·         Homicide is the killing of one human being by another.

·         It can lawful or unlawful.

·         Lawful killing is when a person kills another in self-defense, using no more than reasonable force in the circumstances.

·         Unlawful homicides include manslaughter, both voluntary and involuntary, and murder.

·         Murder is the most serious form of unlawful homicide.


Definition of Murder

·         Sir Edward Coke defined Murder as: “…the unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being and under the King’s (or Queen’s) peace with malice aforethought, express or implied.”


·    The first part of the definition “the unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being and under the Queen’s Peace…” describes the Actus Reus of Murder.
·         The second part of the definition “malice aforethought, express or implied.” Describes the Mens Rea.


Actus Reus

·         A reasonable in beings is an ordinary human being in existence without any assistance from external factors, i.e. brain dead person on life support or unborn baby in mother’s womb.

·         Under the queen’s peace, means where the killing is against the Queen’s peace it will satisfy the Actus Reus for Murder. However, if a soldier kills an enemy of war, it is not murder as such a person is not ‘Under the Queen’s Peace’.

·         Therefore when explaining Actus Reus of Murder you just need to briefly explain that the killing of the reasonable person was unlawful and was under the Queen’s Peace.



·         The death may be the result not of positive act but of an omission, or a failure to act.

·         If the accused has a duty towards a person and fails to carry out that duty and death results, then the Actus Reus of murder may exist.

·         Duties include:

o        A duty arising from a relationship such as that between parent and child (Gibbins and Proctor (1918)).

o        A duty undertaken voluntarily, such a looking after a child or an elderly relative. (Stone v Dobinson (1997))

o        A duty arising from the accidental creation by the defendant of a dangerous chain of events such as Miller (1983). It should be noted that no one died in Miller, but there remains potential liability for an omission.




·         Factual Causation:

o        Factual causation is based on the principle of the ‘but for’ test.

o        This can be seen in the case of White (1910) where the defendant intended to poison his mother though a drink. However, the mother had died due to a heart attack before the poison took take effect. The court held that there was no direct link between the cause of death and the defendants actions, therefore it was held that ‘but for’ the defendants actions the victim would have died.

o        Another case example is Pagett (1983) where the defendant used his pregnant girlfriend as a shield in a police shot out. The girlfriend died. The court held that ‘but for’ the actions of the defendant the victim would not have died.

·         Legal Causation:

o        Legal causation is where the court needs to decide if the defendant’s actions were the operating and substantial cause of death. Therefore must be a minimal cause.

o        This can be seen in the case of Cato (1976) where two drug addicts had spent the night injecting each other with a mixture of heroin and water. In the morning, both were extremely ill, and one of them died. The other was charged with his friend’s manslaughter. The Court of Appeal held that the heroin need not necessarily have been the only cause of death, but it was more than a minimal cause, and one which accelerated the moment of the victim’s death.

o        Take the Victim as you find him:

§         When considering the chain of causation, it is necessary to bear in mind that the consequences of a person’s conduct might be affected by unknown circumstances.

§         This is illustrated in the case of Blaue (1975), where the victim, a young woman was stabbed by the defendant. She needed a blood transfusion but because she was a Jehovah’s Witness, her religion did not allow this. She died and the defendant was found guilty of murdering her. He could not appeal on the grounds that the blood transfusion would have saved her; he had to take his victim as he found her.

o        New Intervening Acts:

§         It is possible for the chain of causation to be broken by some new and independent event.

§         In this case, the defendant will no longer be responsible for the consequences, providing that the intervening event is sufficiently different and serious.

§         The intervening event could be the result of an act by a third party, some unforeseeable happening, or by the victim himself.

§         This can be seen in the case of Smith (1959) where a soldier was stabbed in the lungs. On the way to the medical centre he was dropped. When he eventually got there, the medical staff attempted to give him artificial respiration by pumping on his chest. This worsened his condition and he died. Although the treatment he had received drastically reduced his chances of survival, his original attacker was found guilty of his murder.

§         Similarly in the case of Cheshire (1991), a victim had been shot in the stomach and thigh. In hospital, a tube was inserted in his throat to help him breathe more easily. As a result of rare complications following this tracheotomy, the victim died. The complications had not been noticed by the doctors. Although his wounds at the time were no longer life-threatening, his original assailant was held responsible for his death.


o        Victims Own Act:

§         Victims own act is where a victim who feels threatened takes drastic actions to escape and in doing so is injured or is killed.

§         This can be seen in the case of Roberts (1971) where the driver of the car turned down a side road and subjected his passenger to unwanted sexual advances. She jumped out of the moving car in order to escape, and was injured. It was held that the defendant was liable for her injuries. There was direct line of causation between his conduct and her injuries which had not been broken by her act.

§         However, in the case of Williams (1991), the victim jumped out o f a moving car because he alleged that there had been an attempt to steal his wallet. Because this was held to be an unreasonable reaction under the circumstances and disproportionate to the threat, it was held that the chain of causation had been broken by the victim’s intervening act. The defendant was not liable for the victim’s injuries.