Saturday, April 24, 2010

Degrees of Badness

One of the main problems surrounding the current legal schema of murder and life sentences is that they are so broad in conception. This confuses people, both over the definition of murder and the nature of the life sentence.

Rather than having a mere two homicide offences - murder and manslaughter - would it not be more sensible, just and clear if we adopted a more graded system?
The Americans, for instance, have three Degrees of murder and several different types of manslaughter charge. Each of these reflects the degree of intent, the brutality of the act, and the context in which it takes place.

And so a person who deliberately goes out carrying a gun, intending to commit a crime, and who then shoots someone dead in the commission of his crime receives the highest charge and the longest sentence. A person who, in a fit of overwhelming emotional torment, strikes out at a spouse and kills them receives a lesser charge and penalty.

Translated into Britain, this would clarify the most obvious misunderstanding around murder, that is, intent. Intent to kill is not necessary for a charge of murder in the UK, leaving the pub brawler and the serial killer ostensibly facing the same charge if another dies due to their actions.

Would it not be more just to save the charge of murder for those who intended to kill? With gradations of charge, and sentence, down the scale from that point? And save Life sentences for the most serious of cases?

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