was killed whilst the passenger in a car of a driver who was well over the limit. The driver got 4 years and the family a life sentence, where is the justice in that case and many others.

    The criminal justice system needs a total overhaul and potential criminals given a clear message of the actual not likely consequences of their actions.

  • Comment number 50.

    "13. At 09:13am on 08 Sep 2010, Nok wrote:

    .....

    Exactly like Butlins I heard (3rd hand from some bloke who drove past a prison once)."

    But sending people to Butlin's is a bit harsh really, it was only murder after all......

  • Comment number 51.

    While the premise of degrees of murder sound fair, there must be controls put in place to stop people pleas for the lower end of the scale. If this is to work, the most severe should carry a mandatory life sentence in a hard prison (not a hotel) - and life should = life. For less serious judgments the sentence could be lowered as appropriate.

    Also, in a world of cuts, financial hardship and job losses, the Government must not get soft on criminals. Doing so, will make this avenue more attractive to people. Extensive cuts could be made here by removing the cushy prison lifestyle and tiny sentences (I have to pay to stay in similar conditions in a hotel), removing the right to comfort etc, and making prisoners work very hard. Prison must be a deterrent. Also, for the most serious of murder, should the death penalty be re-introduced? Who knows - debate there?

  • Comment number 52.

    It does not progress significantly beyond what we already have: murder and manslaughter, so it is unhelpful.

  • Comment number 53.

    We have manslaughter for the unpremeditated sort of 'murder'. The only thing wrong, as I see it, is the sentencing. There should be no parole for murder and sentences for the 'one punch killers' must be much longer.
    Regards, etc. RWWCardiff

  • Comment number 54.

    Yes, together with the return of capital punishment

  • Comment number 55.

    25. At 09:30am on 08 Sep 2010, Charles Hanson wrote:

    "There's a lot of ignorance about the offence of murder and life imprisonment.

    It is complete and utter nonsense to suggest that lifers serve only 5-10 years but I guess if you read The Sun you will believe anything."

    Charles I've never voted Tory in my life, nor do I read the Sun but I can tell you that according to the Guardian ( not known for its right wing views ), under Labour, average time served for all murders fell below 10 years for the first time. Under the tories it was 14.
    There have been several cases where manslaughter has been accepted as a plea where in the past it woudln't. So for example if you knife somebody you could say you did it because you were scared and did it in self defence.
    I normally believe in the principle of rehabilitation but not in the case of murder. If you intentionally kill somebody you cause massive harm not only to the victim but to their entire family. I think sentences should be much longer for that reason. I also think the same for people who cause death by reckless driving. Their sentences are an absolute joke.

  • Comment number 56.

    Yes - the taking of life covers too many different variants, and the legal system needs to have more flexibility in sentencing.

    At present a 'crime of passion' carries the same sentence as someone who plans and executes a barbaric act which ends in the victim'd death.

    Whether moving to 1st and 2nd degree murder is the right way is open to debate. Perhaps removing the 'life sentence for murder' tariff and letting the courts decide the sentence would be better......

  • Comment number 57.

    No... because the act of taking another person's life is too vile to be downgraded. So what if the perpetrator says, "I only intended to hurt, not to kill" - the intent to do harm should suffice for the perpetrator to be convicted for what he is, a muderer.

    We already have the offence of manslaughter for those who cause the death of another by negligence or carelessness.

  • Comment number 58.

    Murder is murder. We already have the crime of manslaughter to deal with anything that does not constitute murder.

  • Comment number 59.

    Murder is murder, a life has been taken by someone else who hasn't the right to do that. Every plea for clemency is just an excuse to get a lesser sentence. If you stick a knife in someone you can't say ' I didn't mean to kill the person' if you violently attack someone with or by whatever means you've intended them harm, and at the outset, most intelligent people would be aware that their victim has the possibility of dyeing. So, there's only one sentence, life in prisonment (and it should mean life)no excuses, people should think before they act, if they murder (one grade only)they have to pay the ultimate price.

  • Comment number 60.

    Yes there should be grades of murder but more importantly I think we need a new offence of mass murder in order to properly deal with (Ex) politicians who think that ordinary murder is just not nearly "important" enough for them.

  • Comment number 61.

    Murder is murder and should be dealt with accordingly with the death penalty. This may sound a bit harsh but 9 times out of 10 the offender re-offends if and when released. Why should the tax payers money pay for criminals to live a life of luxury inside!!!!

  • Comment number 62.

    48. At 10:12am on 08 Sep 2010, sherlock wrote:
    The only thing this country needs is death penalty.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    Yeah 'cos that stops murders!

    And we have never hanged the wrong person before.

  • Comment number 63.

    I am a criminal law solicitor and have defended on several murder cases, this change in the law is needed, things aren't always as black and white as they shown in the media and certainly the last case I worked on is testament to this. We live in a society where judgement in the heat of the moment sometimes takes us to far, whether that be because of drink or the protection of someone else or even ourselves.

  • Comment number 64.

    Yes. Having listened to the various interviews on Radio4 this morning there is a case for change. Juries are quite rightly wary of finding a person guilty if they know it means a mandatory life sentence in many cases. "Joint enterprise" should still be there but like Diane Abbott I'm unsure if gang members even take into account such legal niceties when they are with their peers.

  • Comment number 65.

    20. At 09:24am on 08 Sep 2010, angelholme wrote:
    So - from what I understand -

    If you kill someone and intended to kill them all along, it's murder.
    If you kill someone but only intended to seriously hurt them, it's manslaughter.

    If people can't grasp this idea, doesn't that say more about the state of education in this country than the state of the legal system?

    Actually you are wrong here - which is perhaps why the system needs changing. If you intend to cause someone serious harm (GBH)and they die it is murder. If it is an act likely to cause harm (not GBH) but not death it is manslaughter.

  • Comment number 66.

    Methinks the DPP is playing with semantics on this issue.

    It is not the classification of crime that needs addressing, it is the punishment to fit the crime that requires change; give a crime a label, but it won't alter the gravity of the deed, nor give grieving families any sense of justice. I can't see a killer worrying himself whether his crime will be first or second degree, either.

    The need to re-examine degrees of punishment is long overdue, and merely choosing convenient expressions to describe levels of murder by any other name will not relieve prison overcrowding, particularly when a murderer knows that a farcical "life" sentence of perhaps 10 years is all he'll get.

    Knowledge that the death penalty awaits anyone who murders is the surest way to reduce such crimes, and until we stop pussy-footing with word-choices and deal with the root causes, the justice system in the UK will get nowhere.

  • Comment number 67.

    It's entirely up to English legal service whether you grade murder or not. The main problem in England and Scotland is the pathetic sentences handed out. If you are not going to execute murderers then life should mean life. Yesterday in Scotland a murderer received a "severe" 8.5 years sentence. He beat the victim up and while an ambulance was on it's way ran the victim over with a car killing him. The killer will be 25 years old when he gets out. Rediculous and a green light to every other hoodlum to do what they like. Give these people life.

  • Comment number 68.

    Definitely more.
    To echo prior comments, I think killing anyone who raids your home should be investigated by all means but should not automatically lead to a murder charge. Eg if you tackled a burglar to the floor then held him down whilst pouring hot lead down his throat that would count as murder 1 or whatever its may be called (YES, I KNOW its an extreme example, im using it to illustrate a point). On the other hand if you awake in the wee hours to find an intruder, its not unreasonable to assume they may mean you harm to prevent you stopping their thievery, by extension its not unreasonable for you to grab the largest knife you have and IF you are so inclined, challenge them. Therefore IF any charge is bought, it should be lower.
    I also think if you go armed to a robbery, then if you kill that should be top level murder, whether you were armed with intent to kill or intent to scare people into submission. Also should be top level murder if you are part of a gang doing the same, you are armed, so is one or more of your co-robbers, but THEY kill someone and you do not. Joint enterprise, as mentioned on a prior post - everyone is just as guilty of murder as the killer

  • Comment number 69.

    Cutting across the whole debate is the incomprehensible concept of "Tariff". If a Judge in his/her wisdom decides that 12 years is a correct punishment,why is it halved if the prisoner doesn't cause trouble?
    I can accept the maximum rebate of 20% as in America so as to reduce the risk of prison violence but 50% is absurd.

  • Comment number 70.

    "At 08:55am on 08 Sep 2010, David
    It seems a strange one this, as as I understand it if you Murder someone you meant to do it, if you kill someone but didn't mean to if is classified as manslaughter. I therefore can not see how you can grade murder, unless you do it on the basis of how horrific the way the person was murdered or how much they suffered."

    The difference they are trying to define with the reform suggestion is our current system doesn't account for cases where people intended to cause harm but didn't intend to kill a person. Their intention to harm changes the sentence from Manslaughter to Murder, however, they didn't want to kill. The American system allows for this distinction which can come into play with things such as gang crime and violent affray where it can be one person who actually commit's the murder but others present who were involved but didn't actually do the deed.

  • Comment number 71.

    I would say there aren’t two degrees but as many degrees for murder as there are murder cases. How about we let the judges do what the job title suggests and judge each case on its own very individual circumstances.

  • Comment number 72.

    It ain't broke, don't fix it.

  • Comment number 73.

    62. At 10:55am on 08 Sep 2010, coolhandpaul wrote:
    48. At 10:12am on 08 Sep 2010, sherlock wrote:
    The only thing this country needs is death penalty.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    Yeah 'cos that stops murders!

    And we have never hanged the wrong person before
    ****************
    Agreed - but the fact that we sometimes hanged innocent people is the ONLY reason I am against the death penalty - I have absoloutely no objection to some criminal swinging

  • Comment number 74.

    This could be a good idea, if someone is killed whilst they are unconscious, then the killer has the chance to leave and should have a minimum sentence set. I'm sure Harriet Harman would disagree with me but there should be no leniency on the basis of gender as a woman is as able to leave unconscious man as the other way round.

  • Comment number 75.

    rc_mancford #63.

    "I am a criminal law solicitor and ... this change in the law is needed.."

    curious how it is always lawyers who ask for more legislation; just look at Mr Blair's legacy, thousands of 'new' laws, and all they do is make more work (== more money) for his fellow lawyers.

  • Comment number 76.

    This is a very sensible suggestion. As the original report describes, some of the laws date back the to 17th Century and do not reflect society today, although it has to be said ''premeditated murder'' can't have changed that much over the centuries and therefore warrants the most severe penalty!

    Culpability for a capitol crime such as murder does change in each case, not everyone can be responsible for murdering an individual, so a move to 1st and 2nd degree murder would allow the jury's and the judges more space to fit the guilty individual into the correct area of responsibility for their crime.

    In some respects it could increase the number of people found guilty and imprisoned, if jury's were reluctent in the past to issue a guilty plea because life imprisonment was to harsh or the current definition of murder did not fit their understanding.

  • Comment number 77.

    When a "life" sentence can mean anything from 8 years, what is the point of changing the system? The punishment never seems to fit the crime for any wrongdoers in this country. The Criminal Justice System does NOT punish the criminal proportionately and the victims of crime (and the effect of crime on them) are never considered in the allocation of sentences. We are a soft nation, with soft punishments for serious crimes. Until we start to approach crime with the same zeal as America then changes to our existing sentencing levels are irrelevant.
    A two-tier sentencing strategy for murder just means more softening up against serious crimes.

  • Comment number 78.

    62. At 10:55am on 08 Sep 2010, coolhandpaul wrote:

    48. At 10:12am on 08 Sep 2010, sherlock wrote:
    The only thing this country needs is death penalty.

    ---------------------------------------------------

    Yeah 'cos that stops murders!

    And we have never hanged the wrong person before.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    If you only give it to people who have 100% done the deed then it is worth bringing back. Not to stop murders but because it frees prison spaces.

    Also prisoners should be interviewed and the information used to form specialist profiling teams to catch criminals.

  • Comment number 79.

    Will we get an increasing number of A* murders over say the next ten years? Perhaps with murderers complaining that they can't get into the prison of their choice even though they had a string of A* murders? Perhaps we'll even get A** for the really grisly ones?

  • Comment number 80.

    Could we copy that three strikes and your out rule too? So people can't break the law umpteen times – would save a lot of time and money for the police, courts and lawyers.
    Ok we would need more prisons but maybe we could save money and offshore our prisoners … China that’s where our jobs are going to these days isn’t it?

  • Comment number 81.

    The only change I would like to see is the return of the death sentence.

  • Comment number 82.

    No point in classifying murder unless the penalties are also graded; the penalty for premeditated murder , murder of a child, terrorism or in the execution of a robbery should automatically mean the death penalty. If circumstances allow it then this can be commuted to life imprisonment, for the whole of life, not just the 5 to 10 years that seems to be the case at the moment.

  • Comment number 83.

    milvusvessel (Msg 66)

    "Knowledge that the death penalty awaits anyone who murders is the surest way to reduce such crimes,"

    Like it does in the USA you mean?

    Becoming as uncivilised as the murderers themselves is not going to solve anything.

  • Comment number 84.

    Yes, there are some things that need to be changed:

    Anyone going out with a weapon (even if claimed for self-defense purposed), is going out with intent, so these occasions should be a Murder charge not manslaughter (unless it can be proved as self -defense)
    Anyone intentionally attacking someone in a way to cause death (e.g jumping on someones head or kicking in head when on the ground) should be attempted murder or in the case of death murder.

  • Comment number 85.

    This country badly needs reforms. Prisons should be scary places you would never want to go into. They should not be tantamount to a stay at a hotel- a place full of criminal connections, playstations - you name it, they've got it. My best friend was a prison guard and was appalled at the many privileges these offenders received. The inmates should be breaking rocks and cleaning off graffiti and tidying up litter - not enjoying their imprisonment. One other thing...bring back the death penalty!

  • Comment number 86.

    "David Bale wrote:
    While the situation exists where " Life-In Prison " actually means 5-10 years, and then to possibly claim for wrongful verdict and win then justice is really worth nothing at all !"

    Oh look I'm sorry (not) to bang on about this, but you really must change newspapers. (1) your first statement is untrue in the vast majority of cases; (2) if the verdict was wrong, you STILL want them punished! Unbelievable. What kind of world do you live in? More to the point, what kind of world would we all have to live in if people like you prevailed? There's a word for it.

  • Comment number 87.

    It can be changed as long as the punishment fits the crime.

    It seems that the proposal is to ascribe blame on a person-by-person basis in cases where the legal doctrine of "joint enterprise" applies but that seems flawed. The current doctrine ascribes blame equally if the defendants could have foreseen the possibility of death and that seems about right when a bunch of youths decide to kick someone on a pavement.

    Furthermore there seems to be no concept of "depraved indifference" being applied which goes hand-in-hand with the US system of 1st and 2nd degree murder. There may have been n o intent to kill, but 1st degree murder can apply if the defendant showed "depraved" indifference to the survival of the victim.

    And finally - sentencing. The stated concern is that life sentences are mandatory in our current system. Well, that may be an issue if "life meant life" (as in life without the possibility of parole). But it doesn't - judges are able to set minimum sentences which simply means that the prisoner is eligible for parole after serving that minimum sentence (which can be as low as 15 years?).

    All in all it would seem that we don't need a change as long as the jury understand these factors and handing down a guilty verdict on all concerned leaves the judge to decide the degree of culpability for each defendant and set their sentences appropriately.

  • Comment number 88.

    Yes, at last some long over due common sense is being shown.

    The same fairness should be applied to all blunt instrument offences ASAP, for example speeding, where innocent mistakes are punished the same as the wilfully bad and burglars sometimes get off more lightly.

  • Comment number 89.

    44. At 10:06am on 08 Sep 2010, theoldgoat wrote:

    "Why do we have to become even more like the US? We already have the ridiculous 'Supreme Court' which replaced a perfectly good system for the sake of it.

    No, whay we need is for sentencing to actually mean something. Removing Capital Punishment was a bad move."

    If we were to reintroduce Capital Punishment (which we can never do) then we would be even more like the USA, which still has one of the highest homicide rates in the world despite the death penalty.

  • Comment number 90.

    Also agree with #69.

    I would go further and make 15 years into 30 years which is reduced by working while in prison.

    I would have prisoners doing useful things for society such as sorting recycleable waste and those who work have a day taken off their sentence for each day worked (on a "no excuses" basis - if you're sick you don't get the reduction). Those who refuse to work will serve 30 years and those who work serve 15.

    It's crazy that they live in a holiday camp at taxpayers expense with video games and TVs. Keep them apart, no fraternisation except during work periods to avoid the "crime school" issue and to aid rehabilitation - how can you be rehabilitated if you spend all day with other criminals? Their contact needs to be only with what we might call "decent " people.

  • Comment number 91.

    I thought we had dumped this meaningless fiddling with the law with the last government. If you mean to kill someone it's murder - simple. The judge can then decide a minimum term. In my experience of the legal system the very last thing a jury needs is to make the process more complicated. They have enought trouble deciding verdicts as it is.

  • Comment number 92.

    Stop copying America. It always ends in tears and is usually about profit.

  • Comment number 93.

    Yes, and whilst we at it let's have different types of dead...

    No murder is murder and it must remain so.

    It's the circumstances which should be respected in handing out a sentence for committing murder and a jury system has always served us well for this.

  • Comment number 94.

    It is already graded.

    Life imprisonment alreay means a few months in some cases, why bother.

    You get more time for fraud, which is ironic given that sentecing in this country is fraudulent in itself.

    Build more prisons and lock them up properly.

  • Comment number 95.

    4. At 08:55am on 08 Sep 2010, David wrote:
    "It seems a strange one this, as as I understand it if you Murder someone you meant to do it, if you kill someone but didn't mean to if is classified as manslaughter. I therefore can not see how you can grade murder, unless you do it on the basis of how horrific the way the person was murdered or how much they suffered."

    Murder is premeditated malice aforthought. First degree murder.

    Voluntary manslaughter consists of an intentional killing that is accompanied by additional circumstances that mitigate, but do not excuse, the killing. Simlilar to second degree murder I think.

    Involuntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another human being without intent.

    I'm not a lawer but that how I think it goes and I don't think the law needs the change.

  • Comment number 96.

    We already effectively have plea bargaining, with people being encouraged to plead guilty by shorter sentences for doing so. How many have been pushed into pleading guilty to an offense they are not guilty of by the threat of a harsher punishment if they didn't do so? Consider that if you are thought to be speeding and are overtaken by someone traveling at a greater speed who then crashes and dies you could be regarded as causing death by dangerous driving, it is easy to see why some one could plead guilty in the hope of a lessor sentence rather than plead innocent and likely receive far more harsh penalty.

  • Comment number 97.

    79. At 11:40am on 08 Sep 2010, solomondogs wrote:
    Will we get an increasing number of A* murders over say the next ten years? Perhaps with murderers complaining that they can't get into the prison of their choice even though they had a string of A* murders? Perhaps we'll even get A** for the really grisly ones?
    _________________________________________________________________________

    fantastic satire solomondogs :) you should be writing a column with that kind of stuff!!

  • Comment number 98.

    Can society justify life-long imprisonment?
    This is a bit of a wierd question, many people in society would say if they were to have a loved one murdered would want the maximum penalty imposed on the defendent but few get this because it is not financially possible to imprison someone for life nor could you physically accomplish it with the amount of people who go into prision every year.

    Do you support calls for changes to murder law? Is a shift to the system necessary?
    Yes I do, I have been studying the law since I was 16 and find the way we trial murder frankly a joke, murder requires much stricter requirements for the person to be successfully accussed and tried under that offence, so nine times out of ten of all the cases I've looked at the cps go for manslaughter because the conviction is going to be far more likely because of evidence and the way juries are (why we have juries still, I have no idea, your not tried by your peers, your tried by people who generally have their own prejudices and mind sets and know nothing about the law). Murder means life and thus is not always suitable and thus not always achieved with the defendant becuase it does not suit their circumstances and would be injust leading to a series of appeals and more time wasted.
    If we were to have the new system it would allow a greater deal of flexiablity to the judge to seperate who had commited the more serious offence and who had not, thus being able to sentence them appropriately.

    As for the comments made by holly_bush_berry about plea bargaining in america and how we don't want that over here, I hate to burst your bubble but we already have that here, if a defendent pleas guilty to an offence immediately they can bargain to have the sentence lowered due to them being cooperative with the courts.
    Not agreeing with this method that is practised it's just what happens.

  • Comment number 99.

    Should murder law be changed?

    I think so.

    The way some "pop" singers murder some cover songs is an outrage, and even moreso that there is no adequate punishment for such behaviour!!!

  • Comment number 100.

    I'd say copy the US system, but only if we also copy their sentences! Murder someone and die in prison, no messing about with so-called 'lifers' serving 5 years before being released.

 

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