Old Bailey Solicitors

What is the difference between Murder and Manslaughter?

What is the difference between Murder and Manslaughter?


Murder and Manslaughter

Murder and manslaughter are two of the most serious offences. The distinction between the two offences boils down to what a person intended and their level of criminal responsibility. Establishing the difference between the two offences is crucial in understanding the charges against you.

What is Murder?

The offence of murder is committed when a person of sound mind unlawfully kills another human and intends to kill them, or cause them really serious harm.

Two key questions must be asked when determining whether murder has been committed. Firstly, did the accused intend to kill or cause really serious harm? Secondly, can the accused be held criminally responsible for their actions?

If the answer to either question is no, then the persons actions may amount to manslaughter.

What is Manslaughter?

The crime of manslaughter is committed when a person unlawfully kills another human, but they did not intend to kill or cause really serious harm, or they cannot he held criminally responsible for their actions.

Manslaughter can be broken down into two categories:

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when the accused unlawfully kills another human, and intended to do so, but the circumstances do not amount to murder. These circumstances mitigate the killing and are known as partial defences to murder, reducing the offence from murder to manslaughter. There are three partial defences that reduce murder to manslaughter:

Diminished responsibility.

Diminished responsibility means the accused was suffering from an abnormality of mental functioning, arising from a recognised medical condition, which substantially impaired their ability to understand the nature of their conduct or to form a rational judgement when committing the crime. In such cases an expert psychiatrist will assess the accused and conclude that they suffered from a reduced mental capacity which caused or was a significant contributory factor in the accused’s conduct, and therefore cannot be held responsible for murder.

Suicide pact.

This occurs when a person pursues a suicide pact with another, but they survive, while the other party dies. It must be proved by the defence that a suicide pact existed and the accused had full intention of dying in pursuit of it. If these facts can be proven, then the accused is guilty of manslaughter and not murder.

Loss of control.

Loss of control replaced the old common law defence of provocation. It occurs when the accused has lost control of their actions momentarily due to a ‘qualifying trigger’. The trigger responsible for that loss of control must be extreme in circumstances, such as a fear of extremely serious, potentially fatal, violence. The courts will apply an objective test in determining whether this partial defence is available by looking at whether a person of the suspects age and gender, with a normal

degree of tolerance and restraint, and in the circumstances of the accused, might have acted similarly to the accused. Mental disorder can be taken into account.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter occurs when the accused did not intend to cause someone’s death and yet their actions were fatal to another human. The death is an accident and can arise for two reasons: an unlawful dangerous act, or gross negligence.

An unlawful dangerous act occurs when the accused sets out to commit a lesser criminal offence and in doing so, causes the death of another human. Determining whether involuntary manslaughter has been committed under this category boils down to a question of whether the accused should have known that they were exposing the victim to a risk of serious injury or death. An example of unlawful dangerous act manslaughter is if the accused punches another person in the face and that person falls and hits their head on the road and dies as a result of the injuries sustained. While the punch itself did not cause the death of another, the additional injury resulting from the impact of the persons head on the road did.

Gross Negligance

Gross negligence occurs when the accused has committed a grossly negligent act or inaction. This arises when a person is responsible for the care of another, and their actions or inactions resulted in the death of that person. An example of gross negligence manslaughter is when the accused knowingly operates heavy machinery on a building site without following the proper guidelines and causes the death of another person on the site. An example of an inaction resulting in gross negligence manslaughter is when a doctor fails to properly monitor a patient during surgery and the oxygen tube becomes disconnected resulting in the patient’s brain damage and eventual death.

The law surrounding serious offences of violence is complicated and can involve a multitude of different legal issues. If you have been charged or are under investigation, it is essential that you take immediate legal advice. Old Bailey Solicitors can advise you at every stage of your case, from the first stage of the criminal investigation at the police station, through to the Magistrates’ court and the crown court. Please contact us for discreet, sensitive and expert advice.

The team and I are on hand to help, if you’d like a discreet chat, do get in touch.


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Kelsey Reid


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