Criminal Law Essay

Non fatals/Homicide Essay

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  • Created on: 24-06-10 00:58
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Problems with non-fatal and Homicide law
Non Fatal Offences and Homicide law cover assault, battery, actual bodily harm, grievous
bodily harm, murder, manslaughter and infanticide. Each offence is classified under criminal law and
viewed as a crime against the public, leading the court to be predominantly concerned by
punishment.
Administering punishment raises the first problem with non-fatal and homicide law. If an
individual is convicted of an offence and merely punished it is improbable they have learnt from their
mistake. Offering rehabilitation and education could prove far more beneficial, both, to the individual
and society.
Determining suitable disciplinary action raises another issue, `the severity of the punishment
must be in keeping with the kind of obligation which has been violated' (Simone Weil). The law sets a
tariff for each offence, from assault carrying a tariff of 6 months to murder holding a mandatory life
sentence. A topical debate regarding sentencing of murder is the issue of provocation, duress and
use of excessive force. If the defendant can show that reasonable force was used in self defence, or
prevention of crime, in doing the killing they will not be guilty of murder. However, if excessive force
is used, even where some force would be justified, the defendant is guilty of murder and will receive
a mandatory life sentence. This `all or nothing' effect has been highlighted as creating injustice in
many cases. This problem often arises in cases concerning women who suffered long-term domestic
violence before killing their partners.
Kiranjit Ahluwalia suffered years of sexual, verbal and physical abuse at the hands of Deepak
Ahluwalia. One evening she set fire to his bedclothes while he slept, he died 10 days later. Kiranjit's
plea of provocation was denied due to the time elapsed between Deepak's last attack and her
retaliation. Prosecution argued that she had merely been `knocked about' and the time was a
`cooling down' period not a `boiling over' period as her defence suggested. Justice for women
argued that women cannot retaliate immediately as men would, when provoked, due to men's
greater size and physical strength. In 1992 Kiranjit's sentence was reduced to manslaughter at appeal
where she was sentenced to three years and four months. Cumulative provocation is often ignored,
with only the final act of provocation being taken into account. This leads to cases similar to Kiranjit's
being treated and sentenced in the same way as a murderer who deliberately, premeditates and
desires to kill. Conversely, it could be argued that murder is a serious offence warranting a life
sentence regardless of issues such as provocation. This debate has complex ethical concerns, it
would not be fitting to treat a victim of domestic violence in an identical manner as a cold-blooded
killer. The 2006 Law Commission report proposed wide ranging changes, including a defence for
those that could show they were `seriously wronged' by their victims actions. The Minister of Justice
pointed out that someone could not claim to be seriously wronged if their partner was having an
affair, whereas adultery can count under the current provocation defence, `the existing law is
designed for anger killing but is not significantly well tailored to killings that are response to fear'.
Erin Pizzey, a veteran campaigner for women's rights commented, saying `I am appalled by it
because `thou shalt not kill' has been with us since the time of Moses'. Although, morally, it is simple
to argue that any act of violence is wrong, it is important to remember that in some circumstances
the one committing the act may also be a victim.
Duress is a defence to almost all offences, except murder or attempted murder. In Gotts
(1992) the father threatened to kill his son if he did not stab his mother. In stabbing her he seriously
injured, but did not kill her. He was convicted of attempted murder and was sentenced to three
years probation. Had his mother died the judge would have been forced to detain the boy at Her

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Majesty's Pleasure. This inflexibility in sentencing is regularly critiqued, especially when concerning
children. Detaining a child can have a serious impact on the child's social, mental and physical
development. Barrister Geoffrey Robertson, Q.C., stated that `any mandatory sentence is unjust
because it doesn't distinguish between the terrorist and the gangland executioner and the mercy
killer at the other end of the scale, who maybe doesn't deserve to go to prison at all but has to be
sentenced to life imprisonment.…read more

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