What to do if you’ve been charged with murder

Nick Titchener headshot

Nick Titchener

Managing Partner

In Brief

Murder is obviously one of the most serious accusations somebody can face and, in the UK, it carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. If you or somoene that you know has been charged with murder, it’s vital that you get in touch with a specialist murder solicitor as soon as you can.

Murder charges – why you need immediate legal advice

When someone has been charged with murder, the legal consequences are as grave as they can be. Any misstep that is made can have extremely serious results. That’s why it’s best to consult legal experts at the very outset of the case.

Having defended and helped many people accused of murder previously, we’ll make you aware of the process and discuss the best approach to take in your case. We can make sure you don’t incriminate yourself further, helping to secure the most positive result possible in your case.

What is murder? 

Under English law, murder is defined as the unlawful killing of a person, where there is intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm and the accused is of sound mind and discretion. There is intent if the defendant felt sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty or intended as a result of their actions.

For murder to be proven, there must be no justifiable reason for the defendant’s actions, such as self-defence, for instance. The defendant’s actions must have been proportionate to qualify as self-defence. If they used more forced than neccessary, they may be guilty of murder. The law surrounding self-defence and provocation is complex and requires careful consideration by experts such as we have at Lawtons.

It must also be proven that the defendant’s act directly caused the death of the victim, without there being an intervening act. In other words, between the act and the death, there must have been no other event that could have caused the death.

Unlike in the US and other countries, you cannot be charged with first degree murder or second degree murder in the UK. The offence of murder is not broken down into degrees here, with no distinction drawn between meaning to kill someone or cause them serious harm instead. In 2004, the Law Commission recommended creating a degree system, but these recommendations were not implemented.

It’s not possible for a company or organisation to commit murder. The crime is referred to as ‘corporate manslaughter’ in such cases.

Different types of murder offences

Murder is not always simple as it sounds. Various types of murder are defined under English law.


The most straightforward type of murder involves a person killing another without a just reason, with the intention to kill or cause serious harm. 

Joint enterprise murder

When a group of people planned a murder or knew one was planned, even those who did not actually physically take the life can be prosecuted with joint enterprise murder. This type of murder often applies to gangs and people involved with organised crime. It allows the courts to pass longer sentences as a more serious punishment and deterrent. 

Attempted murder 

As the name suggests, the crime of attempted murder does not result in a person’s death. Importantly though, someone committing attempted murder must have had the intent to cause somebody’s death and not just cause them really serious harm.

What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

The primary difference between murder and manslaughter is intent. Even if a sane person unlawfully kills another, the crime is not murder unless it can be proved they intended to kill the victim or cause them grievous bodily harm. 

Voluntary manslaughter is committed when there is intent to kill or cause serious harm, but the defendant was not of sound mind and discretion when they committed the crime. It could be that they had diminished responsibility due to abnormal mental functioning.

What sentencing can you face for murder offences?

Sentences for murder vary from case to case, with a great many considerations going into a judge’s sentencing decision. Although there are guidelines for judges and previous cases provide precedents, each case is examined on its own merits.

Average murder sentence 

In the UK, any conviction for murder automatically results in a life sentence with the Judge passing Sentence stating a minimum period of time that must be served before someone is released.

A judge will decide how far into your sentence the possibility of release will come in, depending upon the specific circumstances of your crime and any aggravating factors, such as weapons used, for example.

For the worst cases, such as a sadistic or sexually motivated murder, whole life sentences, without the possibility of parole, can be handed down.

Factors that determine length of sentence 

Judges always look for defendants to show remorse for a crime. It’s one of the most factors they bear in mind when deciding upon sentences.

In addition, judges will also consider such things as:

  • Previous convictions
  • The harm and how it was caused to the victim
  • The level of planning and premeditation
  • Whether there was any concealment of the body
  • Whether the parties were known to one another and if so whether there was a breach of trust
  • Whether the defendant has been affected by the act

What factors can reduce murder sentences?

As with other crimes, admitting guilt as soon as the investigation starts – and cooperating with police as much as possible – will help your cause. Depending upon when you plead guilty, your sentence can be reduced by up to a third. The judge can apply a reduction like this up until the first day of a trial. This can affect the minimum period that must be served before someone is eligible to be released on licence.

Naturally, previous convictions are taken into account, as is your reputation. If you have a learning disability or mental disorder, that will also be duly noted. 

A serious medical condition – requiring long-term, urgent or intensive treatment – can lead to a reduction in your sentence. While a judge will carefully consider the impact your sentence will have upon any dependents, particularly if you’re a sole or primary caregiver.

What should you do after you’re charged with murder? 

From the moment you’re charged, if not before, it’s vital to have expert solicitors on your side. We can apply all our years of experience in dealing with murder cases to try and protect you and where appropriate minimise your sentence.

We’ll help you understand the process, which can be confusing and, of course, deeply worrying.

Following a police interview, potential outcomes include:

  • Released with no further action
  • Released under investigation
  • Detained in custody
  • Being charged with an offence

If you’re released with no further action or released under investigation, you can be re-arrested or summonsed to attend a hearing at court – at any time.

If you’re charged with murder or manslaughter, a date will be set for your hearing. Then you’ll either be released on bail or kept in custody until that court date. It is not uncommon that if someone is charged with murder that they will be held in custody until their trial takes place.

Whatever the situation regarding your case though, if you’ve been accused of murder, it’s always a wise move to immediately consult a specialist murder solicitors like ours.

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