Murder Laws Set to Change

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Barrett

A major review which could lead to the law on murder being dramatically changed has been launched by Ministers.

The inquiry could recommend that some offences which are currently treated as murder, such as mercy killings, should be prosecuted as lesser offences.

It could effectively see an end to mandatory life sentences for murder in England and Wales because the definition of what constitutes a murder will change.

Ministers have insisted that all offenders convicted of murder will receive life.

It will be the first major review of the homicide laws for more than half a century.

One option it may consider is creating an American-style system of categorising degrees of homicide, such as 'Murder One' or 'Murder Two' - a format backed last May by Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald.

The inquiry - expected to take between 18 months and two years - follows complaints from judges that current rules force them to treat all people convicted of murder in the same way, regardless of whether they are serial killers or have helped a terminally ill loved one to die.

Home Office minister Fiona Mactaggart said: 'Murder is the most serious crime and it is essential that the law reflects this.

'Whilst the Government remains committed to retaining the mandatory life sentences and the murder principles set out in the Criminal Justice Act 2003, the review will look at the overall framework of murder to ensure that the Government provides coherent and clear offences which protect the public and enable those convicted to be appropriately punished.'

She added: 'It is vital that the law on murder makes sense and people clearly understand it.

'The law needs to be clear, wide-ranging and fair so that people have confidence in the criminal justice system. …