As the law stands at the moment, the act of murder means that a killer can literally get away with murder. With so many statutes, rules and policies in relation to murder, manslaughter and infanticide for example, it is not unusual to find an imbalance in the British justice system. The majority of the public are currently disheartened with the laws that rule our land in terms of criminals who intentionally set out to kill another human being. Many of us lack faith in the system and feel that sentences for murder or manslaughter are too lenient. We have no confidence in the judicial system, and this is partly due to the complicated nature of this beast.
In essence, the British justice system is made up in two ways. There are statutes which have been enforced by the Government and agreed in Parliament. These become the “Acts” that we all know and abide by each day. They affect our daily lives, and as long as you are a law-abiding citizen, it is unlikely that you will find yourself in court because you have disobeyed a statute. These statutes are usually very broad in definition, in order to try and encompass many different eventualities.
The second option is common law (or case law), which has been determined by judges in the judicial system. Indeed, the act of murder is set in common law and not by a statute as you may think. The common law of England and Wales essentially tries to keep it “fair” – this means that the decisions of the judges in the courts are normally based on previous rulings and on the principle that it is unfair to treat similar facts differently with each individual case. This type of law is developed by judges but does have to refer to statutes or other laws (such as European laws that apply to England and Wales) in order to make a decisive and accurate decision.
As you can see, the British justice system is somewhat confusing. With so many ins and outs it is easy to see why it is difficult for those who deal with crime and law every day to get it right (certainly in the public’s view) every time. Whilst the general public are looking for a simple solution when it comes to acts of killing, it seems that in reality it is a lot harder to get a conviction and a sentence that will satisfy everyone. With bits and pieces of the justice system based on laws and precedents that have been around since the 17th century, it is certainly time to consider some reform.
Indeed, the Law Commission compiled a report in 2006 titled “Murder, Manslaughter & Infanticide” which found that the current system “was a mess” and that the homicide law in particular was “a rickety structure set upon shaky foundations” (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7530186.stm). The report concurred that the current system regarding murder, manslaughter and infanticide is uncertain and out of date. The Law Commission also recognised that the British public has lost confidence and faith in the system due to its flaws and outdated practices.
With this notion to chew over, it is a great time to consider the prospect of one statute to cover all areas of the law regarding homicide. It seems a sensible option to perform an in-depth review of all the laws and statutes and to consolidate it all into one easy statute. If this were to happen, after much in-depth analysis and changes made of course, it would be a lot easier for the public to understand our criminal justice system. It is so frustrating to find that there are loopholes and hoops that criminals can jump through in order to get a more lenient sentence or have their conviction overturned. If we are all on the same page, this will decrease the frustration for the public and for victims’ families and will de-stress the situation for those who are part of the legal profession.
A single statute governing murder, manslaughter and even infanticide will boost the confidence that the public has in the system, which is one of the main objectives of the 2006 report conducted by the Law Commission. Of course, cost will always be an issue when it comes to publicly run systems such as justice; the hope is that the ability to reinstate fair and just sentences so that moral principles are adhered to will be implemented. This means that a victim’s family will be comforted by the fact that justice has been done. And according to the Law Commission report, the fair treatment of a victim’s family should far outweigh any cost that may be incurred.
Essentially, a single statute is a better option all round; not only will everyone be able to understand a simplified criminal justice system, but the focus will shift from cost to getting justice – just as a good justice system should do. With all of the above considerations in mind, there is nothing to say that the Homicide Act 2012 cannot become a very realistic prospect.