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Manslaughter: Diminished Responsibility

Date Produced: January 2012
Title: Homicide
Offence: Manslaughter: Diminished Responsibility
Legislation: Homicide Act 1957 section 2 - amended by Coroners and Justice Act 2009 w.e.f. 4th October 2010.
Mode of Trial: Indictable only
Statutory Limitations & Maximum Penalty: Life imprisonment
Sentencing Range: Serious specified violent offence. Schedule 15A CJA 2003 applies

Relevant Sentencing Guidelines:

If a defendant is convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility if the psychiatric reports recommend and justify it and there are no contrary indications then a hospital order is the likely disposal.

R v Chambers 5 Cr. App. R. (S) 190.

In diminished responsibility cases there are various courses open to a judge. Choice of the right course will depend on the state of the evidence and the material before him.

  • If the psychiatric reports recommend and justify it, and there are no contrary indications, he will make a hospital order.
  • Where a hospital order is not recommended, or is not appropriate, and the defendant constitutes a danger to the public for an unpredictable period of time, the right sentence will, in all probability, be one of life imprisonment.
  • In cases where the evidence indicates that the accused's responsibility for his acts was so grossly impaired that his degree of responsibility for them was minimal, then a lenient course will be open to the judge. Provided that there is no danger of repetition of violence, it will usually be possible to make such an order as will give the accused his freedom possibly with some supervision.
  • There will however be cases in which there is no proper basis for a hospital order, that in which the accused's degree of responsibility is not minimal. In such cases the judge should pass a determinate sentence of imprisonment, the length of which will depend on two factors: his assessment of the degree of the accused's responsibility his view as to the period of time, if any, which the accused will continue to be danger to the public.

Suppose a substantial element of responsibility remains with the defendant? See R v Wood [2010] 1 Cr. App. R. (S.) 2
The court could see no logical reason why, subject to the specific element of reduced culpability inherent in the defence, assessment of seriousness should ignore the guidance in Schedule 21 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 regarding starting points for the minimum terms for murder.

A vast disproportion between sentences for murder and for manslaughter coming close to murder would be detrimental to the administration of justice.

Crimes which result in death should be treated more seriously and dealt with more severely than before.

See R v Welsh [2011] EWCA Crim 73
Appellant pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 12 years. Appeal raised the issues whether it was correct to order a discretionary life sentence of a hospital order pursuant to MHA s37with a s41 restriction.

Appellant who had schizophrenia stabbed a man to death in a totally unprovoked attack. Essence of appeal was that the safest course for the public was to see ensure that the appellant received medication and treatment within a secure hospital and his condition would then improve. If he was in prison he would fail to take his medication and would remain a danger.

The resolution of the appeal depended on whether the defendant's responsibility for his actions although diminished, remained substantial. The Court upheld the sentence and relied upon the appellant's bad record of repeated violence and that his taking of the knife used to kill to the scene to say that he bore substantial responsibility for his actions.

Another factor which the Court had to bear in mind was public confidence in their approach which could only be satisfied by ensuring that the issue was resolved in a way which best protects the public and reflects the gravity of the offence. Appeal dismissed.

Relevant Sentencing Case Law:

Recent Decisions reported in CSP at B 1-1.3A covering offenders subject to a mental condition not requiring treatment in hospital or justifying an indeterminate sentence.
See also Banks Volume 2 Page 696.

The provisions of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 apply.

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