The Law on Voluntary Manslaughter

The Law on Voluntary Manslaughter

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The Law on Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter, as established by the Homicide Act 1957, is
determined by three sections: diminished responsibility, provocation,
and suicide pact.

Diminished responsibility is established by Section 2 of the Homicide
Act. It may be used as a defence to murder if the defendant can prove
an abnormality of the mind (if, for example, the defendant is an
alcoholic, or has a mental condition as in R v Byrne, where the
defendant had uncontrollable sexual desires.) The defence is that the
defendant does not have the necessary control over their actions, when
compared to a reasonable person.

Diminished responsibility has been criticised for a number of reasons:

· The very term 'Diminished responsibility' has been criticised by
authorities such as the Butler Committee, who say that it is 'not a
medical fact relating to the accused'. It was suggested by them that '
a person should not be convicted of murder if there is medical or
other evidence that they were suffering from a form of mental
disorder'. The criminal law committee agreed with this, but were not
happy with the wording, suggesting that instead it should be:

· 'The mental disorder was such as to be a substantial enough reason
to reduce the offence to manslaughter.'

· There is a danger for the accused when using it, because the
prosecution sometimes responds by arguing that the defendant is

· This defence can also be used for political reasons, as in so-called
'mercy killings', where often the prosecution will accept diminished
responsibility as a defence, to avoid public outcry.

· This has also occurred the other way around, in the 'Yorkshire
Ripper' case, R v Sutcliffe, as the defendant was refused the defence
and convicted of murder due to public opinion.

Provocation, as defined in s3 of the Homicide Act 1957, allows the
defendant to be convicted of manslaughter instead of murder if they
can prove that they were provoked by something said or done by the
victim, and that a reasonable person would have reacted in the same

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· This defence has been criticised as discriminating against women,
due to the phrase 'a sudden and temporary loss of control'. Helena
Kennedy, QC describes a woman's loss of self-control as quite
different to a mans'. A man is likely to react suddenly where as a
woman is more likely to have more self control over her actions but
react later to a series of events. This has been illustrated in the
cases of R v Thornton, and R v Ahluwalia, both cases of the now
recognised 'battered woman syndrome'. In these cases, women who had
been abused for years finally killed their husbands, but with a lapse
in the time between their victim's 'provocation', and the killing. In
the case of Ahluwalia, the defendant, was convicted after a failed
defence of provocation, and then released after a successful plea of
diminished responsibility, following the acceptance of 'battered woman

· However, the acceptance of this defence has caused concerns that it
will give women 'a licence to kill', using a defence of 'slow burn'.
This is not really a realistic criticism, as it ignores the fact that
the successful raising of this offence still leads to a manslaughter
conviction, with a possible custodial sentence, not an acquittal.

· It has been suggested that this development is not enough to even
the stakes between men and women, and that Britain should follow the
example of Australia, by allowing the defence of provocation to be
used regardless of the time lapse between the provocation and the
death of the victim.

· Women's campaigners have suggested that a defence of 'self
preservation' should replace that of provocation for both men and
women, to reduce liability to manslaughter. This would not be the same
as pleading self- defence, which would lead to an acquittal, but
rather a partial defence, which would allow society to mark its
disapproval of killing.

Suicide Pact

This dependence is very rarely used, but may arise if there is a
common agreement between two or more persons (including the Defendant)
that both or all of them should die. If in pursuance of this
agreement, and intending his own death, the Defendant kills one or
more others but fails to kill himself, the Defendant may be guilty of
manslaughter rather than murder.

· The main criticism when dealing with the Suicide Pact is deciding /
the burden of providing the existence of the pact and his own
intention to carry it out.
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