§ Lord Shaw of Northstead
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they have reached any conclusions following the review of the law of murder.
§ The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)
The review has been completed and a copy of the report from the inter-departmental steering group has been placed in the Library. The steering group comprised officials from the Home Office, Scottish Office, Northern Ireland Office, Ministry of Defence, Legal Secretariat to the Law Officers and the Crown Office.
The review's task was to consider whether there should be an intermediate verdict, between murder and acquittal, where a defendant had killed in self-defence or to prevent a crime. It was also asked to consider whether any such intermediate verdict, or any other change to the law, should apply only to members of the police and armed forces.
The review came down firmly against any separate provision for the police and armed forces. It would be objectionable in principle and very difficult to achieve in practice in any defensible and coherent way. The review did not consider it desirable or practicable for guidance on the use of lethal force (the Yellow Card) to be given legislative status. These views were supported by those members of the police and armed forces whom the review consulted. The Government agree with these conclusions of the review.
The review identified three broad options for a change in the law but concluded that only one, a verdict of manslaughter where a defendant had over-reacted and used unreasonable force, might provide a way forward. That is the option which previous studies have proposed, except that the review considered a refinement that a murder verdict could remain available for a grossly unreasonable over-reaction. The review recognised that this option would not necessarily ensure better justice and did not itself come to a firm conclusion.
We have considered carefully the arguments for and against the options identified by the review but have concluded that the case has not been made that they would improve either the certainty or quality of the criminal law. The police representative associations whom the review considered did not suggest a change in the law in this area. If the option identified by the review as providing a possible way forward were adopted, the difference between a manslaughter and murder verdict would depend on an assessment of whether the defendant honestly believed that the level of force which he used was justified. Where the court or jury were satisfied that the defendant honestly believed that the force he or she used was justified, the defendant could only be convicted of manslaughter no 87WA matter how unreasonable the force. We do not believe that this would be a satisfactory position. Equally, however, adopting the refinement considered by the review and retaining a verdict of murder for those who had used grossly unreasonable force would risk over complicating the law and requiring juries to draw unrealistically narrow distinctions.
For these reasons, we are not persuaded that an adequate case has been made to change the law.