The criminal offences of murder and manslaughter vary greatly. At Lawtons we have the experience to defend all murder and manslaughter cases, both as instructed solicitors or lead/junior advocates at court.

This area of the law is governed by the broader definition of homicide, which is complex and involves a number of factors influencing both the court proceedings and the eventual outcome.

We believe it is our duty to work with you right from the beginning of a police investigation through the court process to ensure we can fairly represent you at every stage.

The level of resources available to the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in cases like this is considerable and, as such, it is vital that if you, a family member or friend find themselves under investigation or being prosecuted for such an offence that you have a team of lawyers at your disposal who have the specialist experience to challenge the evidence and robustly defend the case.

Murder, manslaughter and the law

There are three main offences around ‘homicide’, with the most serious being murder.  The other offences are manslaughter – split between voluntary and involuntary – plus death by infanticide, familial homicide, corporate manslaughter and the offence of death by dangerous driving.

How is murder defined by the law in England & Wales?

Murder is classified as a criminal offence under the common law of England and Wales. The offence is committed when a person is of sound mind and discretion and unlawfully kills another, in an act that is not self-defence.

All cases of murder are heard at the crown court.

How is diminished responsibility defined by the law?

If successful, a murder charge can be reduced to involuntary manslaughter via the defence of diminished responsibility, whereby the individual admits to committing the offence, but they claim their mental functions were diminished at the time of committing the offence.

Sentencing for murder via diminished responsibility will usually take the form of a hospital order to obtain treatment.

How is manslaughter defined by the law?

Manslaughter is an equally complex criminal offence that can be committed in a number of ways.

Manslaughter may be proven when:

  1. An act was provoked immediately before the act that caused the death took place, this is sometimes referred to as a sudden loss of control
  2. That the person that caused the death of the victim had not done so intently but recklessly, for example
  3. An individual has suffered diminished responsibility due to a mental illness, in these types of cases, complex psychiatric evidence is required.

Other factors which may be taken into consideration include acts of self-defence, if this can be proven, or acting in defence of someone else or preventing a different crime from occurring (burglary). These self defence cases will then proceed in their own unique format.

It is the intention element of the definition that makes murder different to manslaughter, and this is cited as malice aforethought or referred to by solicitors as the mens rea, which literally means the mental element of the offence.

In determining the category of the offence and its seriousness, the court will consider a number of other factors such as whether weapons were used and if there are previous convictions, especially if these are numerous and/or have been recorded as being of a violent nature.

By nature, murder is complex and investigations can be detailed and highly forensic. The evidence relied on can be highly complex and extensive reliance will often be placed on the opinions of experts.

When it comes to a murder trial, it is up to the jury to decide whether – beyond all reasonable doubt – a murder has been committed. If this is the case, mandatory life imprisonment is the obligatory sentence and the judge will set a minimum amount of time that a person must serve in prison before they can be released. This is known as the tariff and isn’t necessarily the amount of time that will be served, it is the minimum, subject to the person’s behaviour in prison, for example.

Whilst there is no minimum or maximum sentence for manslaughter, the decision will very much depend on the individual case and surrounding factors, which will also take into account age and previous convictions.

What to do if you are accused of murder or manslaughter

Murder and manslaughter are both extremely serious charges, with the potential for life-changing consequences if you are found guilty of either offence.

Not only should you seek legal advice as soon as possible, it is also imperative to work with your solicitor to provide all the facts of the case.  This way, you have the best chance to achieve a more favourable outcome, based on the evidence provided.

The expert team of criminal defence solicitors at Lawtons is here to help and guide you through the whole process.

For more information on murder and manslaughter laws and sentencing, or to discuss an individual case, please contact us.


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