Government consult on reform of murder

Tuesday 29 July 2008 at 9:36 pm | In News | Post Comment

A government consultation paper, ‘Murder, manslaughter and infanticide: proposals for reform of the law’, launched today, proposes the abolition of the existing partial defence of provocation and its replacement with two new partial defences:

• killing in response to a fear of serious violence
• in exceptional circumstances only, killing in response to words and conduct which caused the defendant to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged.

The centuries-old (made statutory in 1957) partial of provocation impacts differently on men and women and is too generous to those who kill out of anger and too hard on those who kill out of fear of serious violence. A manslaughter conviction should only be justified for killings carried out in anger in exceptional circumstances – and this would not include sexual infidelity on the part of the victim.

A ministry spokesperson said that changing the law will end the injustice of women being killed by their husband and then being blamed. It will end the injustice of the perpetrators making excuses saying it’s not my fault – it’s hers.

The new proposals are intended to put victims at the heart of the criminal justice system and send a clear message that the law is on their side and takes account of the experiences of those who kill in genuine fear of serious violence, for example a woman who repeatedly suffers domestic violence and finally kills her partner when she can suffer no more.

The consultation paper also proposes:
• streamlining the law of complicity to homicide to make it easier for courts to determine liability in cases where more than one person is involved in a killing
• clarifying the law on diminished responsibility
• clarifying the law on the handful of infanticide cases that are tried each year.

The consultation paper draws on recommendations made by the Law Commission, following their 2006 review of homicide law. There are no proposals to introduce American style grades of murder, such as first and second degree murder.
In comes…

  • killing in response to a fear of serious violence
  • killing in response to words and conduct which caused the defendant to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged
  • “words and conduct” incited by the defendant not an excuse
  • defences apply if a person of the defendant’s sex and age etc might have reacted in the same or in a similar way
  • new partial defence of diminished responsibility – a “recognised medical condition”

Out goes ….

  • Provocation
  • US Style categories
  • Crime of passion (if it ever existed)
  • Manslaughter for nagging spouse
  • sexual infidelity not grounds for reducing murder to manslaughter
  • loss of self-control in these circumstances to be “sudden”

Rapid law making – recent example

Monday 21 July 2008 at 9:26 am | In News | 1 Comment

A recent example of Parliament’s ability to pass law quickly occurred today by the passing of the Criminal Evidence (Witness Anonymity) Act 2008.  The Act passed all parliamentary stages and was ready for Royal Assent in 4 weeks.

Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms

The new law was needed because the House of Lords had ruled that in some circumstances courts could not allow witnesses to give evidence anonymously, R v Davis [2008] HL.  A £6m trial at the Old Bailey was halted, and if the law had not been clarified hundreds of other very serious crimes would not be tried because the identity of witnesses would have to be revealed to the defence.

A tea cake is a biscuit (April) now Pringles are not crisps

Sunday 6 July 2008 at 10:11 pm | In News | Post Comment

Procter & Gamble v HMRC [2008] ChD
[Statutory Interpretation – literal meaning – reasonable man in the street approach]
D, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMCR) imposed VAT on “Pringles” made by C. HMCR put Pringles in the category of “potato crisps, potato sticks, potato puffs and similar products made from the potato, or from potato flour, or from potato starch” as contained in the VAT Act 1994. As a result, C was liable to pay 17.5% VAT.

Held: Mr Justice Warren:
Pringles are not potato crisps because they are not made wholly or exclusively from potato, the potato content is less than 50%, they are also made from dough. Also distinguishing them from crisps is their packaging, and “unnatural shape”. What Pringles are ‘made from’ was a question of law; which is found by combining two issues of fact; were they made of mostly of potato, in a way other crisps are made.
Regular Pringles are not potato crisps applying these tests.

Following the judgment, Pringles, in all flavours are free from Value Added Tax (VAT).
Because they are manufactured from dough, “Pringles” are more like a cake or a biscuit.
Warren J did not confine his interpretation of the statute to single test – for example the literal rule – but also applied EC policy. In addition, he went on to say,

“… the reasonable man in the street is not to be removed from the scene by some judicially imposed detention-without-charge. Once he has understood the context in which he is to form a view, the question of similarity is for him.”

C won

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