Whatever it is, it ain’t murder

In light of recent events, and some people’s comments on them, it’s worth clarifying English law on murder.

The current direction on when an act can be classed as murder was handed down by the House of Lords in R. v. Woolin:

Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction is not enough, the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to infer the necessary intention, unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant’s actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case, the decision being for the jury to decide on a consideration of all the evidence.

Now, this isn’t nice behaviour, to put it absurdly mildly. But it’s very clearly not something that would make death or serious bodily harm a virtual certainty. So murder it isn’t.

Manslaughter, on the other hand, is proved on the basis of ‘an unlawful act that is likely to do harm’… and I’m fairly sure I know what I’d say were I on the jury.

7 thoughts on “Whatever it is, it ain’t murder

  1. IIRC the last homicide in the City of London was also committed by a copper, albeit off-duty.

    (having checked, <a href="http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23484128-details/Murder+charges+dropped+over+City+death/article.do&quot; rel="nofollow">no, it was his mate. As with the Tomlinson case, a piece of outrageously bad luck for all concerned.)

    I'm really uncomfortable with the concept of serious punishment for trivial actions, just because of unforeseeable bad luck. Like that poor sod <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2001/dec/13/selby.railtravel5&quot; rel="nofollow">Gary Hart.

    I'm not wild about the copper in this case getting chokey either – he's clearly no worse than dozens of his colleagues, not least the infamous Police Medic. I suppose pour decourager les autres, etc.

  2. "or serious bodily harm"

    That is the key to this. There was clearly no intention to actually kill anybody. The real question is (which you haven't answered, I can't be bothered to look up in my law degree notes) is how 'serious' is 'serious'.

  3. The real question in this case is why did it take video footage from a New York fund manager to get this properly investigated? The apparent willingness within the police force to gloss over criminal behaviour by one of their own is the main issue that requires investigation.

  4. Shoving someone that hard from behind when they have their hands in their pockets is virtually certain to cause bodily harm. Again, how serious is serious? Chances of breaking a limb, for example, were very high in this instance. Maybe not certain but high. I reckon that's pretty serious. Same goes for cracking your head or face on the pavement.

    But this isn't the point. The pig in question shouldn't be a scapegoat. As Merrick observed in the immediate aftermath, this was not an exceptional example of police conduct on the day. Such an incident was almost certain to occur, given the generic level of violence displayed by the rozzers. It was merely (one of) the incident's where the probable became the actual.

  5. It doesn't matter how many other coppers pushed and hit other citizens. For there to be a charge of manslaughter there has to be a death. Is it just bad luck when a drunken fight (of which there are thousands every weekend) ends in a death? Maybe. Does that mean nobody gets charged? Of course not.

    There is no possible way, under English law, that this death will be classed as a murder. And, despite the insistence from some people that internal bleeding must be due to injury, we still don't know the cause of death.

    If it is shown that Tomlinson died from, say, a ruptured aortic aneurism and that the violence brought on an event which may have happened in any case, it's likely that the copper won't even face a manslaughter charge.

    But this is still just speculation. Let's wait and see.

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