Should The Mandatory Life Sentence For Those Guilty Of A Mercy Killing? Essay

Should The Mandatory Life Sentence For Those Guilty Of A Mercy Killing? Essay

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If we are still to attach a degree of culpability to those guilty of a ‘mercy killing’ then perhaps the best approach to follow is that currently undertaken in New Zealand. Here, there is a relaxation of the mandatory life sentence for those guilty of a ‘mercy killing’. As established in the Sentencing Act 2002 ‘An offender who is convicted of murder must be sentenced to imprisonment for life unless, given the circumstances of the offence and the offender, a sentence of imprisonment for life would be manifestly unjust’ . Clearly, this relaxation of culpability would help to acknowledge the moral justifications behind ‘mercy killings’. Nevertheless, this approach does little to deal with the issues of fair labelling or fair warning explored earlier. The stigmatisation arising from a murder conviction must not be under-emphasised and, in practice, it appear the approach in New Zealand is little different from the current discretion enjoyed by judges in setting the minimum tariff period a murderer must serve before being released on licence. Moreover, on a pragmatic level, we envisage little possibility of a similar clause as that used in New Zealand being adopted in to English law. There is huge political pressure to maintain the mandatary life sentence for murder within the UK. It therefore seems unlikely that any Parliament would legislate to allow such a relaxation of this, particularly as such vague wording as “manifestly unjust” could be interpreted in a number of much wider scenarios than simply mercy killings.

A new partial defence to murder

We believe there should remain some form of culpability for those convicted of mercy killings, but that the label of murderer is too far. It is therefore submitted that there should...


... middle of paper ...


... suffer from. This would allow us to gain better insight into the justifications for ‘mercy killings’ and thus the possible reason for allowing defendants some form of a defence. Moreover, if we were to allow the defence, the advice of such medical practitioners could enable us to create an outline list of conditions which can be classified as sufficiently serious to warrant the allowance of the defence.
Another stakeholder whom we may wish to consult are academics and legal practitioners in other jurisdictions where defences or partial defences to mercy killings currently operate. Through consulting these individuals we can better understand how reform of the current law could operate in practise. We would also be able to examine case law from these jurisdictions to evaluate the effectiveness of their approaches to the defence and amend our proposals accordingly.

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