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Criminal law – a brief introduction

Of all the lawyers, a criminal solicitor is perhaps the busiest of them all. Crimes happen on a daily basis. The news and social media are full of stories daily of crimes being committed. The crimes being committed vary from thefts to murder. In the UK, national statistics have shown that last year, there were approximately 12 million crimes committed.

What type of offences come under criminal law?

There are a vast number of crimes that come under criminal law, including some offences that people would not think are crimes! However the more common and well known crimes include murder, manslaughter, theft, burglary, armed robbery, criminal damage and sexual offences amongst an exhaustive list of crimes.

What is the difference between murder and manslaughter?

The terms murder and manslaughter are regularly used in the news and social media when discussing high profile cases. However sometimes it is easy to be confused and blur the definitions.

Murder has been defined as occurring when a sane person unlawfully kills another person with the intention to kill them or cause grievous bodily harm. It is important to note that intent is crucial in proving that the defendant is guilty. The prosecution will be able to prove intent on the defendant’s part if they can show the defendant was sure that his actions and conduct would kill the victim or cause grievous bodily harm. For example, if the defendant was to shoot a gun directly at the victim then intent is proven as the defendant can be sure that by shooting at someone they are likely to cause grievous bodily harm or death.

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In addition the prosecution will need to be able to prove causation. This means that the prosecution needs to show that the defendant’s actions were a substantial cause of the victim’s death. What this means is that it is not necessary for the defendant’s actions to be the only cause or even the main cause of the victim’s death.

The legal definition of manslaughter is slightly different to murder. It is essentially murder but without premeditation. This means that the defendant does not plan to kill the victim – it could have been an accident. There are several different types of manslaughter that can be committed but they generally come under the umbrella of involuntary and voluntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter has been defined as the unlawful killing of another person without the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm.

Voluntary manslaughter on the other hand is where the defendant has the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm however the court will not find the defendant guilty of murder due to the defences of either loss of control or diminished responsibility.

Diminished responsibility is the legal terminology used to explain that the defendant has a recognised mental health condition and this would have affected the defendant at the time of committing the act.

In recent years a number of people who have committed murders have been charged with manslaughter instead due to the fact that they were suffering from diminished responsibility or loss of control.

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