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Criminal | Offences Against The Person

Voluntary Manslaughter: Evaluation & Reform

Study Note | A Level

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The law of voluntary manslaughter has been considered in need of reform. The Coroners and Criminal Justice Act 2009 (CCJA 2009) has reformed parts of the Homicide Act 1957.

Reform of the law

The Homicide Act 1957 contained two partial defences of provocation and diminished responsibility. The CCJA 2009 replaced the defence of provocation, which had received much criticism, with the new defence of loss of control.

In some ways loss of control is wider than the defence of provocation. Now there is no requirement for the loss of control to be sudden. Additionally a fear of serious violence can also be considered.

However, in other ways it is narrower than the defence of provocation. For example, sexual infidelity is no longer allowed as a qualifying trigger. If a defendant is relying on things said or done then they must be extremely grave in nature and have caused a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged, which was not required under provocation.

Further reform

Despite the recent reforms concerns still persist about aspects of the law relating to voluntary manslaughter.

  • Loss of control

    The Law Commission had proposed removing the loss of control criteria completely. Arguing this particularly in the case of women in an abusive relationship who may kill from a combination of emotions and not necessarily a loss of control. Leading some to argue that loss of control is therefore still too restrictive.

  • Sexual infidelity

    The common law defence of provocation largely grew form such cases. It is argued that many people would lose control after finding out about partner committing sexual infidelity and so it is unfair that it has been expressly excluded.

  • Fear of serious violence

    This qualifying trigger was included to address issues raised by cases such as Martin [2002] and Clegg (1995). However, the fact this qualifying trigger must have lead to a loss of control makes it relevant in only very specific cases.

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