Criminal Law: Murder

Murder

Establishing Murder

The actus reus is causing the death of another human being in the Queen’s peace.

The mens rea of murder is intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm: R v Vickers [1957] 2 QB 664.

What is a Human Being?

A ‘human being’ is traditionally defined as a ‘reasonable person in rerum natura’. This definition encompasses any human born alive and has not yet died: Attorney General’s Reference (No 3 of 1994) [1998] AC 245. An unborn child is not considered a human being for the purpose of criminal law, and so cannot be murdered.

However, if a child is injured by an act in utero and is subsequently born alive, but later dies, they are retroactively considered a human being for the purposes of murder and other homicide offences: Attorney General’s Reference (No 3 of 1994) [1998] AC 245; R v Senior (1832) 1 Mood CC 346. The baby does not need to have breathed and the umbilical cord does not need to be cut: R v Reeves (1839) 9 C&P 25. This is a unique exception to the rule that the actus reus and mens rea must coincide and does not apply to non-homicide offences: Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority v First-tier Tribunal [2014] EWCA Civ 1554.

When does a Person ‘Die’?

A person is considered ‘dead’ for the purposes of the criminal law if they have suffered brain stem death, even if other bodily functions continue (for example on life-support machines): R v Malcherek and Steel [1981] 2 All ER 422.

Causing Death

The usual rules for causation apply, with the caveat that accelerating death also counts as causing death: R v Dyson [1908] 2 KB 454. For example, causing someone with a terminal illness to die earlier than they would do otherwise is causing death.

Exceptions to the Actus Reus of Murder
The Queen’s Peace

The reference to the ‘Queen’s peace’ in the traditional formulation of the actus reus of murder is designed to exclude killing foreign enemy combatants in times of war: R v Page [1954] 1 QB 170.

Double Effect
Doctors, surgeons, surgery

A medical practitioner does not commit murder if they administer pain-relieving drugs with the purpose of alleviating suffering: R v Dr Bodkins Adams [1957] Crim LR 365. This is an exception to the principle of oblique intent. This does not apply if the primary purpose is to euthanize, however: R v Cox [1992] 12 BMLR 38.

Grievous Bodily Harm

Grievous bodily harm is defined as ‘very serious harm’ and given its ordinary meaning: R v Metheran [1961] 3 All ER 200. It can include recognised psychiatric illnesses: R v Ireland [1997] 3 WLR 534. Whether the harm is sufficiently serious is a question of fact for the jury to decide.


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Fatal Offences Against the Person Quiz

Test yourself on the principles governing the fatal offences against the person.

1 / 27

For the purposes of constructive manslaughter, can a defendant rely on mistaken beliefs they possess?

 

2 / 27

A defendant is on trial for murder. They are relying on the defence of loss of control. Part of the reason they killed the victim is that they discovered the victim was cheating on them. Can the jury take this into account?

3 / 27

What four elements does the prosecution need to show to establish gross negligence manslaughter?

4 / 27

Daphne is a doctor who is treating Gillian for a terminal disease. Gillian is in considerable pain and asks for morphine. Daphne agrees and gives him a dose which causes him to die several days before he would otherwise. When questioned by police, she did what she did because she thought it would be better if Gillian died, given he was in so much pain. Has Daphne committed murder?

5 / 27

Camilla wants to kill her partner, Adrian. She deliberately winds them up, knowing that it will cause them to become violent. When Adrian become violent, Camilla draws a knife and stabs them. Camilla tells police that Adrian is normally very seriously violent when they start a fight. Does Camilla have a qualifying trigger for when she tries to establish the defence of loss of control?

 

6 / 27

What must the prosecution show to establish unlawful act manslaughter?

7 / 27

Celia falls out of the window of her 8th storey apartment. When she passes the 4th storey window, she is hit by a bullet fired by William and killed instantly. It was certain that Celia would have died on hitting the ground. Did William cause Celia's death?

 

8 / 27

What three elements must the defendant show to establish loss of control?

9 / 27

For the purposes of gross negligence manslaughter, what factors are relevant to determining whether the negligence was gross?

10 / 27

Yulia shoots Mia in the abdomen, causing Mia to miscarry her child. Yulia intended to kill Mia. Has Yulia committed murder against the baby?

 

11 / 27

Laura has severe depression. Peter makes fun of her, telling her if she is so depressed she should go kill herself. She has a fit of anger and kills him. At trial for murder, she relies on the defence of loss of control. Can the jury take into account her depression when assessing whether the defence is established?

12 / 27

The prosecution is trying to establish unlawful act manslaughter against the defendant. While the defendant admits to committing the unlawful act, they argue that their unlawful act was not directed against the victim, but against the victim's property. The defendant foresaw that the victim might be injured by his act. Are the prosecution likely to succeed?

 

13 / 27

The prosecution are trying to establish unlawful act manslaughter against a defendant who burned down a shed. While the defendant admits to committing the unlawful act, they convince the jury that a reasonable person would have thought the shed was empty. Are the prosecution likely to succeed?

 

14 / 27

For the purposes of constructive manslaughter, when is an unlawful act dangerous?

15 / 27

Chip learns that his husband Frederick is no longer in love with him. When confronted, Frederick calmly explains that Chip has not done anything wrong, they just drifted apart. Chip responds by shooting him dead in a fit of anger. At trial for murder, he argues that he lost control in response to circumstances of an extremely grave character that caused him to feel justifiably and seriously wronged. Is he likely to establish a qualifying trigger for the loss of control defence?

 

16 / 27

For the purposes of gross negligence manslaughter, what facts may the jury take into account when determining whether there was an obvious and serious risk of death?

17 / 27

Can an offence of negligence form the basis of constructive manslaughter?

 

18 / 27

Camilla is fed up with her partner, Adrian. She deliberately winds them up to let off some steam. She knows there is a risk that Adrian will become seriously violent if she does this, but is past the point of caring. When Adrian becomes violent, Camilla draws a knife and stabs them. Does Camilla have a qualifying trigger for when she tries to establish the defence of loss of control?

 

19 / 27

Which two are qualifying triggers for the loss of control defence?

20 / 27

What is the mens rea of murder?

21 / 27

When is a person legally considered dead?

22 / 27

Can an offence of strict liability form the basis of constructive manslaughter?

 

23 / 27

What is grievous bodily harm?

24 / 27

Yulia shoots Mia in the abdomen, causing Mia to go into early labour. The child is born alive, but dies a few days due to complications from the premature birth. Yulia intended to kill Mia. Has Yulia committed murder against the baby?

 

25 / 27

Caleb and Cassandra have a blazing argument about Cassandra's drug taking habit. Caleb hands Cassandra a needle full of heroin, and tells her to knock herself out, and that he won't help her again if she overdoses. Cassandra overdoses, and Caleb does nothing. Cassandra dies. Caleb is charged with unlawful act manslaughter. The prosecution rely on his supplying Cassandra drugs as the unlawful act. Will Caleb be found guilty?

 

26 / 27

What three elements must a defendant show to establish diminished responsibility?

27 / 27

Daphne is a doctor who is treating Gillian for a terminal disease. Gillian is in considerable pain and asks for morphine. Daphne agrees and gives him a dose which causes him to die several days before he would otherwise. When questioned by police, she says she was just trying to help his pain and did not want him to die, though she knew that it was certain that he would. Has Daphne committed murder?

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