Saturday, 13 November 2010
R v Frances Inglis: considerations far removed from ordinary murder
In January 2010, Frances Inglis was convicted at the Old Bailey of the murder (in 2008) of her severely disabled son, Thomas. It was a 10:2 verdict. She was sentenced to the mandatory sentence of life imprisonment with the judge specifying 9 years to be served before she was eligible for parole. Her appeal against conviction has been dismissed by the Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) - Lord Judge LCJ, Irwin and Holroyde JJ but the appeal against sentence was partially allowed to the extent of reducing the minimum term before parole may be considered to 5 years. The Court of Appeal's judgment should be read fully in order to grasp the tragic situation in this case - see R v Frances Inglis  EWCA Crim 2637.
The court stressed that killing out of motives of mercy nevertheless remained murder - see para. 37 of the judgment. There was no evidence that Frances Inglis had lost her self-control. Quite the reverse: she killed him with "scrupulous and meticulous care."
A partial defence of "diminished responsibility" had not been put forward and it is for the defendant to raise it. This is one of the surprising features of the case and is referred to at para 42. The judges had not seen any medical report arguing for such a defence. Given Frances Inglis' state of mind in the years prior to 2008, the Court of Appeal clearly wondered why this defence had not been raised but it appears that Inglis was desperate to have all the facts relevant to her son's accident and treatment to be aired in court and she could only do that by pleading not guilty. The Lord Chief Justice stated - "We found that difficult to follow, but it did not appear that any advantage would accrue from any further investigation into the appellant's thinking on this topic."
Having upheld the conviction, the court considered the Criminal Justice Act 2003 Schedule 21 which sets out factors to be considered by the judge in fixing the tariff in murder cases. In a case such as this, the Schedule presented a problem given that a vulnerable victim is stated to be an aggravating feature whereas it is only because the victim is vulnerable that the defendant chose to act out of motives to relieve suffering. The court held that factors 10(a) - "a significant degree of planning or premeditation", 10(b) - "the fact that the victim was particularly vulnerable because of age or disability" and 10(d) - "the abuse of a position of trust" should not be taken to aggravate "a murder committed by an individual who genuinely believes that her actions in bringing about the death constitute an act of mercy." Her tariff was reduced to 5 years. After that she may be released on licence but release is a matter which the Parole Board will have to consider. It is not inconceivable that she might actually remain in custody for longer.
The Law Commission's Report on "Murder, Manslaughter and Infantcide"  Law Com 304, Part 7 discusses "mercy killing." However, the Commission recommended that fuller public consultation was required. They referred to 3 reasons why it is arguable that it would be more satisfactory if "mercy killing" were to become a partial defence:
1. For a genuine mercy killer, a life long licence is neither necessary nor appropriate;
2. If there is a dispute of fact about a defendant's motive, it might be thought better that the jury, rather than the judge should decide the issue.
3. A partial defence would avoid the practice of dressing up rational mercy killing cases as diminished responsibility.