Murder is an offence whereby a person of sound mind unlawfully kills another human being, with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm. The necessary intention exists if the defendant feels sure that death, or serious bodily harm, will result from the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that this was the case.

The law on murder has changed more recently than it has in hundreds of years. The partial defences to murder have been redefined, and there is more examination of medical conditions that could have affected the actions of the person accused. This has followed a better understanding of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. The effects of being in an abusive relationship and the law on joint enterprise, have also received attention.

Those convicted of murder face a mandatory life sentence. Meaning they will, if convicted, be sentenced to life imprisonment, with a minimum tariff set by the trial Judge. This will set a minimum number of years before that person could be considered for release. The stakes are incredibly high, and there is no substitute for expert legal advice. That begins at the time of arrest, and the interview by the police, which is often crucial in the defence later put forward at trial. Freemans specialist police station team can advise at that crucial stage.

Then, if charged, our specialist team of litigators and criminal defence advocates, that have significant experience in dealing with murder casescan assist throughout the court process.


So, what are the defences to murder? There are obvious ones, such as non-participation. In other words, the police have got the wrong person. I was not there at all to inflict the fatal injuries, as alleged, or even if I was at the scene, I was not a party to the crime

Self-defence is also a defence to murder and manslaughter. This is where you did either personally or as part of a joint enterprise cause the death of the deceased person. However, you did so in self-defence. Its application will depend on the circumstances leading up to the death and factors such as whether the force used was reasonable and proportionate.

Self-defence is what is known as a complete defence if accepted it would mean the person was not guilty of any offence. However, there are also what are known as partial defences to murder. These are defences which may lead to the person being found not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. These include:

  • diminished responsibility,
  • loss of control and
  • killing in pursuance of a suicide pact.

Diminished Responsibility

This defence is subject to a four-part test, of which all four elements must be proved:

  1. Whether the defendant was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning,
  2. if so, whether it had arisen from a recognised medical condition,
  3. If so, whether it had substantially impaired his ability either to understand the nature of his conduct or to form a rational judgment or to exercise self-control (or any combination)
  4. If so, whether it provided an explanation for his conduct.

It is a defence therefore that requires the calling of expert medical evidence (usually a psychiatrist) to establish the medical condition and its effects.

Loss of Control

The old defence of provocation has been replaced with a defence of loss of control. It requires a consideration of whether 3 elements are satisfied:

  • A loss of control
  • A qualifying trigger, and
  • What is called an objective test as to whether a person of the defendant’s sex and age, with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint and in the circumstances of the defendant, might have reacted in the same or in a similar way to them.

Suicide Pact

For this to be a defence, there must be an agreement between the defendant and person killed that they both intend to die as a result.

Clearly, all the potential defences are complicated and usually require expert evidence and skilled advocacy to present them. The team of litigators and criminal defence advocates at Freemans have a wealth of experience in dealing with allegations of murder and defending those who find themselves faced with such a serious allegation.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the sentence for murder?

    Those convicted of murder will receive a sentence of life imprisonment. The length of time that actually means being spent in prison, is determined by the setting of a minimum tariff being set. That is the minimum amount of years that must be served before they are considered for release. The starting point for a minimum tariff is 15 years for an adult and 12 years for a person under 18. Where a knife or weapon (excluding a firearm) is brought to the scene and used then the minimum tariff is 25 years. The starting point is 30 years where the murder involves use of a firearm or explosive, for an offender aged 18 or over and 12 years for an offender aged under 18. Certain types of murders can result in whole-life tariffs, that means there is no possibility of release. Those sentences are very rare.

  • What does a life sentence mean?

    A life sentence means that a person will be subject to that sentence for life. They will be imprisoned for a period of time and then released on licence, subject to checks and conditions from the probation service. If they break those conditions, they can be recalled, I.e. returned to prison to continue their sentence. The time they are initially imprisoned is called a tariff. For murder, there are minimum tariffs which always apply and are set according to the facts of the offence.

  • Does manslaughter carry a life sentence?

    A person can be sentenced to life imprisonment for manslaughter, but it is not mandatory. That means that the court does not have to pass that sentence. This is different to murder, where if convicted a life sentence is mandatory.

  • Can you appeal a conviction for murder?

    Yes to the Court of Appeal but only in certain circumstances. You can appeal if there has been an error in law or the trial has otherwise been unfair. Alternatively, if new evidence comes to light. Some cases can be referred to the court of appeal by an independent body called the Criminal Cases Review Commission.

  • Can you raise the defence of duress to murder?

    No, duress is a defence at common law to all crimes except murder and attempted murder. However, it is available as a defence to an allegation of conspiracy to murder. Duress is a defence whereby someone commits an offence because they reasonably believe that if they, did not do it, they or a family member, would face death or very serious injury, it is a difficult defence to establish, the team of litigators and advocates at Freemans Solicitors have good experience of this complex area.

  • Can murder be proved without eyewitnesses?

    Yes. Many deaths will not be witnessed, but evidence can be found showing people were in the area at the time. A very common way of doing this is by tracking the movements of mobile phones of persons accused. This is known as cell-site evidence and often will form a significant part of the evidence relied on by the prosecution. Cell site evidence is an area where expert interpretation is needed to build a defence. We have experience in addressing this evidence in murder and other serious cases.

    Another area that is often considered is CCTV. In this area again, expert evidence is relied upon, such as facial mapping experts when identity is disputed or experts on how people walk – known as gait

    Finally, DNA and other forensic evidence play a key role in murder investigations. Expert evidence will be used by the prosecution to try and demonstrate presence at a scene; this evidence must be carefully examined and challenged to successfully defend an allegation.

  • What is a joint enterprise Murder?

    This is where, e.g. B is charged with murder, when A alone has delivered the fatal contact. If B intends that the crime be committed, and assists / encourages/causes it to happen, B is still guilty, even though it was A that delivered the fatal injuries. It often applies where people are involved in gang attacks or when the death was caused during a fight involving several people. This area has proved controversial, because of the potential ability of people to be convicted when their actual involvement may have been very limited. The case of R V Jogee (2016) clarified the law. This case made it clear that, to attract culpability,  the person who did not carry out the physical killing , must have intended to assist or encourage the person who did and that mere foresight that the person might commit an offence is not sufficient.

  • I have been released on bail or under investigation for murder – what does this mean?

    If you have been arrested and interviewed in relation to a murder investigation, the police may then release you on bail or release you under investigation.

    Bail – If released on bail, that means that while the police continue to investigate, you will be released from custody but will be required to return to the police station on a particular day and time. The police can also impose conditions, such as not to go to a particular place or have contact with certain people.

    Released Under Investigation (RUI) – If released under investigation that means that the police are still investigating and may later want to interview you again if further evidence arises. However whilst you are ‘RUI’d’ the police cannot impose conditions of bail  and will not give you a specific time or date to come back to the police station.

  • If charged with murder can you be released on bail?

    Yes, but rarely. There is no automatic right of bail for someone charged with the offence, and no application can be made in the Magistrates’ Court. An application can be made in the Crown Court. It would be an application that would require considerable planning and expertise.

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