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Changes to the law on homicide 'reduce options for men'

4 October 2010

Changes to the law on murder and manslaughter under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 come into force today.

The common law defence of provocation is abolished and replaced by “loss of control” (see solicitorsjournal.co.uk, 20 January 2009).

Because it no longer matters whether the loss of control was sudden, it is expected that abused wives will find it easier to escape murder convictions.

Husbands whose wives are unfaithful will not be able to use this to help them because the Act specifically states that anything connected to infidelity must be disregarded.

Joy Merriam, former chair of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, said the changes could help women run “slow-burn, battered women defences”.

She went on: “However, it will severely restrict the options for men, which seems to be a tendency in the law these days. We need to be careful in any legislation about favouring one side over the other.

“As the majority of defendants in domestic murder cases are men, this could increase the number of convictions.”

The new law set out in sections 54-56 of the Homicide Act, replacing section 3 of the Homicide Act 1957, states that people are not to be convicted of murder if their loss of control had a “qualifying trigger”.

The trigger could be the fear of serious violence and/or whether things said or done were of an “extremely grave character” which “caused the defendant to have a justifiable sense of being seriously wronged”.

The Act amends the defence of diminished responsibility set out in section 2 of the Homicide Act 1957.

This reduces murder to manslaughter where the defendant was suffering from an “abnormality of mental functioning” arising from a recognised medical condition, which could allow for a wider spectrum of illnesses to be included than are recognised by the existing law.

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