In the UK, homicide law is exceedingly complicated, which is a good thing in most cases. As trials and the laws that surround homicide intend to look through every aspect of the case, such as intentionality, diminished responsibility, suicide pacts, drugs and so on.
However, if you find that you have been charged with murder in the UK, in most cases, your legal defence will push for information to have the charge dropped to manslaughter.
It revolves around intent and if your Criminal solicitor can prove that you did not intend to kill the person who died, then you will likely be charged with manslaughter. How does this differ from murder with diminished responsibility? Read on to find out.
What is manslaughter?
Manslaughter is the charge when it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt that an unlawful killing took place, without the intent to take someone’s life.
So, for instance, suppose you get into a physical altercation with someone, push them off of yourself, and they fall and die as a result of the fall. If you only intended to push them off and not kill them, this is manslaughter.
From the previous example, you may be wondering, ‘but how is that proven?’ In most cases, it is very tricky for even the most skilled solicitor to separate a murder charge from a manslaughter charge. In most cases, manslaughter pleas are successful when there were eyewitnesses, and may also revolve around what happened next. If, for instance, you immediately called an ambulance for the person who fell, and gave them chest compressions and CPR until the ambulance arrived, this is a strong indicator that you had a concern, and would point to an accident. If you left and walked away, made no calls and showed no remorse, this would point more towards murder, as you did nothing to help.
Assessing cause of death
It is also important to note that most prosecutors will look at what caused the death of the person who died. Did they die due to a knife in the chest? Or was their death the result of an unpredicted event?
Going back to the example of a scuffle and pushing someone off, if you happened to push them off while plunging a knife into their chest (which caused them to die), then this is murder. If you simply pushed them, and they died from the fall, this could warrant a charge of manslaughter depending on the next steps you took.
The sentencing for manslaughter falls into 4 groups. If the death is caused by gross negligence, then the sentence is a 12-year custodial sentence. If it is deemed to be related to loss of control, then it is 14 years. For unlawful manslaughter, the sentence is 18 years, and in the case of diminished responsibility, it is 24 years.
Remember, these are only guidelines, and your solicitor will always aim to have these sentences reduced based on other factors. This is why it is important to disclose as much information as you can to your legal team as soon as you can.