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
News
news
Sport
Danny Cipriani of England breaks clear to score his second try
rugby
Life and Style
New research says leaving your desk can help you to avoid serious illness
health
Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Digital Marketing Executive

£26000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A luxury beauty house with a nu...

Recruitment Genius: Housekeepers - Immediate Start

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This company are currently recruiting new exp...

Recruitment Genius: Head Concierge

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Content, SEO and PPC Executive

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral