The law of murder remains one of the few crimes still basically defined by our ancient common law. Parliament has stepped in from time-to-time – (most recently in 2009) - to alter particular aspects of the law. There is now a pressing need for a full and complete overhaul.
In essence, a person (D) will be guilty of murder if he unlawfully kills another person (V) and at the relevant time he intended to kill V or intended to cause grievous bodily harm to V. A simple illustration is where D gets a gun, goes to a place where he knows V will be and then shoots V through the heart and kills him.
One of the problems with murder is that it covers a massive spectrum of conduct from the terrorist who plants a bomb on board an aircraft to the person who kills another for reasons of mercy or compassion so as to alleviate suffering. The immensely tragic case of Frances Inglis illustrates this. Her trial was held at The Old Bailey before the Common Serjeant of London (His Honour Judge Brian Barker QC) and a jury. She has been convicted by the 10:2 majority verdict of the jury of the murder of her severely disabled son – see The Times 20th January 2010 and she has received the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment (which has to be imposed by the trial judge). She has been told that she will serve 9 years (less days already served whilst on remand) before being eligible for parole.
The Law Commission has called for fundamental reform and the Commission proposed a new Act of Parliament involving a 3 tier structure for general homicide offences.
Mercy killings are discussed in Part 7 of the Law Commission’s report. They went on to recommend that the Government undertake a public consultation on whether and, if so, to what extent the law should recognise either an offence of ‘mercy’ killing or a partial defence of ‘mercy’ killing.
There has been no action on this. I would hope that the government might be spurred on to conduct that consultation sooner rather than later.