Move to end year-and-a-day rule for murder Move to end law that lets killers cheat justice faces

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Killers should not be able to use a 700-year-old law which allows them to escape prosecution for murder if there is a gap of more than a "year and a day" between their crime and the death of a victim, the Government's legal advisers said yesterday.

The Law Commission suggested that the rule, which also applies to all other homicide offences, should be abolished.

According to the commission, the present rule, dating from the Statutes of Gloucester of 1278, causes injustice because it leads to convictions for less serious crimes, so murderers are sentenced for grievous bodily harm. If a doctor causes a death by gross negligence, but the patient dies 366 days later, there is no alternative offence.

The commission suggests safeguards to protect defendants who cannot assemble evidence when many years have passed since the offence.

Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, requested the review after public outcry over the case of Michael Gibson, 22, of Darlington, Co Durham, who died in 1993 after 16 months on a life-support machine following an attack outside a nightclub. His assailant was jailed for two years for grievous bodily harm.

Lawyers and MPs have argued that the "year and a day" rule is archaic and dangerous in an era when the cause of death, even a prolonged one, is usually determinable and patients can be kept alive indefinitely.

Pat Gibson spoke of her "satisfaction" at the prospect of the law being changed in the wake of her campaign following the death of her son, Michael. She said: "It won't change anything for my family ... but it will mean that if there are future cases the person who carries out the attack will be correctly charged."

Mrs Gibson was outraged that David Clark, her son's attacker, walked free nine weeks after Michael's death. She stressed this was not an isolated case. "The law has just stood still for centuries and so I will feel some satisfaction if the recommendation brings the law up to date," she said.

t The Law Commission's proposals are likely to be endorsed by the all- party Home Affairs Select Committee, currently reviewing the year and a day rule as part of its inquiry into the mandatory life sentence, writes Heather Mills.

Anne Owers, director of Justice, the human rights and law reform body, yesterday told the committee: "We broadly approve the Law Commission's proposals but are anxious sufficient safeguards will be put in place. If adopted this would provide yet another set of circumstances which would call into question the mandatory life sentence."