Top prosecutor backs US-style murder laws for Britain

Britain's most senior prosecutor has added his voice to the calls for a radical reform of Britain's murder law.

Keir Starmer QC, who as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is head of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said that he supports recommendations made by the Law Commission for a move towards US-style homicide law, in which the seriousness of the offence is ranked by degrees.

Mr Starmer's intervention will add pressure to the Government's ongoing review of criminal justice, which will also consider reform of murder.

But the rationale behind the DPP's decision remains a mystery. All the CPS would say yesterday was that the DDP had answered "yes" to a question about whether he agreed with the Law Commission's recommendations.

Earlier this year, Mr Starmer was forced to issue new guidance on assisted suicide which many believe has softened the prosecution's approach to those who assist in the death of the terminally ill.

In February, Mr Starmer wrote in a newspaper article: "Assisted suicide involves assisting the victim to take his or her own life. Someone who takes the life of another undertakes a very different act and may well be liable to a charge of murder or manslaughter. That distinction is an important one that we all need to understand."

When Mr Starmer later published his guidelines, he made it clear that relatives who actively help a terminally ill individual to die are not covered by the guidelines and individuals could be expected to be charged with murder or manslaughter.

Under the Law Commission's recommendations, first-degree murder would carry a mandatory life sentence. Second-degree murder, a life term at the discretion of the judge plus sentence guidelines, while manslaughter would carry a maximum penalty of life.

The Law Commission, which reviews and recommends reform to the law, made wide-ranging recommendations for changes to the legislation six years ago. A year later, it said the homicide law was a"rickety structure set upon shaky foundations", governed by rules set, in some cases, as long ago as the 17th-century. The law could not be stated with "clarity or certainty", it added.

In a further review, published in 2006, the commission suggested the three-tier system, which won support from Mr Starmer's predecessor, Sir Ken MacDonald QC.

Sir Ken, who handed over to Mr Starmer in 2008, said yesterday it would be helpful in dealing with so-called joint enterprise cases, such as gang killings where the degree of culpability varies.

It would, for example, allow flexibility for prosecutors and the courts in cases where a group of people are involved in an assault that leads to a death but only one landed the fatal blow.

Mr MacDonald said: "Any of us think that that's an aspect of the law which needs reforming, that we should have degrees of murder, rather in the way they do in the US. First-degree murder would be killing with the intention to kill, second-degree would be killing with intention to do grievous bodily harm."

A Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: "The Government is aware of the recommendations put forward in the Law Commission's report on murder, which we will consider."

In July, it emerged that Lord Chancellor, Kenneth Clarke, was "sympathetic" to a reform of the law of murder.

Justice Minister Lord McNally told peers at House of Lords question time that the Government was "mindful" of the recommendations of a Law Commission report which suggested a system of first and second degree murder.

"This is one of the issues that the Government will be looking at in its review of sentencing policy in general," Lord McNally said.

He said the report put forward a range of alternatives which would give "a degree of flexibility to the judiciary when dealing with this matter".

"I do know that, in looking at the matter, the Lord Chancellor is sympathetic to the line taken by the Law Commission," he said.

He added that the previous government had brought forward some "part proposals" from the report and the new administration was "now looking at this with some urgency".

Lord Lloyd of Berwick, a crossbench peer and former law lord, had told him that reform of the law of murder was "now long overdue". "It is the mandatory life sentence which distorts this branch of the law and stands in the way of much-needed reform," he said.

He asked Lord McNally: "Are you aware of any other country, whether in Europe or the Commonwealth, which has a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment in all cases of murder, including cases of mercy killing?"

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste