Offences of murder and manslaughter vary immensely and can include complex conspiracies, gang related killings, domestic violence, fights that result in death and cases of child cruelty.
Medical evidence, telephone connectivity, forensic evidence involving DNA or fingerprints and psychiatric evidence can all come into play in a murder investigation.
Complex cases may involve vast swathes of unused material.
Subject to three exceptions (see Voluntary Manslaughter below) the crime of murder is committed, where a person:
- of sound mind and discretion (i.e. sane);
- unlawfully kills (i.e. not self-defence or other justified killing);
- any reasonable creature (human being);
- in being (born alive and breathing through its own lungs – Rance v Mid-Downs Health Authority (1991) 1 All ER 801 and AG Ref No 3 of 1994 (1997) 3 All ER 936;
- under the Queen’s Peace;
- with intent to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (GBH).
In contrast to the offence of murder, attempted murder requires the existence of an intention to kill, not merely to cause grievous bodily harm.
The principle set out in R v Lane and Lane (1986) 82 Cr App R 5 and restated in R v Aston and Mason (1992) 94 Cr App R 180 is that where two people are jointly indicted for the commission of a crime and the evidence does not point to one rather than the other, and there is no evidence that they were acting in concert, the jury ought to acquit both. This equally applies to homicide offences. However see Familial Death and Serious Physical Harm below for offences involving members of the same household.
Where association evidence is relied on, the circumstances of the association of the suspect with the principal offender, together with the other evidence in the case, must give rise to the inference that the suspect was assisting or encouraging the principal’s offence. In some circumstances it may be appropriate to consider alternative charges which may be available and which do not require the use of the joint enterprise doctrine. In the event that the particular circumstances apply and no such alternative is available prosecutors should weigh carefully the merits of proceeding with the more serious charge under the doctrine of joint enterprise.
Each case will need to be considered on its own facts and on its own merits before a decision to prosecute is made.