Voluntary manslaughter is when someone acts in the heat of the moment and doesn’t have the intent of killing someone. There are two parts to voluntary manslaughter which are diminished responsibility and loss of control. When committing the crime the person must have both the mens rea and actus reus of murder, however they also need a partial defense to it which is either diminished responsibility or loss of control.
Law of Diminished Responsibility
The law of diminished responsibility is when someone commits a murder with the actus reus and mens rea of murder but has a partial defense as a result of a abnormality of mental function which has been seen and recognised by doctors before hand. The homicide act which was made in 1957 but then amended in 2009, brung in diminished responsibility as mental health was becoming more recognised as a condition, beforehand the only claim of manslaughter was insanity. The rule of diminished responsibility is that the person’s mental health has to substantially impair the person’s ability to think in a rational way, it also has to be proven that the mental dysfunction caused the person to act and not anything else, therefore proving why the person committed the murder. A case example of this is Byrne 1960 when an abnormality of mental functioning which included pulses in his head lead him to murder a girl in a hostel and mutilate her body as a result of the mental dyfunction. His conviction was reduced to manslaughter following the trial as it was seen that his mental functioning caused him to do what he did.
Loss of Control
The law on loss of control states that a person must have a loss of control based off a qualifying trigger that has caused them to act. The law of loss of control replaced the law on provocation; provocation used to require someone to act instantly to something that has happened to them rather than over a period of time, however now the law of loss of control takes into account things that happen over time that cause someone to act in a certain way for example domestic abuse. Loss of control must also be seen over by someone with a similar age and have normal functioning self restraint who will give their ideas on whether they might have reacted in the same way, if they believe they wouldn’t have then loss of control could be scrapped. The jury decides on whether somebody does or doesn’t qualify for the loss of control based off of the facts they have heard and the circumstances read out by the judge.
Loss of control also depends on the circumstances of a person in a specific situations for example the case of Ahluwalia 1992 in which the wife had been domestically abused over a considerable amount of time, her husband threatened her and said she should pay him money otherwise he would beat her up the next day. That night the woman in an act of what would now be seen as loss of control but back then didn’t count as provocation as it wasn’t an instant act; decided to pour petrol on her husband and set him on fire killing him 6 days later of his injuries.
There is another law on loss of control which is the qualifying triggers, these triggers include the fear of violence or the anger trigger. The fear of violence trigger was when a sequence of events that happens to one individual would lead them to fear for their own life and have to act because of it. An example of this was Martin (Anthony) 2002 where an old man lived in an isolated house with barely anyone else around. As it looked like a derelict place, people would go there and burgle a lot, on this occasion two people broke in of which Martin woke up and had a shotgun next to his bed which he had intended to use on the next person who broke into the house. He then shot at the two and hit one who as a result died of the injuries, Martin could not claim self defense as he used a more than reasonable force of which to deter the robbers, he did however go down on a diminished responsibility charge because he had acted under fear of violence.
The anger trigger is when someone acts because of something else that has happened to them under specific circumstances or of an extremely grave character, the anger trigger must be of a worse enough nature of which justifies the reasoning behind it as to why the defendant killed. The following cases are examples of when the anger trigger or provocation cannot be used because of the circumstances surrounding them.
The case of R v Doughty where a man’s wife had a cesarean section and so the man looking after the baby, the Wife and the house. The man put a cloth to the babies face as he claimed the crying was driving him mental, he pressed down and killed the baby by suffocation. He could not claim provocation as the baby was not seen as a direct threat to him and so he was a murderer.
Another case of where the defendant under new law tried to claim loss of control was Zebedee 2012 where a man was caring for his father who had alzheimers. His father kept soiling himself and the defendant tried to claim that the soiling caused him to lose control and kill his father, in court he was denied this and his conviction ended up being a murder sentence as he had acted unreasonably in the situation.
In the Ibrams and Gregory 1981 case the two defendants were being bullied by one of the defendants ex boyfriend. As a result of the bullying they decided they wanted to take revenge on the bully which would already break the law of provocation as their act wasn’t instant but was planned. They then beat the bully up with the intent to break his arms and legs, however they kept going and eventually killed the victim. As a result they were convicted of murder as they pre-meditated the attack, nowadays the use of loss of control may have been deemed appropriate as the bullying over a certain amount of time provoked a reaction.
The law on loss of control must be set by a certain standard of self control, this is set out by a person who is the same sex and age of the defendant and who has a competent mind when reacting to situations. They must put themselves in the shoes of the defendant and think whether they might have reacted in the same way or not.
In the case of Camplin 1978 the 15 year defendant had killed a man with a Chipati pan because the victim had raped the boy and proceeded to laugh at him. These actions would cause the defendant to lose control, the judge told the jury about the laws of provocation and told them not to consider the boys age, he was then re-trialled as they should have considered it. Lord Diplock’s quote then followed saying ‘The reasonable man is a person having the power of self-control to be expected of an ordinary person, of the sex and age of the accused, but in other respects sharing such of the accused’s characteristics as they think would affect the gravity of the provocation to him’. This is still used now in the law of self control and it means that when someone is considered for loss of control someone of their own age and sex with the same traits must consider the standard of control for that person and whether their acts were correct.
Examples of this are the Gregson and Hill cases, in the Gregson 2006 case a man who was suffering from depression, epilepsy and was unemployed was then taunted by someone else for losing his job and because of his condition was seen as more susceptible to the taunting. He then lost his control and killed the victim as a result of the taunting, someone who had similar conditions would have decided the standard of control in this particular situation.
In the case of Hill 2008, the defendant had been sexually abused a young child and the victim had tried to sexually assault him, this caused the defendant to lose control and kill the victim. The defense that was used and was successful was the provocation law which still applied at this time, his actions had to of been proved to be standard by someone else who had also been sexually assaulted.
In the case of Van Dongen 2005 two brothers were attacked by a man with a street sign and they reacted by attacking him with intent to either kill or cause serious bodily harm, the man died of the injuries. They were not allowed to use the law of provocation as it was seen they used unlawful force against the man, however now they would probably go down with manslaughter through loss of control.