Partial defences to murder: changed landscape and nomenclature

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Rudi Fortson QC


murder, partial defences, diminished responsibility, provocation, loss of control, reforms, expert opinion evidence, Law Commission


The reformed partial defences to murder, enacted under the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, reflect Parliament’s attempt to align those defences with modern social norms and medical experience whilst retaining the existing definition of ‘murder’, being an offence that attracts a mandatory fixed sentence of imprisonment or detention. However, Parliament departed from the recommendations of the Law Commission in important respects and the appellate courts have added their ‘voice’ to the scope of the partial defences. This article, which is written from a practitioner’s perspective, discusses the existing law and considers the extent to which, since 2009, the aims of policy-makers and law-makers have been fulfilled or have fallen short of expectations. The author contends that the reforms did not go far enough, that the term ‘diminished responsibility’ is no longer apt, that rules relating to ‘loss of control’ are unnecessarily complex and unsatisfactory, and that expert opinion evidence remains problematic.

Abstract 640 | NILQ 72.2.1 Fortson Downloads 557