James Slack's ANALYSIS

Daily Mail (London), September 9, 2010 | Go to article overview

James Slack's ANALYSIS


Byline: James Slack

LAWYERS love shouting about why an American-style justice system, with different degrees of murder charge, should be imposed upon Britain's centuries old legal system.

For politicians it spells only trouble, given it is hard to find a victims' group that will agree with the idea that murder should no longer mean a mandatory life sentence.

For the legal world, and prosecutors in particular, the introduction of charges of 'murder one' and 'murder two' has long been something of a Holy Grail.

The Law Commission demanded the change in 2004 and 2006, and it has been backed by two directors of public prosecutions - Keir Starmer, and his predecessor, Sir Ken Macdonald.

Lord Blair, the ex-commissioner of the Met, has also joined the crusade.

All three men are instinctively liberals. But they insist the argument for change is a practical one, based on unease at the way the legal doctrine of 'joint enterprise' - the rule which applies when a gang murder takes place - is currently operating.

Lawyers argue that the bar is set too low, with the prosecution only having to prove each defendant could have foreseen one of the group would kill or commit grievous bodily harm. Those only on the fringes of a gang attack could therefore be convicted of the worst crime on the statute books.

Conversely, they argue it could mean the guilty being cleared by a jury uneasy about convicting of murder somebody who did not strike a fatal blow but was still embroiled in severe gang violence. …

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