Domestic Killings; An Analysis of the Law and Possible Reform

“The jurisprudence covering with domestic violent deaths is now so unsatisfactory that it is beyond salvation by the tribunals. Furthermore, the proposals for reform late put frontward by the Law Commission represent small betterment on the current position.”


Some Troubles with the PartialDefense mechanismof Provocation

Social, academic and legal observers likewise have roundly criticised bing commissariats of condemnable jurisprudence associating to incidents of domestic violent death and the defense mechanisms available in that context. [ 1 ] Central to this issue is the partial defense mechanism of aggravation.

It has been contended that the defense mechanism has internal contradictions due to the fact that it is a via media. There is considerable uncertainness in society as to whether a sensible individual should of all time react to aggravation by killing, but the tribunals have used merely such a yardstick in past instances. The nonsubjective trial, viz. “whether a sensible adult male would hold done as the suspect did, ” has been capable to the consideration of the House of Lords and the Privy Council no fewer than 4 times in the last 25 old ages.Smith ( Morgan )[ 2 ] , likely the taking instance in the field, has done small to clear up the state of affairs presenting a debatable 3:2 finding of fact.

InSmiththe suspect argued with the deceased when the latter denied stealing

tools owned by the suspect. The suspect attacked and killed the deceased.

Claiming that he suffered from depression, the suspect advanced defense mechanisms of aggravation and lessened duty. The test justice found that medical grounds about the defendant’s depressive unwellness and its likely influence on his self-denial should be disregarded when using the sensible adult male trial. However, by a bulk of 3:2 the HL held that it was unfastened to the jury to take into history the consequence of the defendant’s depression in make up one’s minding whether he demonstrated the grade of self-denial required by the “reasonable man” trial. The minority concluded that the jury should be permitted to take the grounds of the suspect ‘s medical status into history merely in make up one’s minding whether he was in fact provoked to lose his self-denial and in measuring the gravitation of the agitative event. They must, nevertheless, disregard his depressive unwellness when sing whether a sensible individual in the same state of affairs would hold acted as the suspect did.

Neither of the judicial lines ventured inSmithare above unfavorable judgment. [ 3 ] The minority

attack is debatable due to the trouble of separating traits of the defendant’s personality which affected the gravitation of the aggravation from their ability to rally self control. An individual’s features and personal history are likely to determine non merely his or her perceptual experience of the gravitation of any aggravation but besides his or her psychological and emotional response to such stimulation.

The bulk position, viz. that the jury may be required to measure the suspect by the degree of self-denial likely to be exercised by an “ordinary” individual who is enduring from the defendant’s status, which reduces his capacity for restraint and ego control, may be seen as man-made and self contradictory and arguably is equivalent to ignoring the established nonsubjective trial.

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Furthermore, the fact that under s.3 of the Homicide Act 1957 [ 4 ] there are no limitations on what behavior is capable of “provoking” a suspect to kill, means that wholly guiltless behavior by the deceased may be seen as aggravation. This runs contrary to one of the cardinal principles of the defense mechanism, which is that the victim in some manner “contributed” to the defendant’s deadly loss of ego control.

It can be contended that the aggravation defense mechanism raises the emotion of choler over other emotions such as compassion, fright, anguish, and empathy. It is dubious whether, in a moral context, a violent death is needfully less blameworthy when performed in choler as a consequence of aggravation. Indeed, it is arguable that it is morally unsustainable for utmost choler doing a sudden loss of self-denial to establish any signifier of defense mechanism to slaying.

The partial defense mechanism of aggravation carries with it several other jobs. First, by set uping a defense mechanism where the reaction to aggravation is to kill in sudden choler, but non where a violent death is planned, the defense mechanism favors work forces who typically react with instant violent response, over adult females, who by and large kill with forethought from fright instead than ramp. [ 5 ] This sexual prejudice in the jurisprudence has been capable to considerable remark and analysis. [ 6 ]

Second, as a effect of the tribunals widening the demand of “loss of ego control” in order to suit beat-up woman’s syndrome instances, there is no obvious trial for separating a aggravated violent death from a slaying inspired by retaliation. [ 7 ]

Third, the defense mechanism can be seen as faulting the victim for the defendant’s inability to exert control. It is a banal observation that the deceased is unavailable to reply defense mechanism averments in tribunal.

It is submitted that the bulk opinion inSmithserves to cut down the basic threshold of self-denial that persons are entitled to anticipate and demand of all members of society. Furthermore, the fact that the load of cogent evidence remainders with the prosecution in aggravation instances, but switches to the defense mechanism where diminished duty is at issue, may do troubles in instances where a suspect runs both defense mechanisms. It may besides confound juries that, in instances where the defense mechanism do non reason, and no

reasonable individual could allege, that an ordinary individual might hold behaved as the

suspect is alleged to hold acted, the justice however has to give cogent waies to inform the jury as to the jurisprudence of aggravation if there is any grounds at all that the suspect acted outwith the boundaries of self-denial.

Proposals for Reform

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On 4 August 2004 the Law Commission published its Report on Partial Defences to Murder after a year-long audience period. [ 8 ] The Commission’s brief demanded consideration of the following cardinal issue:

( 1 ) the jurisprudence and pattern of the partial defense mechanisms to slay ( i.e. the method

by which a suspect can plead manslaughter ) provided for by ss.2

( lessened duty ) and 3 ( aggravation ) of the Homicide Act 1957 with peculiar respect to the impact of partial defense mechanisms, where the suspect is the victim of domestic maltreatment.

Finding deep seated jobs with the bing legal commissariats, the Law Commission rejected an attachment to theposition quo. It was found that theoretical, moral and practical troubles extend far beyond the “reasonable man” trial, arising in the existent significance of aggravation itself. The Commissioners besides noted terrible troubles associated with the demand that there must be a sudden and impermanent loss of self-denial.

The Commission recommended that it be asked to carry on a reappraisal of the jurisprudence of slaying with a position to: sing the definition of the offense and any specific complete or partial defense mechanisms appropriate ; whether the offense of slaying should be farther categorised on evidences of exasperation and/or extenuation and if so what those categories should consist ; sing the application of a compulsory life sentence to the offense of slaying or to specific classs of slaying. It was besides deemed of import to analyze how each of the above may be addressed where the wrongdoer is a minor and to include a limited reappraisal of the jurisprudence refering nonvoluntary manslaughter. [ 9 ]

The Commissioners’ recommendation [ 10 ] on aggravation was that the rules which should regulate a reformed partial defense mechanism are:

1 ) improper homicide that would otherwise be slaying should

alternatively be manslaughter if:

( a ) the suspect acted in response to

i. gross aggravation ( intending words or behavior or

a combination of words and behavior which caused the suspect to hold a justifiable sense of being earnestly wronged ) ; or

two. fright of serious force towards the suspect or

another ; or

three. a combination of ( a ) and ( B ) ; and

( B ) a individual of the defendant’s age and of ordinary

disposition, i.e. ordinary tolerance and temperateness, in

the fortunes of the suspect might hold reacted

in the same or a similar manner.

2 ) In make up one’s minding whether a individual of ordinary disposition in the

fortunes of the suspect might hold acted in the same

or a similar manner, the tribunal should take into history the

defendant’s age and all the fortunes of the suspect

other than affairs whose merely relevancy to the defendant’s

behavior is that they bear merely on his or her general capacity

for self-denial.

3 ) The partial defense mechanism should non use where

( a ) the aggravation was incited by the suspect for the

intent of supplying an alibi to utilize force, or

( B ) the suspect acted in considered desire for retaliation.

4 ) A individual should non be treated as holding acted in

considered desire for retaliation if he or she acted in fright of

serious force simply because he or she was besides angry


towards the deceased for the behavior which engendered that


5 ) The partial defense mechanism should non use to a suspect who kills

or takes portion in the violent death of another individual under duress of

menaces by a 3rd individual.

6 ) A justice should non be required to go forth the defense mechanism to the

jury unless there is grounds on which a sensible jury,

decently directed, could reason that it might use.

In the sentiment of the writer these proposals go forthing yawning subjective spreads that will make more ambiguity instead than bring around bing uncertainnesss. Give the troubles already exhibited in the tribunals there is a strong likeliness that the recommendations would make new battlegrounds of condemnable judicial proceeding. The Commissioners further concluded that the jurisprudence of aggravation be recast in a manner that would include those instances affecting inordinate usage of force in self-defense where blameworthiness is sufficiently reduced to warrant a partial defense mechanism. Consequently, a specific separate partial defense mechanism to slay based on the inordinate usage of force in self-defense was non recommended. The Commission besides found that the lessened duty defense mechanism should be retained. However, it is submitted that the Commission justly stopped short of urging a individual partial defense mechanism unifying the partial defense mechanisms of aggravation and lessened duty.


Whatever position is taken about the virtues of the determination of the bulk inSmith[ 11 ],few would challenge Lord Hoffmann’s statement that the jurisprudence of aggravation in its present signifier has “serious logical and moral flaws” . [ 12 ] It is difficult to analyze the recent determinations of the House of Lords, the Privy Council and the Court of Appeal in this field without enduring an intensifying sense of confusion. Professor Sir John Smith concluded an insightful commentary onSmithwith the expressive phrase “What a clutter! ” [ 13 ]

Of class, moral and theoretical troubles might be disregarded if in pattern the defense mechanism functioned in a comparatively clear and satisfactory manner, but this is non the instance.

Decisions of appellate tribunals, non merely in the UK but in other common jurisprudence states, unambiguously show that tribunals find it highly hard to use the jurisprudence of aggravation work satisfactorily in today’s universe, which comprises societies that have evolved far from those in which the defense mechanism foremost established itself. Give this overview, it is submitted that the Law Commissioners decently resolved to the position that the defects built-in in the defense mechanism are non conformable to judicial development, but curable merely by legislative intercession.


Word Count 2004 ( inc footnotes/exc bibliography )

This is the exclusive, original work of the writer.


Murder and the Reasonable Man, Lee, New York University Press ( 2003 ) .

With Malice Aforethought: A Study of the Crime and Punishment for Homicide, Blom Cooper and Morris, Hart Publishing ( 2004 ) .

Condemnable Law, Elliot and Quinn, Longman ( 1998 )

Oxford Journal of Legal Surveies

Condemnable Law Reports

Legal Surveies