Crime XIV – Murder I

Murder is the crime of causing the death of another with malicious intent. The common law rule to convict an accused for murder was that the death must have occurred within a year and a day but that rule has been abolished. Therefore previously, if death were to occur after a year and a day, the death would not be considered or regarded as murder.

The year and a day rule was abolished by the Law Reform (Year and a Day Rule) Act 1996, as per s1.1 of the act – The rule known as the “year and a day rule” (that is, the rule that, for the purposes of offences involving death and of suicide, an act or omission is conclusively presumed not to have caused a person’s death if more than a year and a day elapsed before he died) is abolished for all purposes.

Therefore, as it stands an accused can be convicted for murder if it can be established without reasonable doubt that the accused had the intent to kill and having the intention to kill went on to commit the act.

Looking at a modern-day example if an accused hits a victim over the head with a blunt instrument intending to bring about death and the victim does not die but remains in a coma for three years and dies three years later the accused will still be held accountable for the death of the victim.

The standard that must be met in order for the prosecution to obtain a conviction for murder is that of beyond reasonable doubt and in order for the defense to avoid a conviction for murder all it needs to do is raise reasonable doubt and whether the standard is met by the prosecution or otherwise depends on the evidence that is adduced during the trial. Trials are by nature adversarial, and the defense is pitted against the prosecution and vise-versa.

The test that is used to determine liability in criminal cases is the subjective test i.e. the court will look at the state of mind of the accused at the time he or she committed the act or look at things from the perspective of the accused and not from the perspective of a reasonable man.

Hence homicide (murder & manslaughter) trials are a bit more complicated than civil trials and Sir William Blackstone’s principle that “it is better to let ten guilty persons escape than to let one innocent man suffer” applies throughout.

The victim however does not need to die from the act or the act that was intended to kill the victim. As long as the act of the accused led to the death of the victim and it can be established beyond reasonable doubt that the accused intended for the victim to die, then that is sufficient actus reus and mens rea to convict for murder even if the victim dies from some other causes.

As long as the chain of causation remains unbroken i.e. it was the initial act of the accused that eventually resulted in death than that is sufficient to convict for murder – Thabo-Meli v R (1954) (Privy Council).

In Thabo-Meli v R (1954) (Privy Council) the defendants, 4 in total, planned to kill the victim. They took him to a hut and hit him over the head and after they had committed the act, believing their victim to be dead, they threw him off a cliff. The victim however did not die as a result of the blow to the head or from being thrown off a cliff but died due to exposure.

During the trial, the defendants raised the argument that the death was not a result of their actions and despite the fact that they had the intention to kill their victim their actions did not precipitate death or was not the cause of death.

The court held that the accused were guilty nonetheless. It does not matter that the act of the accused was not the immediate cause of death. It sufficed that the accused intended to bring about the death of the victim and committed the act to bring about the death of the victim and death eventual resulted from the act of the accused regardless of the fact that death did not occur in the manner that the accused intended. It was their act that had led to the death of the victim and the chain of causation remained intact or unbroken.

Copyright © 2018 by Dyarne Ward

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